Zunaid Bulbulia - CFO MTN South Africa: `It has become a lot more stressful`


"I see the CFO becoming more strategic and crucial to overall business success than ever before; I already find myself playing a constructive role in parts of the business that were the exclusive domains of the functional executives concerned only a few short years ago." Zunaid Bulbilia, CFO of MTN South Africa, a company he joined prior to its commercial launch in January 1994 definitely feels it has become 'a lot more stressful'.

MTN South Africa has managed to ride the crest of the wave amid the global economic crunch and still managed to post strong financial performance. To what extend do you see your role as CFO contributing to this success?
Our results over the last two years, as clichéd as it sounds, has been a consequence of teamwork and sheer hard work. We were literally staring down the barrel in mid 2009. A few of the Executives got together and we decided to take the business by the scruff of its neck and make the changes we wanted to see.- A short while later, Karel Pienaar arrived as the new Managing Director – he literally provided the team with support to implement our plans to ensure they come to fruition. The Executive team have worked very effectively together under his leadership.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I am particularly proud of the role my Finance team have played in our success in these last two years – tightening the belt and watching every penny is never a popular position to champion in any organization but my team have has been superb. Constructiveness, effectiveness, and efficiency are never easy to achieve simultaneously but we have been united in our goal – we’ve also had a lot of fun doing it.

Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?
Besides achieving outstanding financial results, we’ve also created new revenue streams (like national roaming and other infrastructure opportunities). We’ve also built a solid and very competent team and transformed our Procurement team into a more effective machine.

What strengths have other people commented on about you and your accomplishments and what strengths do you see in yourself?
I don’t particularly believe that there have been any unique strengths that I have displayed. To the contrary, it’s been a real team effort – I’ve had the privilege to lead this group of special talented people and they have supported my vision of what we can and should become – they have made me and MTN very proud and I am humbled to call myself their leader.

How has the role of the CFO changed in the last ten years?
It has certainly become more stressful; we are more closely scrutinized than ever before. I don’t particularly mind the stricter trading conditions; it’s the presumption of undue risk in everything that can become tiresome when you are trying to innovate in a business environment.

The global recession has added another dimension to the post-Enron environment. The closer scrutiny is now accompanied by a need to cut costs aggressively. The CFO now finds himself championing two relatively unpopular causes simultaneously. I still look under my car for any strange objects before I leave the office every evening

How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?
I see the CFO becoming more strategic and crucial to overall business success than ever before; I already find myself playing a constructive role in parts of the business that were the exclusive domains of the functional executives concerned only a few short years ago.

What do you find most appealing about the company you work for?
Personally, I love the involvement and the variety; it adds an edge to your role and certainly provides great opportunities for the people who work within the Finance area to become involved constructively and effectively across the length and breadth of the company. Understanding each area of operation within the business is of pivotal importance.

Which education would you recommend for a successful career in business?
In the global village that we have become, and with technology driving every facet of our lives, this is absolutely the best company in the world to work for. I have had the privilege of managing so many different parts of the value chain over the years (from Customer Services to Sales to Distribution to Mergers and Acquisitions). If anything, the complexity of the coming challenges will make it even more exciting than ever before.

What characteristics should one possess in order to be a CFO of MTN South Africa?
You need an open mind and a willingness to be constructive to make a success of this role – stamina, will and desire to win will stand you in good stead as well.

Which vital piece of advice would you give young finance professionals for a successful career in finance?
Whatever you do, do it with dignity – and work very hard – your luck seems to improve when you put in the hard yards.


If you also would like to share your ideas with the CFO community, please get in touch with us to arrange an interview with you.Please contact Jurriën Morsch on [email protected].

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