Anoj Singh – CFO Transnet: “The CFO is playing the role of Chief Strategy Officer”

Transnet is the largest and most crucial part of the freight logistics chain that delivers goods to each and every South African. The company is fully owned by the South African government but operates as a corporate entity aimed at both supporting and contributing to the country’s freight logistics network. It aims at developing South African industry, reducing the cost of doing business, while at the same time operating efficiently and profitably. Transnet employs 60,000 people and had a yearly turnover (for the financial year to March 31 2012) of R45 billion.

Anoj Singh joined Transnet in 2003 as a Senior Financial Manager at Transnet Freight Rail – the company’s biggest division – before moving on to become General Manager Group Reporting. He has been Acting Chief Financial Officer of Transnet since 2009 and was officially appointed Chief Financial Officer in July 2012.

Anoj is a Chartered Accountant by profession. He holds a Bachelor of Accountancy degree and a Post Graduate Diploma in Accounting from the University of Durban Westville – now University of KwaZulu-Natal. Before joining Transnet, he worked for food retail group Spar and auditing firm Deloitte & Touche where he was accountant in charge of some of the firm’s biggest accounts, including Tongaat Hulett, Sappi, and McCarthy Motor Holdings.

What do you enjoy most about your job and why?
It is exciting to be at the forefront of strategic planning and generation of ideas that can improve the company’s operational performance as well as its role as an enabler of our country’s economic growth. Crucially, I believe that Transnet, with its new seven-year plan, is by far the most exciting place to be.

How do you perceive the role of the CFO has changed in the last five to ten years?
The role of a CFO has changed dramatically in the past few years. It is no longer just about understanding the balance sheet and ensuring the accuracy of numbers.  It is about having a solid and holistic financial strategy that takes into account market conditions and potential risks in the long term. Furthermore, adherence to the highest standards of governance and internal controls has become a crucial aspect of a CFO’s role.

How do you see the role of the CFO evolving in the next say five to ten years?
Increased regulation and the complexity of accounting rules are likely to affect the reporting processes. Furthermore, the CFO’s role is evolving into that of a “value manager”. In many listed companies, both local and international, the CFO is playing the role of Chief Strategy Officer.

Would you say that accurate forecasting and budgeting is still feasible for a financial department in today’s tumultuous financial markets?
Probably not. It is important thing for one to understand market conditions very well and be able to factor in risks when developing a strategy. It is also very important understand the levers that drive the strategy to enable strategic responses in the volatile market.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for South African companies in the global economic situation and for your industry in particular?
For companies that need to raise capital through the markets, borrowing may be a challenge as capital is likely to be expensive. Also, for exporting companies, sales are likely to be affected as demand for export commodities decrease.

Which skill(s) do you think a finance professional should master to be most successful in his work?
Besides the obvious qualifications, the role of Chief Financial Officer requires a lot of experience and good understanding on the industry in which your company operates. The experience enables you to be a strategist, one that is able to look at the company holistically and be able to identify risks and opportunities. You also need to be the kind of leader that is able to motivate and set the right tone for presenting the company’s financial performance to the stakeholders. Importantly, you must have excellent people skills. In today’s market environment, it is equally important to have a forward-looking view as well as a micro view of the critical issues at hand.

Which achievement or project in your business career are you most proud of?
My role as the Chief Financial Officer at Transnet. We recently launched a R300 billion capital investment programme, the Market Demand Strategy. It is an ambitious plan that is  expected to create 588 000 economy-wide jobs and transform Transnet Freight Rail (TFR), which has the lion’s share of the investment programme, into the world’s fifth biggest rail freight company. All of us at Transnet have an opportunity to make a change to so many lives.

Please name something – a procedure or process for instance – that was implemented in your company before you were appointed CFO, which you changed after you took the position of CFO.
Post the approval of the Market Demand Strategy (MDS), I conducted an assessment of the most significant execution risks to our strategy.  I addressed the capital execution risks and more specifically, the practices to improve the project life cycle based on international best practice.

What vital piece of advice would you give young ambitious finance professionals?
Be committed, honest and work hard. Most importantly, enjoy what you do.

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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