We talk to André le Grange, the Finance Manager and Acting Finance Executive at the education support company EduSciMat that supplies Smart Maths labs and Science labs to public schools. Mark is a Qualified Accountant (through SAIPA) and Part Qualified with CIMA. Mark boasts with more than 8 years’ post article experience in various sized organisations. The path leading to his current position started at school when he took Accounting as an additional subject.

“I went to a Technical High School, so Computer Science and Accounting had to be taken as additional subjects. In matric I was the only one in my school who took eight subjects. I ended my high school as the Dux student in Matric. It was a lot of work but it was worth it.”

It was at school that Le Grange realised that he “clicked” with accounting.

He completed five years of articles in January 2008 and started to work as an accountant at a family company, Slabathi Seals and Services, while still studying part time.

Since then he has worked in various groups, companies and sectors. From Banking (First Rand Bank) to Manufacturing (Beige Holdings & Astrapak) to Tolling (Bakwena N1N4), Telecoms (Cell C) and currently in Education.

“I have always seen the role of Financial Manager as very interesting, as you deal with the company as a whole and not just a portion.”

Starting from the bottom – from Trainee Accountant to Accountant to Management Accountant to Senior Financial Analyst and now Financial Manager – Le Grange learnt what companies are all about.

On investing in Africa

Le Grange says although South Africa is in a very volatile space at the moment, he would still encourage international investors to invest in South African companies.

“Rating agencies are at the point of downgrading the economy which leaves the country as a a risk to invest. Investors would like to see returns, but the economy is slowing with little growth being projected.”

He says currently South Africa is ranked 49th in the world in terms of competitiveness, having moved up seven places from 56th.

“This reversed out the 4-year downward trend due to the increased uptake of ICT’s. I honestly hope that South Africa can continue this trend.”

According to Le Grange the current investment risks in South Africa are transaction costs, currency risks and liquidity risks, but these can be mitigated by sourcing local partners to create efficient supply chains and distribution channels.

“I have always seen the role of Financial Manager as very interesting, as you deal with the company as a whole and not just a portion.”
Investors should also create strong due diligence processes to identify the right market entry strategies.

“They should also invest in workforce development and training, and contribute to socioeconomic development as well.

On the role of the CFO/Finance Manager
Le Grange says as a finance executive he is seeking more precision and efficiency in cash forecasting and reconciliations and consolidation activities.

“My focus would also be on strategic planning, budgeting and performance management.”

He says his role has Finance Executive has definitely changed for the better over the years.

“With technology you tend to automate more and analyze more. The more information you have, the more you have to go through. This puts one in a position where you always have to be available either on phone or laptop (even tablets) to give input.”

He says since technology is the way forward, every company tries to use it to their advantage. This leads to more information coming to the Finance Department and more specifically the Finance Manager who has to filter through what is needed for the CFO.

“We make more decisions as more and more departments rely on the Finance Managers to be experienced and be qualified in certain areas.”

Le Grange says he has been lucky in the skills department, as he has always had a knack for technology.

“I am the tech guru in the family who sorts out PC’s, phones etc. In today’s life you can’t be afraid of technology, and specifically, accounting software. I am lucky that I am not afraid to press a button. You can almost always correct what you have done if something is not right. I am a fast learner when it comes to software. Finance professionals need to really know how an accounting package works in order to work effectively and efficiently.”

He says although he believes that companies are coming to expect more alternative skills from finance managers and CFOs, in his experience many people are still not up to scratch when it comes to “normal” day-to-day finance functions.