Mark Putzier became CFO at Mac Brothers Catering Equipment through natural progression after completing his articles at the then Deloitte & Touche before qualifying as a Chartered Accountant. One of the many challenges he has encountered is the positioning of finance in the organisation.

He says in most instances finance executives are viewed as historians: “We report on history and are not always forward-looking. Something I learnt from my days at SABMiller was that the finance executive needs to be a business partner and not the typical transactional processing bean counter.”

“It is therefore vital that the finance team makes meaningful contributions to the organisation, which includes the relevancy of information or data that assists managers and EXCOs to make important decisions. It’s extremely important to have the respect of all staff that we service.”

He says the use of technology needs to be embraced. “Having recently gone through the pain and stress of implementing an ERP system, highlighted the fact that as a team we should continually be re-inventing ourselves and how we function on a daily basis – we should not be afraid to ‘move the needle’ and step out of our comfort zone.”

As for networking with other CFOs, Putzier says at the moment his main interaction is via groups and forums on business networking mediums like Linkedin. “Finding the time between studies to network is also a challenge. I personally do believe that networking is an integral and important tool in which ideas, frustrations and solutions are shared – we cannot exist in isolation and we can be assured that problems being experienced in one’s own environment have been experienced by someone else as well, and maybe they have the solution.”

According to Putzier, the IAFEI World Congress (www.iafeiworldcongress.com) is an incredible opportunity to network with likeminded professionals, as well as show off this great country and all its potential.

“This is an ideal opportunity for South African and African finance executives to showcase the wealth of knowledge and experience that is to be found on this great continent. It is important that live up to the expectations of international executives as well as cement the relationships that will be forged during the congress.”

 

On South Africa’s role in the global financial world:

Putzier is of the opinion that South Africa has an important contribution to make to the stability of the global financial environment. “South Africa has some of the best financial structures in place which helped limit the fall-out of the 2008 crisis, and we need to take pride in that fact. We need to share these successes and learnings with the financial experts to help build a global financial infrastructure that can predict and limit any future financial disasters.”   

“The finance executive needs to be a business partner and not the typical transactional processing bean counter.”

What are the investment risks in this country and how can it be mitigated?

He says there are few investment risks in this country that stand out.

“The main risk is from uncertainty surrounding the political environment and tied to this, the government’s stance on land and land ownership – this makes investors nervous and hesitant to bring their funds into the country.”

When it comes to ease of doing business, he says we have some way to go to encourage investors that we are “open for business”. Add to this the labour landscape and issues we have relating to strikes (some violent) and a labour force that is pricing us out of the competitive market means we have some work to do as a country to become investment attractive.

“We need to bear in mind that we are competing with other countries for the investor dollar, so as a collective (business and government) we have to come up with plans and strategies to make us attractive again as an investment destination. But all is not gloom and doom. The municipal elections on 3rd August shows that the South African electorate is looking for change and this bodes well for the future.”

What are the growth prospects for companies investing in South Africa?

Putzier says companies investing into South Africa would normally take a long-term view on their investment. “In the short-term, GDP growth is likely to be extremely poor. In saying that, there have been pockets of excellence and some industries have been showing some good, consistent growth. Once we have resolved the structural challenges in the country and a lot of the uncertainty has been removed, I believe that the growth that we are capable of will materialise. This will justify and confirm the decisions taken by these companies to invest into South Africa.”

Would you encourage international companies to invest in South African companies in your specific market sector or industry and why?

He says he would encourage international companies to invest in South African companies.

“We have experienced this first hand. Our holding company, Grand Parade Investments Ltd, had initially brought the Burger King brand into South Africa. They have added a further two international brands in the form of Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin Donuts to their fold. This shows their confidence in the potential of the market sector in which we operate.”

Putzier goes on to say that “Mac Brothers as a manufacturer and supplier of commercial catering equipment has secured the rights to manufacture locally much of the kitchen equipment required for their operations. This not only negates the impact of a fluctuating and weak Rand, but creates employment and the ‘Nirvana’ of local industry ‘Import Replacement’.”

Putzier further says that “We have the skills and local resources available, so why not take advantage of this?”

What are the biggest risks to South African companies and why?

But, says Putzier, there is the risk that South African companies acquired by foreign corporations are absorbed into these conglomerates and then lose their identity and disappear into oblivion.

“Another risk is that South African companies that venture into Africa without a proper strategy, may suffer setbacks or losses that could either cripple or bankrupt the business.”   

What role can South African companies play in the economic growth potential on the African continent?

On expansion into Africa:

According to Putzier South African companies, being part of one of the biggest economies on the African continent, carry a huge responsibility in driving economic growth. “A concerted and combined effort between government and companies has to result in a definitive plan of action to kick start the economy. We have to be an example to the rest of the continent on how run and maintain a successful economy and this could also include extracting learnings from other success stories on the continent.”

He says the lack of an adequate infrastructure system throughout the whole continent makes it difficult to transport product into Africa, which is one of the constraints for expansion into the continent. “The reliance is then placed on ports as an alternative. Expansion into Africa can sometimes only occur via a partnership with a suitable local entity or partner. The choice of the right partner is therefore critical to the success or not of a organisations foray into Africa. Another restriction is the amenability of the local authority to foreign companies entering their market. The building of solid, honest relationships with local lawmakers become a vital constituent to overcoming the feeling of foreignness in African countries.”

He believes growth opportunities in the developed market have become few and far between and that it appears that emerging markets are still seen as potential areas where the continued potential next growth will be coming from. “Local and international investors are weighing up the risk and reward attached to these prospects and in many cases I believe embark on calculated risky investment opportunities. The continued pressure to deliver on shareholder expectations remain a contributing factor to taking these ventures.”    

Putzier says as with any business or economic cycle, there has to be a low and high point. “At the moment I believe we are still in the clutches of the low end of the cycle and that we will eventually (not too long in my opinion) start gravitating in the correct direction of the cycle. I truly believe and know that this country has so much potential and if given the correct guidance and leadership we can catapult the economy to the growth levels that are abundant and maintainable.”

On the impact of Brexit on South African companies and investment in Africa:

“In my opinion I believe that Brexit will have a temporary impact on the world economy. The market reacts and then returns a semblance of equilibrium in many instances. The weakening of the Pound has had a positive impact on South Africa with respect to imported goods, with a corresponding positive for the UK, that will start experiencing an increased demand for their products. This will hopefully soften the blow as the UK growth is expected to weaken initially. The possibility therefore exists that UK investors and/or companies will start looking outside of the UK for opportunities where they can park their cash and receive a higher return – which could have an upside for South Africa and the African continent.”

On the changing role of the CFO:

Putzier says finance as a whole has undergone changes in the last few years. “Organisations expect more from the finance fraternity other than being the custodians of the transactional and governance components of the business. As indicated before, finance need to be seen as business partners and have more of a value add approach to their function. The CFO role includes a strategic component that requires the CFO to contribute to formalising, monitoring and achieving the strategic goals implemented by the organisation.

As a manager, Putzier has to make decisions on a daily basis of which the importance and impact need to be considered continually. “Part of being a rounded, complete manager is the ability to think on your feet and take ownership of decisions that you make. The important characteristic being to learn from mistakes made.”

He says in order for finance to add value to the business, it needs to be able to be innovative and radical in its approach to interacting with the organisation – “not reckless, but making things interesting (month ends, although a necessity can become boring)”.

He says one of the main reasons he embarked on an MBA was because he felt that most of his experience revolved around the finance function, and thought it was time to widen his horizons and generalist expertise. “The learnings and theory being gained will assist to make the step change and help take my contribution to the next level.”

He says business has been expecting finance, and particularly senior finance members, to step up to plate and start contributing to the strategic success of their organisation. “Having the financial expertise is a definite advantage, but being able contribute on another paradigm, being it marketing, sales, operations or even with an entrepreneurial viewpoint, will elevate finance in the eyes of their peers and earn them the respect that finance deserves.”

Putzier says the role of senior finance has been evolving continually through the decades. “As such – if we do not move with the times – we run the risk of been left behind in the paradigm of transactional processing and reconciliations. As finance we need to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and develop those skills that will differentiate finance from the rest of the herd. We need to seize opportunities that come our way to broaden our knowledge base that empowers and makes one and indispensable part of the team within which we operate.”