‘The title CFO (SA) is a very critical but also, privileged title for me.’
Teboho Makakane represents the quintessential modern CFO, from humble beginnings as a motor mechanic, his diverse career and experiences have led him to being awarded the CFO (SA) designation, and he shares his expectations as he prepares to join SAIBA’s delegation to the CFO World Congress in Mexico.
CIARAN RYAN: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Draftworx, which provides automated drafting and working paper financial software to more than 8000 accounting and auditing firms and corporations. CFO Talks is a brand of the South African Institute of Business Accountants. It’s a great pleasure today to welcome Gordon Makakane, who also goes by a second first name, Teboho. He is CFO at Cipal Telecommunications, where he’s been since 2013. He’s held a variety of positions in various different companies through the years, from accounting manager through to finance executive. He started his career as a trainee accountant at Bayer South Africa and then he spent time at National Sorghum Breweries as an internal auditor. He’s also worked for Sizwe Medical Services, African Bank, Printpack, Barloworld Angola, Sasol Gas, to name a few. Gordon is a member of SAIBA and has very proudly attained the designation of CFO (SA) and is a member of the Association of Black Accountants of South Africa. Now, what stands out in Gordon’s career is the depth of his experience and I have got to say the number of languages he speaks, he speaks eight languages, we’re going to find out about that in a minute. First of all, welcome Gordon, tell us a little bit about your current engagement at Cipal Telecommunications and give us some background about the company so that we understand what it does.
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: Ciaran, thank you very much for the opportunity and the privilege, the opportunity to share my experience with my colleagues. Currently as CFO of Cipal Telecommunications, we provide what we call managed services and also outside plan services through one of the multinationals within the telecoms industry. It’s a company that has grown very quickly from when I started, it had about 16 employees, we’ve now grown to about 250-odd and growing. So it just demonstrates the depth of the skills set that we have but also the dedication to the industry. I’m proud to be part of it simply because I am part of a team that ensures that we are always on the ball in providing services to our client. In that respect, my role has been one where I have to ensure that I mobilise the necessary resources, especially financial, to make sure that the company carries on providing the services to our clients but more than anything, to ensure that we keep our staff happy and incentivised in various ways. So my role is especially very interesting because it’s not just financial management, the fact that we are able to look into business ventures outside of the telecoms industry but contributing to Cipal Telecoms as a company is one that I especially enjoy. In my role as CFO, I make sure that those resources are mobilised and also make sure that the shareholders get a return on their investment in the company.
CIARAN RYAN: I have to ask you about the languages, you speak eight languages, I’m completely blown away by that. So just list them out for the listeners and explain how you came to speak so many of them, because I see that you’ve got Portuguese in there. Anyway, list them out for us, will you?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: Okay, so I’ll start with the most obvious ones, which is English and Afrikaans, which were school languages. My mother tongue, and I say my mother tongue, although my father is Sotho, my mother is Zulu, so I speak those languages as basic languages. isiXhosa is one such language that I picked up from my uncles. My wife happens to be Xhosa, so I have to speak Xhosa as well. Then Sepedi, I started Sepedi at school from primary up to high school. Then Setswana I also picked up as I grew up. Then I also had to dabble in Portuguese, I picked up Portuguese when I went to Angola to work for Barloworld, and I soon realised that without learning the language, I would sink. I have had the privilege of learning a beautiful language that is Portuguese. So that’s how I picked up languages and growing up in Soweto, you have to be versatile. I am picking up other languages like Tsonga and Venda, those are at the basic level but I hope to get to the eleven languages that are spoken in South Africa at some point [laughing].
CIARAN RYAN: [Laughing] Oh, my goodness, okay. What a gift that is and does it get a little bit easier once you speak seven or eight languages, learning one more, is it quite easy?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: It does, I think the Nguni languages are quite easy to pick up, it’s the other languages where you sometimes get tongue-tied and you get confused sometimes between which is which. But I have had the privilege of complementing that with watching a few soapies just to pick up on the language. But I think I’m getting there, so maybe in a year or two I will be proficient both Tsonga and Venda.
‘It’s just not a title that one has to take for granted but it’s one that bestows certain responsibilities as well.’
CIARAN RYAN: Wow, beautiful, okay. Now, you’ve been awarded the CFO (SA) designation by SAIBA and I want you to talk about that for a minute, why you decided to go that route and what value do you derive from it?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: I think one of the things that I really appreciate about SAIBA is their quest to make the accounting profession available to all those who aspire to be accountants or to thrive in the financial sector. I attended a few functions where the CFO designation was actually being mooted and finally achieved. The title CFO (SA) has a very critical but also, I would say privileged title for me, specifically because when I interact with other colleagues and peers within the industry, for the mere fact that you have that, it elevates the discussion to a point where you are able to at least glean experiences and share those experiences with your fellow colleagues within the CFO sphere. It’s just not a title that one has to take for granted but it’s one that bestows certain responsibilities as well. To carry that as a person within the industry, within the organisation within which I work, ensures that I always make sure that I keep the principles of both accounting and the financial services in check. It just reminds me that I need to have that ethical approach to how I do my work but also how I interact with my equals within the industry.
CIARAN RYAN: We also have on the line Nicolaas van Wyk, who is the CEO of the South African Institute of Business Accountants. Nicolaas, I want to bring you in here because this is very much the purpose behind the CFO (SA) designation, what Gordon has just been outlining is to elevate the standard of governance and to elevate the standard of management. Maybe just talk about what was your thinking behind the development, when did it start, this germ of an idea to create the CFO designation?
NICOLAAS VAN WYK: Hi Ciaran, hi Teboho, it’s great being with you. We initially hosted the 2016 CFO World Congress in Cape Town and then with our interaction with our international colleagues from Brazil right through to Japan, 22 member countries, it became clear to me that we need a unifying CFO designation because the CFO position is such a unique position, it’s a scarce skill set, it takes a unique person to get to that level, there are years of study. Typically, a BCom with honours and an MBA but we also see people with engineering, maths, actuarial sciences entering and being appointed as CFOs for listed companies. So then based on that interaction, as well as developments in Asia with the whole new Silk Road that China is deploying, they are trying to figure out how do they allow the migration of professional services, especially at the finance executive level, so that a Japanese CFO or a Malaysian CFO can work in China and vice versa, and they can perform at the same level. So then the idea germinated that maybe we need a standardised CFO qualification and designation, and that’s when we registered our designation with SAQA as the Certified Finance Executive (SA) and we just continue building that through CFO Talks, through attending the World Congress that’s happening again this year in Mexico, and then working with universities to develop a specific CFO programme, because as we’re going to hear from Teboho, it’s much more than just accounting. So we need an identifying an unifying designation for CFOs globally. So we’ve partnered in Brazil, you can now find a CFO (BR) for CFO Brazil, following our example, and the same in Argentina. So it’s a nice movement to participate in and it does open the profession to people who didn’t study traditional accounting subjects and that is a good development because we need to have so much information these days, in being a CFO you need information from all subject areas.
CIARAN RYAN: You mentioned something there about a trip to Mexico, the Mexican Institute of Finance Executives. Now, both you and Teboho are going off to Mexico in a couple of months to attend this conference. Nicolaas, just talk about that for a minute and why this is important.
NICOLAAS VAN WYK: The international CFO community annually hosts, since the 1950s, a World Congress in conjunction with local professional associations that are members of International Association of Financial Executives Institutes, IAFEI, and this year it’s the opportunity of our Mexican association, IMEF, to host a congress, which they then do in conjunction with IAFEI. They’ve invited SAIBA and our CFOs to join them from November 16 to November 23. What SAIBA then usually does, the previous one was in 2019 in Matera, Italy, and then we take about 30 local finance executives and CFOs to join us and we do a whole trip. It’s an amazing network building exercise, you build friendships that last a lifetime and because the finance executives work with listed and large companies, it’s an amazing opportunity for them to extend their network into North America. So in this year’s conference they’ve invited the World Bank speakers, IMF speakers, United Nations speakers and they are covering a whole bunch of topics from the World Bank economic vision, especially now after the lockdown seems to be lifted and post-Covid-19, the future role of CFOs in a digital world, a lot of things about the Mexican economy for those of our CFOs who want to expand there or use Mexico as a base into North America and into Canada. It’s a general invite, we still have limited spaces available for CFOs who want to join us and they can go to www.cfotalks.com to read more about the congress. Teboho is coming with us, unfortunately he missed the Italian congress, but I would also love to hear from him the reasons why he’s joining us.
‘I was first on the call to say, guys, it is on, we are heading to Mexico.’
CIARAN RYAN: Teboho, do you want to jump in there and tell us what you expect to get out of this and why you’re attending in the first place?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: Thanks Ciaran and thanks Nicolaas for that background as well. For me, I have the travel bug, so I like experiencing the world, I do travel quite a bit if I am able to. Having missed out on the Italy trip two years ago, I told myself that the next one is definitely on for me. But also, for various reasons, I’ve got a network of friends and colleagues with whom I interact quite frequently, and it just so happens that some of them are based either in the US or in Italy, so we have been interacting and when this opportunity actually came, I was first on the call to say guys, it is on, we are heading to Mexico. The excitement is that these are individuals who are immersed in the financial accounting area, they are senior executives in the companies that they work for and it’s an opportunity for us to network and find common ground on issues where our businesses can also interact and perhaps have strengthened relationships. I’m always a believer that one should not exist within their own planet, but we have to widen out in terms of expanding one’s knowledge and one’s view of the world, not only just within the finance area. I always say that I’m a very inquisitive person, so I might be a financial person, but I’m always interested in how things work, whether it’s within the engineering sphere or whatever else. So this provides a platform for me to actually interact with people within the financial sector but also, just listening to Nick detailing the kinds of speakers who will be there from the IMF, World Bank and those are people who I always like to get a view from in terms of how they see us…their support functions in organisations and how they view issues around ethics, issues around governance and how we can actually make this an integrated field where everybody, irrespective of their knowledge base, can actually work together in making our organisations successful.
CIARAN RYAN: Okay, good. Now, just tell us a bit about yourself, your background, where you grew up and also what made you enter the world of accounting? I’m interested to hear that.
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: I grew up in Mapetla, Soweto, so I attended school there up until matric. It was a very interesting time for us because all the political uprisings happened in front of one’s eyes and even though one was still young, but one could also understand some of the reasoning behind that. Pretty much growing up, one was always curious to see how one will feature in the political but also the economic sphere of the country. So when I matriculated it was a year that was filled with rioting, we couldn’t write our exams in that year, so we only wrote the exams in the following year in May. Interestingly enough, after we wrote the exams, obviously, one couldn’t go to a university of your choice because it was during the semester already. So I became a motor mechanic.
CIARAN RYAN: You started out as a motor mechanic?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: I started out as a motor mechanic.
CIARAN RYAN: And what year was that?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: 1987. I finished school at a young age, I was 16 when I finished school, so I suppose it was also a way of staying out of trouble. So I was helping out as what we call a spanner boy but I also picked up a lot of things about how to fix one’s car. A year into me being a motor mechanic, I happened to have a little VW Beetle and my friends wanted to go to this aptitude test session at Megawatt Park at Eskom. Naturally, I took them in my car and we got to Eskom and I was then asked why am I not going in to write the aptitude test. Greasy as I was, I then went in and I took the test and I became part of the top ten who were then recruited to become part of what was then called Commercial Advancement Training Scheme or CATS. It was a programme where one would integrate both on-the-job training with online studying with Unisa. That’s how I got into the working sphere. So I was part of a group of about 50 students who then took part in the CATS programme and that’s how my career started at Bayer South Africa. I spent four lovely years there and very informative because I used to go to work in a suit, but I would be thrown into a factory setting where I would be making spices or perfumes. So on the one day you’d come out smelling like cayenne pepper [laughing]. So on the day that you smell of perfume because you’re now in this factory where you’re manufacturing perfumes, people would love you, but when you smell of cayenne pepper, you’d be waiting for somebody to slap you. But it was valuable experience for me, this is where you actually learnt the bolt and nuts of how a company works and it was a way of me honing my accounting skills because after two years of being in a production environment, you then had to be an analyst on how the different business units are performing. That’s how my interest in accounting expanded because I would then be doing models on productivity, models on profitability, costing and just making sure that the company was able to perform and realise profits. So my growth in the accounting sphere was really established at Bayer.
CIARAN RYAN: I suppose Bayer being an international company, the accounting standards there were probably in accordance with standards that you would expect in Europe. It’s a very good place to intern, I would imagine.
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: It was brilliant, Ciaran. Most of the colleagues who I now interact with who are based in various parts of the world, our experience at Bayer was one that would never…in fact, if I had it my way, I would say the model that we had at CATS training was such that a lot of what we see now in terms of internships, I would even say that would be the way to go, especially when you’ve got multinationals like Bayer because they actually exposed you to quite a lot, whether it’s systems, whether it’s products, they’ve got a wide product range. So you end up not just knowing the basics of accounting but you understand what the business does, what is it that the business wants to achieve. So it is something that became a valuable experience for me. Those four years were really the base for how I became who I am now, just in honing my skills.
‘I think for us as accountants we do need to have sharpened investigative skills.’
CIARAN RYAN: So you clearly were drawn to the world of accounting and you’ve worked in many large corporations in South Africa and in Angola too. So you’ve got the international experience, but I’m keen to hear from you, your opinion of the accounting sector, is it in crisis because of the scandals that we’re hearing about from Steinhoff and Tongaat, and what what’s your feeling, is it becoming slack, is there a slippage there in governance? Is there a crisis in accounting?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: I don’t think it’s a crisis, I think it’s a wake-up call in perhaps the sort of accountants we should be is the sort of accountant who is always inquisitive. I think vigilance is one of the key things. Of course, it does happen that at the time of whatever happens, one did not have a view. One of the things I learnt at the start, especially internal audit, is that when fraud starts, it is not fraud, it is a mistake that is not picked up and then it’s not picked up subsequently, then people think they can get away with that particular act. I think for us as accountants we do need to have sharpened investigative skills perhaps but also a forensic eye for things that do not look normal. But I think it comes with training and I think the interactions that we have as accountants or people within the finance sphere is that it should not just be looked at in terms of your debits and credits, but it should also be looked at in terms of the pattern. So people must be awake to things that do not look normal and be inquisitive about why those things are happening. I do think that these big scandals, it doesn’t start with things like Steinhoff, I know, things like Arthur Andersen with Enron, these things have happened before. But I think this one hits home because it’s in our home country but I think the international standards are constantly being revised and so we need to be vigilant as accountants and look at those as part of our learning curve.
CIARAN RYAN: I’d like to bring Nicolaas in on this point because you’ve raised a very interesting point there about frauds don’t start off as an intention to steal oftentimes, I think they start off as a mistake, if I understand you correctly Teboho. But I’d like Nicolaas to just talk around that and maybe elaborate on this question that I posed to you, is the accounting profession in crisis. Nicolaas, what’s your view on that?
NICOLAAS VAN WYK: It’s reached a peak with all the bad news we’ve received over many years now about financial misrepresentation and mismanagement. We do get the Auditor General report every year, giving negative news of local government and municipalities, and then we see the big corporates also making errors and mistakes. We hosted a few webinars and discussions on the matter, but I want to bring it back maybe to…because I am sure there are many things that caused it but one of the elements that we’re focusing on and considering as the main cause is the way we train our accountants and ultimately, our CFOs. At the moment in South Africa the education system is very much technically focused to deliver very technical, smart accountants. But the things that Teboho has gained in his experience, I think is a much better defence against mismanagement and that is he mentioned that he’s got an enquiring mind, he’s very curious about many things. He started off as a mechanic, he developed into a different area, so he’s very keen to study, keen to travel and that holistic exposure, we think, is what makes people street smart and also see where systems are likely to break and where there are shortcomings. But if you focus too much on technical accounting, then you just check boxes and you mark things off, and you can’t really interrogate the data. So that was the reason and another reason why we saw that we need to maybe rebuild this whole qualification model for CFOs, bring in psychology, bring in operations management into the qualification and not just focus so much on technical accounting. So that would be our response to this whole scandal. There are always other things like manipulation and threats that CFOs face, of late we have seen that as well. So as a community we would have to reconsider this thing and see how we can strengthen and safeguard our CFOs.
CIARAN RYAN: Teboho, just following on from that, there are certain things that you’re not going to learn in the classroom, I would imagine, this is a matter of experience and maybe being battle test and being put in a situation where you have to solve a problem and it might be a cash flow problem, it’s up to you, you’ve got to make payroll at the end of the month, how are you going to do that. Tell me how much of that, this experience aspect is part of your job, something that is not going to be learnt in an accounting class?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: In fact, I always say that when you interact with people, you develop relationships and the experience that you have in establishing those relationships is what you can then leverage when you are faced with situations that may prove difficult to manoeuvre from. For instance, in my sphere I have to make sure that there are funds within the company, and I have to know my bank manager, I have to make them aware of what our company requirements are, where are we going. Those are things that just accounting will not assist you with, but it is interaction with people. So you need to have the people skills, the communication skills that enable you to put your case across so that the other person can also understand where you come from and where you are heading. So those are things that I always say as accountants, as CFOs but as people in general within companies that we run, need to develop. When you have people skills, you are able to interact at different levels and where you need to be versatile and adapt to situations, and sometimes there are situations that are not easily overcome, so you need to be able to find ways of working around those situations, so that you can at least survive for another day and build up resilience. I always say that that also requires the maturity to understand that there are things that you are not able to control through a nice business plan but there are things that you can actually do by developing relationships across the board, either with your business partners or your bank managers or other professionals in the industry. For me, those are the battle scars that I’ve had to go through to be where I am but also to share those with my peers, so that at least as a unit we are able to say how else do we build up a base from which to tap when we require certain assistance.
‘Knowledge sharing and imparting my experiences is a legacy that I would like to leave.’
CIARAN RYAN: Okay, we’re running out of time here, but I’ve got a few quick questions to pose to you. What would you like your legacy to be?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: I think in the main, I want to be known as somebody who did not just have skills and not impart them to others. I’m a person who likes to share my experiences with a junior person, a senior person or an equal. So the legacy I would like to leave is one where I say I have shared an experience that has helped to build somebody else up. Hence, I am a very big proponent of networking, to share my experiences. But also, to say that within the organisations that I have worked in, in the leadership roles that I have been given, I have been able to lead people and make sure that they also aspire to be who they want to be or even exceed those expectations. So just in knowledge sharing and imparting my experiences is a legacy that I would like to leave.
CIARAN RYAN: Wow that is a beautiful legacy is a helping hand to the next generation of accountants and finance executives. Of course, these experiences that have you have hard-won, they are not easily learnt and that is something that I think up and coming accountants will appreciate from somebody who has been through the battles. Would you agree with that?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: Very true. I always make this example, when I was battling to complete my accounting degree, the one person who always stood by me was my mother and how she did that is she studied alongside me, she’s the bright one in the family [laughing], so she went on to complete her two qualifications with Unisa alongside me…
CIARAN RYAN: Really? What an astonishing story is that?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: Yes, our family is split in two, we’ve got the brainy ones and us…
CIARAN RYAN: [Laughing].
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: I was very inspired by her determination. Hence, I say in learning she not only assisted me but in shaping my thinking as well. She did maths, science and psychiatry, so I think she worked from my brains a bit. But over and above that, those are things that I told myself that if ever I am in a position where I can share my experiences with others, then I will do so, so that at least one can build another up.
CIARAN RYAN: Wow, that’s like bringing the whole family with you on your career journey, that is a wonderful story. Okay, very quickly, what do you do in your downtime? Are you a family man, do you have children, are they grown up, have they left the nest or what is it?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: I’m married, my kids are in Cape Town, they decided to relocate to Cape Town, my daughter is studying and doing her final year, she’s in the performing arts sphere. My son studied in Cape Town at the University of the Western Cape and finished his degree, and he’s now working in Cape Town. So I am left here with my wife and my two nephews at the house. I like to think that I’m a sports fan, I played soccer in my early years, up until the injuries got the better of me, so now I am an armchair spectator. I love soccer, I do try and watch a game or two, my favourite team is not doing well locally at the moment. So it’s the bane of jokes [laughing].
CIARAN RYAN: You better share with us what team that is.
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: It’s Kaizer Chiefs, I do think that they will recover but hopefully not too late into the season. So that’s my local favourite. I also love Formula 1, so now and then I have had the privilege of travelling to one or two grand prix races, especially in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The I went to one in Germany a few years ago when I had the privilege of travelling there, although it wasn’t during a Formula 1 race week, but just to see the pavilion and take in the air. So I am a Formula 1 fan, even though my favourite team there is also not doing too well but I think they are doing better, that’s Ferrari, of course. I also like to read autobiographies, I’m not a fiction person, I love watching fiction movies, but I like reading material from financial journals to autobiographies.
CIARAN RYAN: And that’s my final question to you, what books would you recommend, are there any autobiographies that really struck you?
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: The one person who I grew up reading a lot of his material is Clem Sunter, he’s a brilliant scenario planner. He’s the person who actually shaped my career somewhat in looking at finance from a different perspective. But I also love a book by Bonang Mohale, Lift As You Rise: Speeches and Thoughts on Leadership, which is a book about leadership but also being bold in how we do things as leaders. Also, a book by Reuel J. Khoza, Let Africa Lead. For me, they are books that enhance one’s thinking, looking around your environment and how you can play a part in being a shaper of values, a shaper of ideas. Interestingly enough, I have been meeting a lot of authors who are doing self-promotions about their lives. As I say, I like reading about people’s stories and how they actually influence, and how one vies one’s purpose. But those three for me are actually books that stand out, I have really enjoyed reading those.
CIARAN RYAN: What a great story. Nicolaas, have you got any final thoughts on this? Teboho’s journey from motor mechanic, growing up in Soweto, to working his way through Bayer and then eventually ending up with a CFO designation. You’ll obviously share some stories on your way to Mexico together but what a fascinating story. What do you think, Nicolaas?
NICOLAAS VAN WYK: Teboho is the quintessential CFO, he’s such an ideal designation holder and ambassador for what we wanted to achieve with the designation. So bringing in a diverse background, development and experiences, and then being able to translate that into a corporate environment is exactly what we want as CFOs. That brings in a vibrancy and I especially like those books that he refers to, Let Africa Lead, because that’s also our intention at SAIBA to very aggressively drive African growth, drive African decision making because we are in an economic battle with the West and to some extent Asia. So we need to develop our own culture and our own approach, and this is what I see with Teboho. I think the future of accounting and the finance executive function is in good hands with people like Teboho, and I think we will have a long debate and discussions on our Mexican tour.
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: I am certainly looking forward to that, Nicolaas, and I thank you for all the articles that you normally share with us as well.
CIARAN RYAN: Well, great. Thank you both for coming on to CFO Talks. I found that to be a fascinating discussion and it really was an inspiring story that we heard from Teboho today. We look forward to staying in touch with you, Teboho, and just finding out how the Mexican trip goes and also how things work out at Cipal Telecommunications in the coming year or so.
TEBOHO MAKAKANE: Certainly, Ciaran, thank you so much for this privilege and thank you very much to Nicolaas as well for allowing me to be part of this journey. I think SAIBA is onto great things, I think we have sustenance and sustainability with such leadership, and I thank Nicolaas and the leadership team there for all that they share with us.
NICOLAAS VAN WYK: Thank you, Teboho, thank you, Ciaran, it was insightful. Thank you so much.