CEO Craig Miller shares lessons for aspiring finance managers

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CEO Craig Miller shares lessons for aspiring finance managers

Dec 29, 2023 | Strategy & Leadership

As a student of Norkem Park High School in Kempton Park Johannesburg, the introspective Craig Miller could not think of anything worse than a career that would require expressive writing and public speaking. It chased him into the numerical arms of accounting, a career he believed would afford him and his calculator serenity and solitude.

But as they say, life is what happens to you as you are busy making other plans. As CEO and former finance director of Anglo American Platinum, the world’s largest platinum group metals producing company, regular and effective communication with employees, investors and members of host communities is a key aspect of stakeholder management and now a part of his daily job. Although experience and training has helped Craig overcome his natural reticence, you can tell that he remains an introvert who prefers not to draw too much attention to himself.

Strategy

The challenges the company experienced have led to an adaptation of their strategy. The focus is now on ensuring that the business is not fragile to external shocks while at the same time investing in future prospects that would grow the business. According to Craig,  a good strategy strikes a balance between focusing on only what is realistically achievable and being flexible and ambitious enough to grasp opportunities when they materialise. The strategy needs to take into account the macro and socio-economic environment in which the company operates, set out key milestones, delivering in stages on the strategic objectives and result in greater value for shareholders.

‘We also recognise that the business environment in South Africa has changed and there is now even greater need to work closely with our host communities, government and other stakeholders to create shared value. We want our stakeholders to view us as a valuable partner, rather than just this thing that sits on a hill close by.’

‘Despite the impact of the coronavirus and the ACP breakdowns, the company managed record headline earnings of R46 billion in 2021. There are few companies that are enjoying this kind of success and my view as Finance Director is that we need to be responsible with what we do with such profits. This includes being balanced in how we allocate capital and financial resources, supporting our employees, our communities and government as we tackle the pandemic and returning financial returns to our shareholders.’

Craig is sometimes referred to as ‘Dr. No’ in the business because of the firm stand he has to take in ensuring expenditure is sensibly managed. In doing so, he tries to have a management style that lends itself towards guiding, rather than directing people.

Management style

‘I try and encourage people to think for themselves and to explore areas they ordinarily wouldn’t have considered in performing their duties. I also find that collaboration within the team is more effective than one-on-one instructions. As a result, we celebrate successes as a group much more than we do as individuals.’

In light of his management style, Craig has a bias for people who are team players when he is recruiting or promoting individuals within the finance function. Anglo American has ‘care and respect’ as one of its values alongside safety, innovation, collaboration, accountability, and integrity. It is important that the employee has a similar value system to the company, something Craig says he can pick up on quite quickly.

‘Beyond that, I think a good staff member is one who is ambitious and works hard. I recognise that not everybody wants to be the CEO or CFO, but it is still vital for employees to be motivated to go one step further and be determined to do better. One should have a level of professionalism that produces work which results in good outcomes … work they can be proud of.

‘Finally, I always try to have diversity of thought and perspectives in my team as broad ideas give birth to the most robust solutions.’

Lessons for aspiring finance managers

Craig remembers a popular saying of his mom that ‘what is for you will not go past you’. In light of this, he advises young professionals to grab every opportunity that comes their way and to develop resilience and confidence as early as possible in their careers. It is more important to focus on broadening your knowledge and horizons than to aim to climb the corporate ladder. The latter happens as a natural consequence of the former.

Hard work pays off but for Craig it is also important to find a balance between work and family life. As Jesse Jackson once said, children need your presence much more than your presents.

‘If there is one aspect of my career I would change, it would be how much time I previously spent with my family. I often wonder what kind of childhood my sons would remember. Would they think of dad as someone who was around a lot or as a figure consumed by his job?’

One of the few positive corollaries of the pandemic is that working from home has become the norm for many. This has enabled Craig to spend much more time with Nina and the boys who recently turned eleven.

At the time of our interview in June 2021 he is at their holiday home in Knysna, and it is the day after Youth Day. He mentions how the day before he and his wife had a conversation with their boys about the meaning of Youth Day.

‘We also reflected on the book To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It shares a major theme with one of the books the boys were doing at school, Born A Crime, by Trevor Noah, namely the impact of hatred and prejudice and not to judge a book by its cover. I have found this lesson to be very valuable in my career and being able to empathise particularly with people.  We should all have an appreciation for people’s background and experiences before making decisions about them.’

This article is an extract from the book Masters of Money – Strategies for Success from the CFOs of South Africa’s Biggest Companies available here – https://www.takealot.com/masters-of-money/PLID90121297?gad_source=1&gclid=CjwKCAiAyp-sBhBSEiwAWWzTnmLGsW3EWthrsEzrN69lcPhFqkxkQjPsxSF6CHoP2oj6-XRBtDB5gBoCfA8QAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

 

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