CFO Bright Amisi explains how laziness can inspire success

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CFO Bright Amisi explains how laziness can inspire success

May 13, 2024 | Interviews, Strategy & Leadership

‘Daddy, I think you should get a job at this building so that you can walk across the street and come watch me play sports at school,’ Bright Amisi’s six-year-old daughter said as he dropped her off at her school, sometime in 2008. The building she was referring to was the headquarters of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) in Pretoria.

Bright laughed off the juvenile suggestion but months later, he responded to a job advertisement for a general manager responsible for management accounting at SABS. To his daughter’s delight, he got the job, leaving his post as general manager responsible for finance and administration at Development Bank of South Africa.

Bright would go on to spend eight years at SABS. For six years, he served as the Group Finance Manager leading a team 50 finance professionals. He was instrumental in optimising cash flow management, establishing a new billing department without increasing headcount, and introducing significant operational improvements such as a cross-functional budget committee. For a year up to July 2011, he acted as the executive responsible for Standards where he developed a pioneering standardisation strategy and restructured the division, negotiating effectively with unions to achieve a 30% reduction in headcount.

In April 2014, he was appointed General Manager: Commercial Finance. His role involved working closely with operational teams to identify and pursue new business opportunities, setting prices for services, and leading the deployment of a new Laboratory Information Management System.  Bright also chaired the SABS Pension Fund Board, where he was responsible for the welfare of 1,500 members.

‘In need of a change of scenery, I left SABS in August 2017 to join Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) as global head of finance responsible for decision support. I was responsible for 23 countries which meant that I was often on a plane traveling to different destinations in Africa Europe and Asia,’ Bright recalls.

Joining Solenta Aviation

After three years, Bright’s former boss at SABS, Elis Lefteris gave him a call about the finance director job at Solenta Aviation. Elis was then the group finance director of the Solenta Group. Bright honoured the invitation and made the leap to join Solenta in September 2019. The company has a focus on Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance and Insurance (ACMI) arrangements with clients such as DHL, Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres and a number of mining companies.

‘There are two things I love about the aviation industry. The first is the speed of decision-making; if a decision needs to be made today, we cannot wait until tomorrow. AOG – ‘Airline on Ground’ means that we are not making money and must be avoided at all costs. Secondly, we are in a data driven environment as aircraft have multiple data points. As a commercial entity, having information at our finger tips means that we do not need to second guess what the right course of action is,’ Bright explains.

Among the challenges the team at Solenta has to contend with is the capital-intensive nature of their industry. Capital raising is always an issue meaning there is need for management to have close connections to shareholders and lenders. Another issue is the potential for significant financial losses when unforeseen incidents happen. Examples include an aircraft hitting a bird on take-off or an operator having a mishap while loading cargo.

Solenta’s income is largely based on fixed fees as aircraft are leased to clients for extended periods. This model was quite beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic as their income was not dependent on whether aircraft flew or not. The company did however grant concessions to their customers which have had a lingering effect of entities expecting favourable terms beyond the pandemic.

Formula for success

Asked what his formula for success is, Bright reveals that he has been fortunate to have suitable mentors along the way.

‘There are people who have taken a keen interest in my career and helped me succeed,’ he explains. ‘That makes a huge difference. In my five years here, besides the interaction I have had with the executive team, I have also had access to the shareholders of the company which changes how I see the business. I am able to see from a very close range how they think, what their vision is and what their expectations are.’

‘Furthermore, when I join an organisation, I spend a significant amount of time outside of the finance function. I am now responsible for the inventory management function where we have a large amount of valuable spare parts. I would advise finance people to go outside their remit to gain an understanding of business functions. We have an inherent advantage because it is easier for someone in finance to understand operations than it is for those in operations to wrap their heads around the full spectrum of the numbers,’ Bright adds.

A defining moment for Bright was the passing of his dad. It made him reflect on his family history and come to the understanding that we should do things for others and not for ourselves.

‘I am where I am because someone spoke up for me and asked others to give me a chance. My finance team understands that this is my leadership perspective. I am not looking for bright stars; it doesn’t help if you are brilliant but your attitude is destructive for the overall team. I am here to strengthen the entire system not to cultivate a few pockets of excellence,’ Bright says.

‘I also operate from a position of laziness,’ he continues. ‘I am always looking for ways to do things better, cheaper and faster. If I see a team member online after hours, they shouldn’t expect a pat on the back from me. It is indicative that they have a problem accomplishing their tasks during work hours and we need to interrogate the process and find ways of ensuring the system works seamlessly so as to free us to apply our minds to more strategic matters.’

Bright has political ambitions and is currently reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. ‘I will run for political office once I have accomplished two things. First, my children need to be fully grown and independent and secondly, I need to have made enough money such that I will not be vulnerable to undue influence,’ he concludes.

 

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