CFO Michael Michael opines your work must be enjoyable to be worth it

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CFO Michael Michael opines your work must be enjoyable to be worth it

Dec 29, 2023 | Strategy & Leadership

In 2013, Kevin Burford retired from the company and Michael Michael was appointed as his replacement in the Financial Director position at Gem Diamonds Limited. In his first year as CFO, good financial results enabled the company to pay its maiden dividend to shareholders.

Since then Michael’s role involves formulating and implementing strategies that ensure such results are consistently delivered. ‘At the end of the day, your strategy needs to be geared towards creating wealth. This does not just mean financial prosperity but wealth in every sense of the word. This includes development and growth of employees, upliftment of community and value for shareholders. The strategy needs to be considerate of all players across the entire value chain.’


The best strategies are those that anticipate opportunities that may not be apparent at the time when a plan is being set out. In the current depressed economic environment, it is tempting for Gem Diamonds Limited to go into survival mode and ‘hide under the covers’ until the storm has passed, Michael says. However, that would be a mistake, he believes, as there are prospects that can be taken advantage of.

‘For instance, there are organisations and mining assets that are in distress that a well-funded company could seek to take over. Some may see that as preying on the weak but we don’t see it that way. It is about finding a win-win solution for entities that would otherwise go bankrupt or remain under care and maintenance for a long period of time without the ability to restart operations.’

Technology is also an important cog in the strategic wheel. This is particularly true for the diamond industry.

‘Unlike other minerals, no two diamonds are the same. The pricing is also not linear in nature; if you have a five-carat diamond, the price will not be five times that of a one carat diamond. Depending on the quality, the price will be much higher. As a result, we need the kind of technology that will cause the least damage to our diamonds in the extraction and production process.’

Mining technology

The company has seen the benefits of investment in first-class mining technology. In October 2020, they recovered a 439-carat diamond christened the Letšeng Icon that sold for a whopping 16 million dollars. In 2018, they recovered the 910-carat Lesotho Legend that sold for forty million dollars.

Strategy is a long-term process that requires short-term decision-making mechanisms to steer the business through different cycles, Michael says.

‘When your business is operating well and generating cash, it is easy to be fixated on longer term goals, forgetting that a crisis may come along that will force you to treat survival as your primary concept. You need to always keep an eye on emerging and principal risks to be ready for possible headwinds.’


Michael advises young professionals to try and find something positive in of every situation rather than read too much into the different scenarios they find themselves in.

‘Sometimes new employees are no different from my children,’ Michael says. ‘For instance, my daughter would send a WhatsApp message to a friend and if she does not respond within a few minutes she would complain about how her friend has “blue-ticked” her. She immediately assumes her friend has ignored her, yet the friend could simply be busy and will respond later. Similarly, I would advise professionals not to always assume the worst, but to consider the alternatives that may help to explain different situations.’

Michael gets amused by his children who at times would complain about apparently insurmountable challenges they have to face. ‘I tell them these are first world problems and things could be a million times worse. Similarly, at the office, I see people can get extremely frustrated about an issue, while some of their difficulties are not the end of the world. It is often totally unnecessary to feel so sorry for yourself over a certain state of affairs when there are people out there who would kill to be in your situation given the unemployment rate we have in this country.’

It’s crucial to be satisfied in your job, Michael says. ‘You spend so much time working, time you also spend away from your loved ones. It is therefore imperative that you enjoy your work and feel you can have some fun.’


‘Beyond that, find a job that is challenging, look for something that will make you uncomfortable so that you can learn new things and grow as an individual. There is no point in taking up a job that will not make you a better person in terms of expanding your knowledge and enhancing your technical and professional skills.’

One of the key things Michael looks at when considering employees for promotion is how innovative they are. This does not mean that they should ‘cook the books’ within the financial reporting process but rather that they should think of opportunities regardless of how simple the transaction is they are dealing with.  They should also challenge decisions taken and feel free to give their views regardless of whether or not the organisation adopts it.

Relationships of trust is another important aspect of an effective team. The employee needs to trust the business and vice versa. This provides a comfort level under which team members can operate effectively with transparency and openness. A professional should therefore strive to earn the trust of the organisation.

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 –

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