CFO Mohammed Abdool-Samad says big plans can be counterproductive

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CFO Mohammed Abdool-Samad says big plans can be counterproductive

Dec 29, 2023 | Interviews

Mohammed Abdool-Samad is a “truly decent human being”. That is how Gavin Dalgleish describes him.

Gavin is the current CEO of Illovo Sugar and Mohammed’s former colleague dating back to 2010/2011 when they both joined the entity.

Aircraft incident

“We had a really great relationship. He was superb to work with; we developed a common understanding of the business and I learnt a lot from him. We had many memorable moments,” Gavin reflects.

One of the most memorable moments was a flight from Zambia to South Africa aboard a small company aircraft. There were only three passengers, Gavin, Mohammed and a Regional Director by the name of Ian Parrot.

“Mohammed is a devout Muslim and had on a number of occasions educated us on the different facets of his faith including why he didn’t consume alcohol. Ian and I goaded him to have a stiff drink on the flight. We told him that Allah couldn’t see him that high up in the sky.”

Mohammed was not buying it and proceeded to warn that the contravention could lead to some flight trouble.

“He joked that if the plane went down, there was no way his ashes could be confused for mine given my rather large physique. But there was the possibility of Ian’s and his body being mixed up and he could only imagine how upset his father would be to receive the ashes of some Afrikaans guy who loves to drink instead of his,” Gavin laughs. “I love the fact that he doesn’t take himself so seriously.”

Eerily, one of the engines of the aircraft stop working which led to some nervy moments given the conversation that had just been held. Fortunately, they landed safely.

World-class finance function

Gavin recalls Mohammed was responsible for building ‘a world class finance function’. It had emerged as the best in the ABF group by the time Mohammed left Illovo in 2019 to take up the CFO role at Massmart. Mohammed explains that the move to Massmart was inspired by a feeling in 2018 that he had done all that he needed to do at Illovo, and it was time for a new challenge.

“Illovo was like a family to me and I was happy to leave knowing that I have left it in good shape and in good hands, with a healthy balance sheet and highly talented people that were up to the task. Massmart presented me with the prospect of a different experience in a larger organisation. Two weeks after I joined the company, the then CEO resigned which was an additional challenge given that the company was struggling financially.”

A new CEO, Mitchell Slape, joined Massmart in September 2019 and the pair were charged with crafting a turnaround plan to present to the board for approval.

Turnaround plan

“Together with the Executive team, we developed an ambitious turnaround plan within nine weeks. It was quite a difficult piece of work; an ambitious, necessary, and truly transformative exercise. It was by far the most difficult task I have ever undertaken. In the end, the plan is achievable and addresses all the areas of the business that we need to fix. At the heart of it is a cost reset of R1.9 billion which will require changing the business model from a federated enterprise to more of a centralised one and folding four independent business units into two divisions namely retail and wholesale.”

Completing the turnaround plan was Mohammed’s short to medium term preoccupation but he had not applied his mind much to what he will be up to beyond that.

“I actually don’t make long term professional plans which is funny because I always advocate long term planning to others including my daughters Almira, Inaam and Johara. I try and ensure that I am sufficiently challenged in what I am doing and based on that, I do my best to overcome those challenges, and try to continuously develop and stay relevant. I believe that opportunities will come my way and I will chose the right one when it presents itself. I find that sometimes having a big plan can be counterproductive because you become obsessed about achieving the plan. By contrast, if you work hard and enjoy what you do, that in itself will open up the right opportunity and define your next move.”

In March 2023, Mohammed left Massmart to join Walmart Canada as CFO.

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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