CFO Raven Brijrajh finds purpose in people development

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CFO Raven Brijrajh finds purpose in people development

Apr 29, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

Legend has it that a conversation unfolded between a CFO and a CEO. In this exchange, the CEO urged the CFO to augment the budget allocated for employees’ professional development.

‘What if we spend on this money training these people and then they leave?’ the CFO asks.

‘What if we don’t train them and they stay?’ the CEO responds.

Raven Brijrajh thinking is aligned to that of this CEO. The chief finance officer of Trident Steel is a firm believer in the importance of professional development, so much so that this was the core of his MBA studies at MANCOSA where his thesis explored how to measure the impact of training.

‘I believe in creating a culture of learning in an organisation. When I decided to do an MBA, my preference was to do something slanted towards human resources as it is a skillset I felt I needed having spent a career in finance. I believe skills development is a core pillar and business leadership should consider investing in their people which has the additional benefit of creating a pipeline of skills to choose staff members for different roles,’ Raven says.

Skills development

The necessity for skills development within Trident is even more pertinent as a result of a change in business model. The company has transitioned from a metal stockist entity that would keep an inventory of steel to an automotive steel service centre.

‘We supply five of the seven major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in South Africa. They have differing requirements and consequently we need to have the necessary skills for planning, procurement, production and finance. As these skills are scarce in the steel (automotive) sector, we invest heavily in a pipeline of people to fill positions through succession planning as the business has a natural attrition rate of 3% – 4% per annum,’ Raven explains.

The investment Trident Steel has made in this regard includes providing some staff the opportunity to obtain a matric equivalent as having a matric for entry level staff is a prerequisite for promotion at the company. A number of entry level staff, employed as production learners are also going through formal training and Trident supports the Youth Employment Service (YES) which creates skilling and work opportunities for South African youth at scale. Moreover, Trident has a significant pool of employees that are completing undergraduate or postgraduate studies at university.

‘Our leadership vision is that skills development is a way in which we can contribute to the betterment of our country. We have 15% of our employees attending different programmes each year at a significant cost. The company’s philosophy is to invest in employees to ensure sustainability of its talent pipeline. Those that we do not retain within the company are highly sought after workers like millwrights who easily find employment in the market,’ Raven states.

Leadership perspective

Leadership expert Adam Danyal opines that ‘the cost of replacing a talented person who leaves the company will always be greater than the cost of retaining and recognising them in time’. It is for this reason that Raven states that the company complements skills development with competitive compensation for employees. His own leadership style lends itself to being an enabler of the careers of those that report to him, stating that ‘if I can make a difference in the life of just one person, then I have done what I need to do’.

Raven’s perspective on life was influenced by his maternal grandmother. She lost her husband at age of 22 in 1955 and had to find a way to fend for her five children. She worked in a clothing factory before getting into the insurance business and later getting on a ship from South Africa to India where she established links to trade in goods. She grew her business to a thriving empire that has left a legacy for her children and grandchildren.

‘My grandmother is a testament to the power of tenacity. Despite her success, she was incredibly humble and I always say that if I had just an ounce of her persistence and humility, I will have done well,’ Raven says.

Career profile

Raven grew up in Durban and obtained an accounting degree from the University of Durban-Westville (today UKZN). He took up a job as a shaft accountant at Impala Platinum in Rustenburg in 1997 and his father played a pivotal role in encouraging him to become a chartered accountant which included arranging him an interview for an audit clerk at a medium sized audit firm. He got married in 2000, and wrote the board examinations the same year.

Following his initial failure in the exams, his inherited tenacity from his grandmother spurred him to persevere until he succeeded in passing them. He qualified as a chartered accountant in 2001 and joined BMW SA as a management accountant for a year before taking up a senior auditor position at LMD Africa Chartered Accountants in Pietermaritzburg in 2003.

After a nine-year stint at Macdonald Holdings as group financial controller, Raven joined Trident Steel in March 2017 as Finance Director. Unbeknownst to him, there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on the company as its listed shareholder Aveng had decided that the company was not aligned to its long-terms strategic intent. As Finance Director, Raven spent a lot of time attending to due diligence processes before the business was sold in April 2023 to new owners comprising management, a BEE consortium, local partners and an American company, Solv Holdings LLC.

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