CFO Simon Adams cautions against chasing a pay-check

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CFO Simon Adams cautions against chasing a pay-check

Jan 1, 2024 | Interviews

As Head of Finance at Cadbury Kenya, Simon Adams’s job was to resolve the cash flow problems the company was facing. They had ordered tons of raw cocoa to manufacture Cadbury Drinking Chocolate but a slowdown in the Kenyan economy caused by, among other factors, terrorist attacks by Al Shabab had resulted in a dip in sales. As a result, the company was failing to meet its payment obligations, which were largely in foreign currency.

‘Fortunately, the economy picked up and we were able to trade out of the situation. However, the Group took a decision to shut down the manufacturing plant and utilise distributors to push their products in the Kenyan market. One thing I am proud of is that we gave generous termination packages to the employees, particularly those who had been with the company for many years.’

One of the employees who had been there for decades was Philip Kioko, a shop steward. He walked into Simon’s office on his last day to express his gratitude for everything Simon had done for the company and the staff. ‘He insisted that I must return to the country and promised to organise for me a local woman to be my second wife. He was dead serious, and I nearly fell off my chair laughing. I was at pains to explain to him that I came from a different culture and that Sian would not be too pleased with the arrangement.’  

Advice

Now CFO of Nandos South Africa, Simon advises young professionals to find out what drives them. It may sound clichéd, he says, but money is not everything. It offers financial security, but it is also crucial to figure out as early as possible what other things motivates you. That includes what you want out of a company in terms of your time, your expertise, relationships and friendships. For him, for example, a role that promises opportunities to travel and experience different cultures has a big advantage over other jobs.

‘When you get into the workplace, try and learn from everybody, not just those who are above you in the corporate hierarchy,’ Simon says. ‘Everybody has a story and if you care to listen, you will be surprised what gems you will uncover’. He points out that for accountants in particular there is a marked transition into business; during articles they are working with like-minded agemates but when they leave, they are suddenly surrounded by people of all ages who are not all bean-counters. It is important to have your wits about you when you make that change to be able to adapt to new people and new ways of thinking.

‘Youngsters should not be in a hurry move up the ladder,’ Simon cautions. ‘Whilst it is nice to get promotions and more responsibility, you should appreciate that there is so much to be learnt at each stage. Be careful not to jump too quickly in pursuit of a promotional pay-check. At the same time, you should avoid stagnating; if you feel you are no longer adding value in your role, it may be time to consider other opportunities.’

He, however, thinks he has been a bit too linear in the moves that he has made which he thinks boils down to his risk-averse nature. ‘In retrospect, I think it is advisable not to try and control everything and to occasionally take a leap of faith because many times, things will not go according to plan no matter how methodical you try to be.’

Live in the moment

For this reason, Simon tries to live in the moment and just enjoy what he is doing without worrying too much about what is next for him. There is a wide range of possibilities, including seeking further opportunities within the Nando’s international organisation, working in a different industry, working in a different country, or seeking a role in broader management.

Whereas the chartered accountant qualification and career exposes a professional to different business functions, it is important to continue to expand your knowledge. In this regard, Simon is currently undertaking a Master of Philosophy degree with specialisation in corporate strategy. The course is designed to ‘help you gain a deep understanding of how organisations need to think strategically and react timeously to rapidly changing business environments, digital disruption and fast changing business models’.

He also believes a strategy should also talk to all facets of the company to avoiding treating different functions as silos. It should go beyond the numbers and be centred around the problems the business looks to solve – for Nando’s, this is having healthy but tasty fast food. It is the solutions that the company provides and how effectively it solves the problems it faces that makes the entity and its strategy, relevant.

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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