Maverick mentality: How CFO Charl Keyter thinks outside the boss

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Maverick mentality: How CFO Charl Keyter thinks outside the boss

May 17, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

Outside of work, Charl Keyter, the CFO of the publicly traded mining company Sibanye-Stillwater, is highly competitive. He has been actively engaged in sports throughout his life and is currently aiming to compete in the 2025 Comrades Marathon. In 2022, he set himself the goal of finishing an Ironman triathlon before turning 50. He achieved this milestone in September 2023, crossing the finish line at the Emilia-Romagna event in Italy.

‘Multiple personality tests have found that I have an extremely high tolerance for stress. I think this stems for my investment in sports outside the office; my advice to professionals is that they should find something that gives them the necessary release from the rigours of the workplace,’ Charl says.

A married father of two boys, Charl says family and work are equally important to him. One of their favourite pastimes as a family is taking part in long range shooting and hunting in places as far as Limpopo and the Kalahari. It has not always been easy to maintain a balance between office and home but he has learnt to keep the equilibrium over time.

‘There are inevitably busy periods at work, such as year-end, when I need to put in extra hours. To balance this, I make sure to spend a lot of time with my family during quieter periods. This is not something I have always done; it has come with experience. Other things I wish I did differently early on was ask questions no matter how silly they seem. When your boss asks you to do something, seek to know how urgent it is before dropping everything and attending to it,’ Charl counsels.

Do more but be patient

‘I further advise accountants to do more than just accounting; they should seek to have a good understanding of the other side of the business so that they can grasp what levers to pull to keep the organisation ticking. Youngsters should avoid rushing. I get surprised when two to three years into their career they want to jump on an MBA. It is better to get practical experience first; do the right thing at the right time,’ Charl adds.

Charl completed his MBA at North West University in 2002. Prior to that he graduated with an accounting degree from University of Johannesburg in 1995 and later obtained the Chartered Management Accounting qualification. One of his motivators to pursue accounting was watching one of his uncles live a comfortable life as the chief personnel officer at one of the mines.

‘He drove a striking Toyota Camry, and it inspired me to aim for the position of finance manager at a mine. My simple goal back then was to earn just enough to buy my own Camry and live in a spacious house with a swimming pool,’ he laughs.

Charl got into mining after Gold Fields of South Africa granted him a bursary at the start of his degree studies. He had to work for the company over the holidays and joined them permanently after graduation. He stayed with the company for 18 years and moved to Sibanye Gold Limited as its first CFO when it was unbundled from Gold Fields in 2013.

‘I have split my career into three-year blocks which is generally the period over which I have been promoted to a different role. I have been offered opportunities outside of accounting like inventory manager and have worked internationally in different positions including acting as CFO of Gold Fields Venezuela for a six-month period. My father worked in the airline industry which instilled in me a love for flying,’ Charl says.

One company, many industries

‘Besides the travel, I have enjoyed my job because a mining company of this size, employing over 80,000 employees, touches on many industries spanning health, housing and hospitality. At some point we ran two big hospitals and we have two in-house medical aids. The accommodation we provide to our workers are akin to running hotels and we own 6,000 company houses that we rent out to our employees. It has not been an easy ride; we go through various cycles but I have learnt through the tough times and pulling through them has made me appreciate the good times even more.’

Charl has experienced more in the decade he has been with Sibanye than the 18 years he spent with Gold Fields. The company has undertaken major acquisitions that have transformed it from a pure gold mining entity to a leading precious metals company. In 2018, Sibanye Gold Limited acquired Stillwater Mining Company in a USD2.6 billion transaction financed through rights issues, bonds and streaming transactions.

The acquisition was followed by some difficult times. Mining accidents and a major wage strike were detrimental to operations at a time when the company was heavily indebted and needed to keep production levels high to meet payment commitments.

‘I remember being called by one of the banks to be grilled about our deleveraging efforts. I was seated on one side of a boardroom with about eight members of the credit committee led by their no-nonsense chairman on the other side. Out of that process, we developed a good rapport with our banking group. My approach has been to give them the facts and not sugar-coat the situation,’ Charl explains.

Minimal formality

Sibanye Stillwater has over 80,000 employees with Charl responsible for a large finance team. The team is well structured with a head of finance in each region and a good number of his team members have worked with him over the years. He avoids micro-management but at the same time, he is willing to roll up his sleeves and jump in and assist his teams in whatever capacity they might need him.

His perspective to work was shaken when he read Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace by Ricardo Semler. In the autobiography, Semler details the transformation within his company Semco with a cultural shift that included workers making decisions previously made by bosses, managerial staff setting their own salaries, universal access to the company books by all employees and minimal formality.

‘I love that book because it taught me that we should not always see things as a straight line. I try and implement some of those ideas in my management style by giving my charges a blank sheet to develop their plans. Another memorable book for me is Who moved my cheese; it is a little book with great insights on moving your career forward. My key take away is that if you hope to serve in a role, you should ensure you have all the necessary tools in your toolbox that would be required should the opportunity present itself,’ Charl concludes.

 

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