Sasol CFO Hanre Rossouw – How a metallurgist became a ‘Master of Money’

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Sasol CFO Hanre Rossouw – How a metallurgist became a ‘Master of Money’

Dec 29, 2023 | Strategy & Leadership

Sasol Limited’s Hanré Rossouw is one of the very few listed company CFO who isn’t a qualified chartered accountant. In fact, he graduated in chemical engineering at Stellenbosch University but his thirst for knowledge and new challenges would spur him on to gain other qualifications and experiences in a range of industries. Hanré has always wanted more.

Whilst his student friends spent their holidays learning to surf at Muizenberg, Hanré – who hails from Gqeberha – was required to work at Anglo American as part of the conditions for his bursary. After graduating in 1997, the company deployed him to Amcoal Colliery in Witbank where he worked as a metallurgist. Hanré arrived with a degree from one of South Africa’s top university only to find himself working as a shift worker, unloading coal from a train. At the end of each day, he had to scrub himself down with Handy Andy.

Becoming a CFO

Years later after obtaining an MBA and working in consulting, one of the directors at Royal Bafokeng Platinum (RBPlat) approached Hanré about taking up the Group CFO role at the company. Hanré wasn’t looking for a new job at the time, but he agreed to have a cup of coffee with the RBPlat CEO Steve Phiri, with whom he had interacted a few times before.

The discussions with Phiri convinced Hanré to take on yet another new challenge. The company was a medium size player in the platinum industry which would give him the opportunity to take part in the creation of something bigger. In addition, RBPlat is the only community-owned company that is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) which makes it attractive for  people like Hanré who want to make a real difference in communities.

‘Paying dividends is very important. Many mining companies think of shareholders as the last person who should expect to see returns but my view is that they should be at the centre of everything we do. The project teams at RBPlat did heroic work in enabling these returns in tough market conditions,’ Hanré says.

On 1 July 2021, various newspaper outlets announced that Hanré will be taking over as CFO of the JSE and New York Stock Exchange-listed petrochemicals group Sasol. He joined the company in April 2022 after a lengthy and structured handover period.

‘I am joining Sasol at a time when the world is confronted by climate challenge and the group has to reimagine its future. Sasol has been going through a difficult time and the balance sheet has been shaken tremendously. A lot has been done to right the ship and my job will be to assist in the continuation of that recovery.’

Strategies for success

Taking on this new role will require Hanré to draw on the lessons he has learnt previously in putting together successful strategies. From a theoretical point of view, he mentions the need to consider Porter’s Five Forces: the threat of new entrants, internal competition, threat of substitutes, customer bargaining power and supplier’s bargaining power. This model was described in Harvard Business School’s Professor Michael E. Porter’s book Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors.

From a practical standpoint, Hanré says a strategy has to be agile. A formal document helps shape thinking but management needs to balance risk and reward. There is the temptation to be conservative and run a stable company that pays regular dividends to its shareholders. However, for a company to achieve its true potential it needs to take risks and place bets   that could potentially progress it from good to great.

Looking back, there isn’t much Hanré would have done differently in terms of his career. He is grateful for the opportunities that were given to him and the lessons learnt from mentors such as the importance of listening to others. He also believes you should use the knowledge you acquire to develop other people, which includes training them to take over your job. Being protective of your position and preventing others from succeeding you, stifles your own growth, he says.

‘It is important to be patient as you progress up the corporate ladder,’ Hanré continues. ‘Always seek to have an element of uncertainty and discomfort, which will nudge you to stretch yourself in what you do. Take note of the learnings that come your way and don’t rush – you need to crawl before you can walk and you need to walk before you can run.’

Corridor politics

Hanré advises against engaging in ‘corridor politics’, where individuals put their interests before those of the organisation. This includes turf wars where professionals share information selectively because they want to outdo their colleagues. This is ‘the cancer that kills organisations’, he says.

Management should recognise that people inherently want to succeed. It is unnecessary to control everything they do, for instance by  checking what time they check in and out. This creates distrust while employees need to feel trusted and supported in order for them to excel. According to Hanré a leader should also aim to understand each team member and allow them to fail from time to time as it is part of the learning process.

Asked what he is reading at the moment, Hanré pulls out a copy of Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When The Stakes Are High, a New York Times bestselling business read. He is also a keen reader of other genres and his favourite novel is The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia. Of the many biographies he has read, he recommends Fortunes: The Rise and Rise of Afrikaner Tycoons by Ebbe Dommisse.

Hanré hasn’t planned his future beyond the task that lies ahead for him as Sasol CFO. His next move has always been determined by a simple quest – to avoid getting bored by seeking out new challenges and finding solutions to new problems.

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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