180: Prinisha Khoosal

Give it grit and you can achieve whatever you want to achieve’

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Draftworx, which provides automated drafting and working paper financial software to more than 8000 accounting and auditing firms and corporations. CFO Talks is a brand of the South African Institute of Business Accountants.

We welcome Prinisha Khoosal, who is CFO of Bridgestone Southern Africa, based in Johannesburg. She was previously manager for commercial integration at BP Southern Africa and before that, head of regional finance for Blackberry for the Middle East and Africa. Prinisha is registered with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, which gives her a strong grounding in the preparation and analysis of accounts for management. She has a BCom from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and completed her schooling in Pietermaritzburg.

Prinisha, tell us a little bit about Bridgestone and its operations in Southern Africa and how business has been going in the last couple of years.

When I was approached to work for Bridgestone, I must admit, I thought hmm, work for a tyre company, I know nothing about tyres. You get this image of how it’s all put through a mould and I was very wrong. Tyres is such a vibrant industry; it’s been one of those mind-blowing experiences. Bridgestone as a company has been in South Africa since 1936 when it first opened its plant in Port Elizabeth and Bridgestone as a company started in 1930. Bridgestone has had a long legacy of manufacturing in South Africa, be it for agriculture, be it for truck, bus and road or be it for your passenger tyres.

It’s come a long way because it used to be known as a manufacturing company, but it has switched gears since about 2017 where its become a consumer goods company based purely on what market demand requires and what it’s dictating, so it’s quite a bit of a switch. We’ve had a phenomenal year in 2021 and now 2022 is also stacking up to be a really good year and it’s just based on driving a focused approach of doing a few things but doing it well and we’re starting to see the results of it. The company does manufacturing in South Africa, we do wholesale and retailing here, and all of that is supported by logistics and supply chain. We also have a presence in Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Zambia and Mozambique.

Bridgestone had a good year in 2021 and now in 2022 but I’m curious to find out what drives that?

Sometimes when we talk about Covid, we only talk about the bad of Covid, I think the good part of Covid when it hit in 2020, it got companies to pause and reflect and look into their business and see how they optimise. So cost optimisation, sales optimisation, inventory optimisation and supply chain optimisation became a focus. During that time in 2020 we almost got to reset, which was a good thing, and I think last year as the global economy started to move out of Covid and back into trading, you started to see commodity prices spike, you started to see shipping lines get constrained and you started to see shipping costs rise.

I always say that having local manufacturing is a competitive advantage.

If you can keep your source of supply close to your customer, you win the in-market battle. I think that has really been a good thing for Bridgestone, how we planned our supply chain and how we managed to optimise our local manufacturing to feed market demand.

I’m interested to hear about you and why you chose the CIMA route to become an accountant, please explain that.

I grew up in Pietermaritzburg and I found out very early that I didn’t want to be your traditional accountant, I must admit that I struggled with auditing, and I found that my skill was in commercial business finance, and I majored in business finance and economics.

As I started my career young in London where I worked for Universal and I got into that vibe of getting in touch with CIMA candidates and then I got into Gillette as a financial analyst and they ran the CIMA Top Programme, and I got into that. I started to see a very different way of how finance is run, it’s not so much about the transactional but more informed in terms of insight, intervention and providing proper business intelligence or as we say, management information. I like that and I found that when I moved to CIMA it helped me hone in on and improve that skill of the technical part.

I must say though, the CFO of today and the CFO of tomorrow is two different people. The CFOs of tomorrow are completely moving away from transactional and it’s all about tech and data. If you can manage tech and data and do proper business information insights, that is where you are going to win. I found that CIMA gave me that platform to understand that.

What got you interested in accounting in the first place?

It’s a funny story, I initially was passionate about becoming a geologist, but my dad sat me down one day and said you have a natural skill for numbers, analysing and you can find things quicker than most people. It’s something that I think came naturally to me, problem-solving, trying to get issues sorted, understanding how the money moves and I enjoyed it, I don’t see it as something that I had to go and learn the technique of how to do it, it just came naturally. Hence, the passion for it came in and I’ve been very lucky in my career, I’ve managed to spend it in some really good companies that just improved on that natural skill of how do you improve on a natural gift that you have in terms of analysing numbers, how can you channel it into different ways.

What advice do you have for young accountants aspiring to reach the top of their field?

I can impart the knowledge that I was given at a very young age, I had a very good mentor and he said to me when you are young learn as much as you can about what you are interested in and what your job is asking you to do. Use the time to build your platform and ground your foundation in terms of your technical capability. I would say the world is evolving and technology plays a big part of it, digitalisation plays a big part of it, so please embrace that change.

The world is no longer looking at transactional reporting accountants, it’s transitioning very, very fast to people who can interpret data, understand data and drive intervention.

How do you impactfully influence the strategy of the company and you do that through embracing technology, digitalisation and your technical capability to be a business partner with the business, rather than work in a silo. Don’t ever just think of yourself as a bean counter, be an integral part of the business, where you are valued for your input, direction and your steer.

Just on that point, is experience a critical part of building up your skill set and how much is technical knowledge part of the success of an accountant?

Experience for sure, we always say nothing can compromise experience. So get experience and hence, my comment on learn, learn, learn and just do the work because you’ll be amazed because a little thing I learnt 20 years ago is coming to the forefront today and it’s helping somebody or it’s influencing a different decision. Experience definitely counts but getting the right experience also counts. So be mindful and more aware of what you want to do, how do you want to, embrace it and go for it.

The South African Institute of Business Accountant’s CFO (SA) designation was launched because they wanted to recoginse these skills that people acquire through their professional journey, rather than what they learn in the classroom. I think a lot of these skills are something that you’re not going to learn until you do it, right?

Absolutely, I’ll give you a basic example, you talk about diversity and inclusion, on paper it can tell you exactly what it is but unless you feel it, experience it yourself, you’ll never be able to learn that emotion in a textbook. We drive a very big diversity and inclusion agenda at Bridgestone, and more so because it’s only when you are in that work environment that you see it play out in terms of the perspective, the backgrounds and the learning that comes with it.

Diversity brings perspective and you cannot learn that anywhere else besides on the job.

Are there any books that you would recommend?

There are a few books, the one is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni, it’s a very good book, which basically says that the overarching success for any team is trust. How do you build trust within your organisation, how do you build trust with your peers and the teams you manage below you.

At the moment I am also reading Finding Your True North: A Personal Guide by Andrew N. McLean, Bill George, and Nick Craig. I find that the most fascinating book because it talks about crucible moments in your life and the crucible moments in your life can start when you’re five years old, it’s experiences that shape you. I’m really enjoying those two books at the moment and I would highly recommend for people to read them.

Ciaran is a seasoned journalist and podcast host. He has a back-ground in finance and mining, having pre-viously headed up a gold mining operation in Ghana.
In this podcast he interviews various CFOs, getting more detail on the role of the CFO and their daily challenges and solutions.

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