190: Damian Judge

‘With great power comes great responsibility’

Welcome to this CFO Club Africa podcast, in this podcast series I speak to leading CFOs to highlight their professional journeys, their perspectives on the industry and their perceptions regarding the skills a modern CFO must have to lead a successful organization.

My guest today is Damian Judge, he’s the chief financial officer at Trellidor and he has been in this role for three-and-a-half years. Before his move to Trellidor he was the financial director at Kaytech Engineered Fabrics and Advanced Polymers. He was a nominee for the 2021 CFO of the Year award, he was also a SAICA Top 35 Under 35 CA finalist in 2018. He is also the lucky CFO to have won an entry to the upcoming CFO Club tour to Italy, which takes place on the island of Capri.

Damian, let’s start with your trip to Italy, what is it all about and how did you win this really fabulous entry?

It’s really one of those things that only happen to everyone else, but it was through a lucky draw. I’ve been in talks with CFO Club through CFO Talks on podcasts and so on, and I decided to join the club and they did a lucky draw based on new entries and I was the fortunate winner. I’m very excited to join the team heading to Italy next month.

The conference itself offers a lot of interesting topics for discussion, what is on the agenda and which sessions are you looking forward to?

I think it’s a combination of two processes taking place, so we’ve got the CFO Alliance Summit on the one day and then there’s also a National Congress of Finance Directors for two days. So there’s quite a mixed crowd and different topics going on but I think what I’m quite interested to see – sustainability and ESG is hot on the agenda – so I’m keen to listen to where some of the European people’s heads are at in terms of ESG and the processes they are following. Maybe get a yardstick in terms of what I’m seeing in our space in South Africa, and in particular Durban, which has been hit by floods fairly recently, so it’s a hot topic for us. So just to find out how far away or how close we are in terms of what we’re putting in place and doing.

Then there’s a lot of talk around digital transformation of the CFO and accounting space, that’s always interesting for me, from a technology perspective on how we can do things better and faster with more control.

I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to get some insight to what the rest of the world or at least Europe is doing. We tend to live in a bubble in South Africa and you get caught up in what’s around you. I think there’s a lot more going on and it would be nice to hear from other people about their experiences.

The ESG debate is really relevant and, as you say, climate change will impact every single one of us. How significant is it for a company like Trellidor, which manufactures security solutions, how high on the priority list is it for the Trellidor management and how much time does it consume to address it properly.

As executives on a listed entity, it’s a big part of our KPIs and it’s something that we focus on a monthly to quarterly board reporting process. I think the challenge that we’ve got from our perspective is that as an individual operation we don’t necessarily have the biggest footprint or we believe the biggest impact, but we obviously are buying aluminium and steel raw materials, which we know from a mining and smelting process has a massive impact on the environment.

We are doing what we can in our own plant. Last year we invested about R4 million in a solar facility, which went live in January, and we’ve started phase two, which will double our solar capacity at our plant in Durban over the next 24 months. We’ve invested quite a lot in water sustainability, a lot of recycling in plant, a lot of grey water use. We’re doing what we can at a plant level and really starting the investigation in terms of what does our upstream and downstream impact look like and then how we can go about making a difference in those spaces.

Whatever decisions we make has got to be sustainable for people, planet, and the business.

You also referred to the digital transformation challenge many CFOs face, what does that entail, is it better software to help you do your job better or make it easier, what exactly are the challenges and opportunities that digital transformation poses to the modern CFO?

For me it’s about the customer journey ultimately, so if we can enhance the customer’s journey from a digital perspective on how they interact with us, how they do business with us, how they receive their goods, how they place orders for their goods, and if you can integrate that more seamlessly through your accounting system, you obviously get quite a nice integrated process, which should be fairly efficient. It’s also about being able to extract the data, analyse trends and start to make decisions a little bit more clearer on data that’s a lot more transparent in terms of what’s happening in various sales channels, sales markets, route to markets, product sets and how that’s impacting our decision-making at a strategy level.

Who are your customers, are they resellers and installers or do you sell directly to the public?

Through our franchise network we sell directly to the public, so we have our franchise network in the Trellidor business and then within the Taylor organisation, which is our blinds and shutters manufacturer down in the Cape, they’ve got quite an expansive distribution network through distributors and agents, as well as direct sellers. So we are selling directly to the public through these networks. We see ourselves as one big family and we have a distribution across the country which is very effective.

Let’s talk about your role as CFO of Trellidor, you’ve been a CFO of an unlisted company, now you’re the CFO of a listed company, is there a big difference between the two?

You’re catching me in the middle of reporting time, so yes, there’s a massive difference. From a compliance perspective there’s definitely a lift up in terms of what you need to do. But from a day-to-day perspective we’ve got a broader base of shareholders that we need to be accountable for but you have shareholders anyway, so I think the accountability doesn’t go away and it’s just making sure that you’re meeting those targets and managing expectations.

From an operational perspective, I have been really blessed in all the businesses that I have been in to get quite stuck into not only the finance side but also the operation and strategic side. I think the benefit of moving from the unlisted space to particularly Trellidor is to be able to be involved in that strategic direction across multiple businesses, not just one, and then also have quite ambitious growth strategies that we need to implement.

There’s definitely a step up, I think often in the smaller businesses your teams are a little bit smaller, I’ve obviously got a team that’s spread across the country now, so that’s a challenge but the fundamentals remain the same. I think it’s just about getting good systems in place, recruiting a good team around you and then making sure you execute in terms of your KPIs as best as possible.

Do you draw boundaries between the responsibilities of the CFO and the CEO because there could be a significant overlap and perhaps even a scenario where you don’t agree about the way forward.

I think disagreeing is quite healthy in the boardroom and within the CEO space.

I have tried to position myself as the 2IC to the CEO, so we work very closely together. When you spend time together and you’re sharing ideas often, I think you start to align your thinking, your methodology, your goals and strategic direction quite nicely. We all want to achieve the same thing and that’s good growth in the business, healthy employment and a healthy culture for the group. How we get there is obviously up for debate, but we generally do align, and we have a very healthy reliance on our non-executive directors who give us a lot of steer and guidance. We set KPIs as an executive group, so we all know what we need to achieve and how we go about things. We also have open lines of communication where we can walk into each other’s offices and express our concerns or get excited about things and I think it keeps it healthy and robust.

Do you enjoy reading and what types of books do you like to read?

I really enjoy, and maybe it comes back to understanding people, but I enjoy Malcolm Gladwell’s work, he’s written the Outliers and quite a few other books. I love the way he tries to connect you to the thoughts and processes that people are working through and how that informs decision making.

I really enjoy his writing; I think I have read every book he’s written and listened to every podcast. So that really has given me quite a lot of insight into the people side of things.

Ryk van Niekerk is an award-winning financial journalist with over 20 years' experience. He is Moneyweb’s editor and hosts the Market Commentator podcast and RSG Geldsake, covering the markets, and financial and investment content, joined by CEOs, entrepreneurs, policymakers and others.

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