202: Linda Rossouw

I am basically your CFO on call’

Welcome to the CFO Club Africa podcast, where we interview leading CFOs from Africa and beyond. CFO Club Africa is a division of the Chartered Institute of Business Accountants, the professional body for business accountants, financial managers and chief financial officers. Go to www.cfoclub.co.za and join our community of accounting and finance executives.


My guest today is Linda Rossouw, she is the founder and Managing Director of LaRoss Consulting, she founded this business late last year. But before starting this business, she was the CEO and Financial Director of the Uniplate Group, the Commercial Manager of Expert Mining Tools and Element Six’s Managing Director.

She also held executive positions at Galaxy Jewellers, ADT, Shoprite, M&L Distributors and LPA Distributors. She has a long list of academic qualifications, she has completed the General Management programme at GIBS, she also holds an MBA from MANCOSA and she also recently qualified as a business coach. Linda is a Certified Financial Officer at CIBA and a CFO Club member.

Linda, you seem to have studied hard and you’ve worked at many companies in diverse industries. Let’s start with your academic exploits, it seems as if you took and take it very seriously.

I’ve always been a learner; I think the academic path is as important as the physical experience and I always strive to go a little bit better. I’ve never spent one day at university, I have done everything part-time, and I’ve always paid for my own studies. My path has been a long way but I’m always striving to learn more, to improve myself, what can I do next to enhance my knowledge, experience and skills that I have, and go just that little bit further so that I can add further value to whichever company I am working at.

You’ve worked at many companies during your career, you’ve worked at Expert Mining Tools, Galaxy Jewellers, ADT in security, Shoprite in retail. Why did you move around within those industries, and do you think it added value to you as an accountant and as the CEO of your own business?

Absolutely, you’ll see I have a track record of five years, five years and then one year, one year, there were some personal circumstances with that, and then ten years but in each industry you learn so much.

I always say that you cannot come into whatever industry you go into and then make a difference in 18 months, it takes you six months to learn the industry and then to get to know the people, but you make your first impact in the first 100 days.

To really add value, I believe you need to stay in a firm for three to five years, so that you can really make that impact and take learnings from there and then, of course, help the business grow and take it further to success.

But the industries I’ve chosen, as I went around, each time I was asked and recruited. When I was doing my articles, LPA Distributors asked me if I wanted to work on the other side. When I was working with LPA, I was then approached by M&L and because I was working with the big retailers there, Shoprite then approached me, and they said they were looking for someone with my expertise.

So it was really a matter of opportunities that arose while I was within companies and then while I was within companies, at Shoprite Checkers it was around the year 2000 and all the stuff that was going to happen and the prepping of systems to ensure that at midnight everything didn’t shut down.

Then with Whitey Basson acquiring OK Bazaars for R1 and all the work we had to do to convert those shops into the Shoprite culture. It has been an amazing, amazing journey.

I had a little stint at ADT security but that also taught me different things because we were working with not only ADT armed security but there was also the fire side and what do you do within that and how do you build that.

Going into Galaxy it was learning about manufacturing and jewellery, then I ended up at Element Six, which was part of De Beers – Anglo American. There are two sides of Element six, the one side was doing industrial diamonds and the side that I was on was doing tungsten carbide. We were doing manufacturing for the mining industry, specifically for the coal mining industry. That was a phenomenal journey and I learnt so much about manufacturing.

Then I went to Uniplate, which is a very versatile group, where there is manufacturing of number plates but then it was diverse in the respect that we were doing the supply of signage material for printing companies.

So within all of this there were all these learnings and all the value that you have taken from the learnings and the experiences.

Most of the CFOs who I speak to on this podcast normally did their articles and then they do an audit of a specific company and then they are snapped up by that company or a company in that industry and then they build a career in that industry. Sometimes they work for many, many years for one company. What is your view of such a career as opposed to one where you work in many diverse industries? Do you think people following long careers with one company are missing out?

I wouldn’t say that they are missing out, it depends on how they are developing themselves within that company and are there opportunities to grow within that company. If they start off as the accountant and they can grow to the senior accountant, to the FM, to the FD, maybe onto the commercial side. Well, then, of course, it’s fantastic. But when you don’t have that opportunity in a company to grow like that, let’s say it’s a small company and you are already the FD, where do you grow to from there? Yes, of course, we believe in self-development, we make sure to keep on top of things.

I think working in different industries does really bring that advantage, as opposed to someone maybe just staying in one company.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I became of a certain age last year, past a certain big number and my husband and I have always discussed it and said at some point, I want to go and do my own thing. When I reached that point last year, the big question was is it now the time or am I going to wait for later or am I never going to do this. Then I made the decision that now is the time. I went to Uniplate and said I have always had this dream, I have always had this vision, I will help you out for the next three or four months but I am going to resign. Not because I didn’t love working at Uniplate and not because there was still so much value that I could add there but because it was just the time at that point in time.

I believe if I hadn’t made the jump then and started looking at I want to do with wealth creation, I want to leave a legacy, showing my sons how to do things. I’ve got four sons, two of them have their own businesses, so I think it was just a natural progression of this is, now is the time and just make that decision.

Tell us about LaRoss, what services do you offer, how do you find clients and maybe more importantly, clients who are able to pay?

I must be honest, that has been quite an eye-opener, the impact of change, because when I was with Uniplate, part of the conditions of employment was that I would steer away from being very active on social media within the sensitivities of the mergers and acquisitions that we were doing within the group of companies.

So now I have been out of social media for three-and-a-half years and now I’m coming back and I thought how difficult can this be. But I can say to you that business, especially building your own business, a service business, my product is myself but even if I had a product and now not having a personal brand that was also being built, that was left behind. I now had to learn to be active and savvy on social media, which I can tell you is a completely different thing if you have been out of it and not being very active on it before in any case.

Right now, I am really learning what is working and what is not working. The one thing that we have learnt in business coaching is give away those five discovery sessions, give away those five “I can show you how to turn your business around by more than 10%” that type of thing because the more we give, the more we will receive.

I can say with all honesty that I am applying that approach and I am reaping the benefits and the fruit from it. Then, of course, you have word of mouth, I think word of mouth is so important today. I’m still building my website for LaRoss Consulting, which is very exciting, and it’s going to be launched in the next few weeks.

LaRoss Consulting is focused on strategy-based products, growth strategies, turnaround strategies, cash flow strategies, working capital. I was saying to someone the other day I am basically your CFO on call and especially for the SMEs, they cannot afford a CFO at R2 million a year but they could afford the expertise maybe four times a month or maybe just once a month. In the last four months I have seen that there is a huge need for that and yes, some of those businesses are struggling and yes, some of them can’t always pay you now but then we work with them and that’s when the strategy and the coaching comes nicely together.

Modern CFOs and good CFOs need many more skills than purely accounting skills and it’s more the softer skills that I think are very important and becoming more important in the world we live in today. What would your advice be to young accounting professionals eyeing CFO roles in the future, what skills do you think they need to focus on early on in their career?

I would strongly, strongly suggest and advise that before anything else, that they work on the building of relationships because relationships make or break you.

If you don’t have the buy-in of your team and the rest of the organisation, you can do as much as you want to but you’re not going to pull that team together as you want them to pull together. If you don’t have those relationships and you just have people working for you, I always think it’s something different when you have people working for you and when you have people working with you and walking the path with you. You only get that when you are building a good relationship, so that is skill number one, relationships, relationships, relationships.

You are a CFO Club Africa member, what value do you get from being a member?

I have been a member for only a short while, so I’m still finding my way around it and getting to learn the network. But just looking at what is available and the opportunities around that, I think it’s that exposure, that learning and that is why I joined CIBA. I’ve never had professional memberships before because I seemed to not need it but when I started my own business it was important to have that accreditation, to build that network because it’s about the learning and also the sharing and just getting to know people because we have so much to offer to each other and what better way to share amongst each other than a platform like CFO Club Africa.

I’m sure you are an avid reader, what books are you reading right now and which book made a big difference in your life?

I am an avid reader, I always have books lying around everywhere and reading them. The one that really stands out for me, especially in leadership, is In the Driving Seat by Brand Pretorius, retired Chief Executive of McCarthy Limited. What a fantastic leader, what a fantastic example of servant leadership and I read it when it came out and I have actually been reading it again because there are principles in there that are so applicable, whether you’re in corporate, in your own business or coaching someone, there is just so much value in the book.

CFO Club Africa is affiliated with associations of finance executives in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Mexico, Morocco, Tunisia and Namibia, and annually hosts an international CFO summit. You have done the work and achieved the CFO title, now join the CFO Club Africa as a finance executive.

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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