204: Ehsaan Moosa

It’s not how well you talk, it’s about the work you put in’

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 Ehsaan Moosa, he’s currently the Financial Director of Komatsu Africa Holdings, a subsidiary of the Japanese parent company, and he has been in this role for nearly four years. Komatsu Africa supplies mining, construction, earthmoving and utility equipment in Southern Africa. It’s quite a big business and operates from a R1.3 billion industrial complex in Johannesburg.

Before joining Komatsu, he was a Senior Manager at KPMG in South Africa and he was responsible for several large audit clients. Ehsaan is a Chartered Accountant.

Ehsaan, I’ve seen many of Komatsu’s excavators, bulldozers and dump trucks at mining and construction sites. How big is the Southern African operation?

We operate in South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, Namibia, we also have our dealers in Mauritius, Madagascar, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Zambia also has a dealership agreement. That’s the territory that we cover in this area, it’s nine countries that we cover as Komatsu Africa Holdings and that’s the territory that we cover through our distributor agreement with Komatsu Limited.

It’s an international brand, one of the top manufacturers and suppliers of this equipment, who are your typical clients?

It’s across the board, it’s not only mining, obviously mining is big for us but it’s the mining houses, the mining contractors, construction, agriculture. We know that construction has been a bit of a saturated market but hopefully there will be a turnaround once infrastructure spend starts again. Currently, business is doing well, we are fairly upbeat over the next year in terms of where we sit as a business.

Financial indices are all positive, we’ve just presented our business plans to our shareholders and we’re still portraying a positive business plan for next year.

But next year is key, the economic decisions that are going to be made in this country, what’s going to happen with the load shedding situation in this country, it hasn’t had a detrimental impact on our business up to this point but we know that businesses are struggling and it could have a detrimental impact across the industry but hopefully these problems can be resolved and this country’s true potential can be realised.

Tell us a bit about yourself, where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an accountant?

I grew up on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast during the ‘80s and ‘90s. I think accounting for me was something that’s more business acumen than accounting. During my young days, growing up in my dad’s business, accounting for me was natural from the days of high school, I always received the accounting awards and so on. It was a natural progression for me going into the accounting industry.

I went straight from high school into the University of Natal, as it was known at that time. In 2003 I graduated with my honours degree, and I then left KwaZulu-Natal, as I saw the opportunities and commerce industry in Gauteng. I’ve been living in Gauteng since 2004, I spent eleven years at KPMG, I served my articles at KPMG and worked my way up to Senior Manager before I joined Komatsu. At Komatsu, I have been in three positions, and this is my third position since I joined them nine years ago.

That has been a recurring theme in many of my discussions with CFOs, many accountants move from the auditing side to the commercial world, mostly shortly after they’ve completed their articles. Why did you decide to jump the fence?

I think it was in 2013 that I realised that I wasn’t being challenged anymore, I’m a person who likes challenges. Sometime around 2013 I was realistic with myself and thought that I had probably exhausted my skills. If I look back on my career, I learnt a lot in the auditing profession, a lot of the key skills that I have today were gained in the audit profession. But I realised sometime in 2013 that I had exhausted my talent in terms of the audit environment, it wasn’t challenging me anymore and I’m a person who knows when to walk away.

I started broadening my horizons and looking elsewhere, Komatsu fell into my lap, and I haven’t looked back since then.

Obviously, you are in charge of the accounting side of the business, how involved are you with the strategic responsibilities at the company?

It’s not only on the financial side that I’m involved, I’m also responsible for finance and the IT systems. ICT also falls under my mandate, in my last position I was the CIO of the business, so that just moved up with me into this role, where I’m responsible for ERPs and so on.

I’m heavily involved in strategy and the business side of things. As I said earlier, I’m not a typical accountant, for me it’s business acumen and this is where I think the modern accountant today has to grow a lot more. You’ve got to have those business acumen skills, it’s not only about being a CA or knowing the IFRS textbook or your technical abilities, you’ve got to be able to broaden your horizon and have those key acumen skills as a modern day accountant.

What are the biggest challenges that you face in your job right now?

I think the challenges that we have are really around the volatility that we’re dealing with in the markets, we’re dealing with ongoing volatility. Obviously, we know what’s going on in the US markets, it’s extremely strong, we don’t know which day we’re waking up and dealing with volatility with our South African rand.

That’s the biggest challenge, the volatility in the exchange rate markets, being unsure of what stage of load shedding we are on each day and that causes volatility in our business and that’s a challenge that we deal with daily.

It’s become almost second nature that you have market traders open on your desktop, watching what’s happening with the exchange rates to ensure that you’re actually staying on top of exchange rates. That is one of the key challenges that we have is the volatilities in the markets, that’s an ongoing issue for us.

I live in hope, we have a great country, there’s huge potential in this country and if we get a lot of this right in terms of dealing with what’s going on in the markets and staying on top of our load shedding issues, if we can get past all of this negativity, get back to growth in this country, start investing in infrastructure, I believe there is a lot of potential in the country, it will reduce this volatility.

What are your views of the modern CFO because most of the academic training you would have received would have been focused highly on accounting, tax and auditing. But the roles have evolved over the years quite significantly, as you mentioned earlier, business acumen is critical. How do you think the role of CFO has changed since you’ve been a finance professional?

I leave the younger generation to worry about the technicalities in the IFRS books, in the tax books, that’s what you have the specialist skills in the business for. I don’t let that worry me too much but obviously I stay on top of it. I read a lot and that’s the way I keep up with what’s going on. We have our minimum CPD requirements to keep up with an on annual basis, so I attend seminars and also online webinars to ensure that I keep up with the changes that are going on in tax, accounting and so on.

But the modern day CFO, whether you are a CFO or a manager, the mindset has to change, the modern day accountant cannot only rely on their textbook, you’ve got to start thinking a lot more analytical, that’s the way the world has moved.

These skills that you refer to, do they come naturally or did you have to focus on it to try and learn it as your career progressed?

For me, it comes naturally but at the same time it’s something that I train my staff on because it doesn’t come naturally to everyone, because I came with that business acumen, being involved in the business world as I grew up, it comes naturally to me. I see things differently, I see the big picture, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone and it’s something that I train my staff on and I challenge my staff on to think differently.

It’s unfortunate but true that the youngsters of today who are coming out of university and coming out of the audit environment, unfortunately their view is too black and white, and this is where we’ve got to pick them up and train them a bit differently to modernise in terms of the way the commercial world is working currently.

I think as time goes, I do believe that the accounting profession will change, and I do see a lot of CAs coming out of the commercial fields rather than the auditing fields because they will realise that they are better off in the commercial fields. Hopefully the accounting profession will move that way, hopefully the accounting regulator will see that as well and put training programmes in place to accommodate that.

What advice do you have for young accountants who have the option to move from the auditing side to the commercial world and then to evolve and gain skills to become excellent chief financial officers or financial directors?

I heard this a lot when I was in auditing, everybody says the grass is greener on the other side. Firstly, the advice I have for youngsters is do not have that fallacy, the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side. Whichever way you decide to go, it’s all about the effort you’re prepared to put in and where you see yourself going, and ask yourself, where do I want to be in five years from now.

By the end of your articles you know is the audit profession for me or is it not for me. Am I going to stick to the audit profession or am I going to move into a specialist skill. Am I suited to the audit profession or do I want to move into the commercial field.

If I’ve made the decision to move into the commercial field, then make that decision and do not look back behind you for one second. That’s the important first step to make is make the decision, where does my future lie.

I believe a lot of the youngsters probably post their university careers, post their articles, probably don’t do career counselling and don’t do enough career coaching independently, and that’s important for them to do and try to make a decision on where they want to go with their future.

Once they make that decision, it’s never too late to change your decision, if you decide you’re staying in the audit profession – I made the decision to stay in the audit profession but then I told myself a few years later I’m not being challenged anymore and it’s time for me to make the change. I then made that change.

So there’s nothing wrong with changing your career path afterwards. Always be honest with yourself, always ask yourself am I being challenged in what I am doing, do I need to do something else. But never sit in a position and remain stagnant, make sure you are setting your career goals, make sure you’re setting your career path and always ensure that you are meeting your objectives. You’ll never lose through hard work, never remain stagnant, always motivate, always set career goals and set a career path.

If you’re not growing, then ask yourself where is my next step; always ask yourself where do I see myself in five years from now.

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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