Jan Beukes, Group Treasurer at South African video entertainment group MultiChoice, shapes strategy around one guiding mantra: treasury must add value and pay for itself. Treasury should engage and get involved in the business in an expansive role that reaches far beyond just operational support. “For treasury to be a strategic business partner you have to add value. You can’t just be a processing cost centre,” he says, from where, given the firm’s Randburg offices remain closed, he recently accepted Treasury Today’s coveted 2021 Adam Smith Awards Overall Winner – Best in Class Treasury Solution in Africa.
It is this belief that has shaped a busy couple of years of sweeping operational optimisation and automation, bringing new data and visibility to decision making and forecasting, particularly around hedging and cash management. A root and branch transformation he never envisaged when he took the job three years ago, leaving an 11-year post at South African agricultural group AFGRI, the last five of which were as group treasurer.
When Beukes joined MultiChoice, treasury was still run through its parent company, internet and tech giant Naspers. “About three months after I joined, I got called into the office and told we were unbundling from Naspers,” he recalls. It sounded the gun on a “stressful and crazy” process that began with setting up MultiChoice’s own independent treasury operation including new borrowing lines and FX hedging facilities and positions, as well as onboarding a raft of new banks.
Next came automation. Beukes set about implementing a new treasury management system (TMS) together with a bespoke cash forecasting tool in SAP BPC, transforming a complex two-day spreadsheet consolidation process to instant consolidation with far reaching analysis capabilities. Together with FIDES as the SWIFT partner, the treasury team has cash visibility across the groups 600 bank accounts with a daily upload onto the TMS.
Reflecting on the change, it’s perhaps not surprising he is most enthusiastic about the benefits of building a bespoke cash forecasting model. The process spoke to his guiding treasury beliefs like putting his team centre stage, buy-in at a senior level, and real expertise and learning around the security element. “There is always a preference to have something already built, but there is lots of value in doing it yourself.”
Elsewhere, 360T gives new FX visibility like an automated audit trail on bank performance for the first time. “We are finally drawing out the data and value. It’s making conversations, especially with banks, much easier.” The next wave of FX management reform will involve rolling out new hedging models in TMS to complete the process. “We execute in 360T, confirm via Finastra and it then flows into our TMS. This year we will be able to populate hedging documents and produce hedging entries that are then uploaded in SAP.” Once these manual tasks are finally done away with, he estimates he will have freed up a significant amount of staff time. “We are getting another member of the team without employing anyone else.”
Looking back on the challenge of managing a transformation in a new role, he says teamwork was the most essential ingredient. “Give yourself enough time to get to know the company and how the team works. Only then can you collectively work on the gaps and opportunities ahead. Don’t come into an organisation with an ‘I am going to change everything’ attitude.”
Never a dull moment
New levels of automation and visibility are invaluable for companies operating in Africa’s challenging markets, which have a knack for keeping Beukes’ treasury “humble” and “on its toes.” Like South Africa’s frequent electricity outages, or managing dollar rand volatility, an exchange rate he describes as one of the “most volatile in the world” but where detailed models and analyses will now inform hedging decisions. Multiple exchange control regimes across the continent, the risk of trapped cash and scarcity of dollar liquidity is another moving pain point which can impact overall cash flow processes within the group.
“Two years ago, there was limited dollar liquidity in Angola; now it’s Nigeria,” he says, adding it’s possible to mitigate the risk to a limited extent via certain investment products. Most of all however, it involves working closely with banking partners in-country who know the company’s needs and can provide market updates. “It’s so important to stay close to the markets you operate in and keep an eye out for any red flags that may result in future liquidity pressures. There is never a dull moment in Africa.”
Beukes divides the company’s 11 banking partners between those providing services in South Africa only; those providing wider support across the continent and those in support of MultiChoice’s European-based entity Irdeto. The relationships are defined by clear communication and banking partners’ understanding of the business. “We always schedule formal one-on-one meetings with all the banks after our half-year and full-year results calls, and we have performance feedback and focus areas sessions at least once per year.”
He also encourages a member of each bank’s credit team to attend the results calls. “It’s important for me that the credit teams understand our business. It makes it a lot easier if you have to raise additional facilities or get other approvals,” he says, with a nod to last autumn’s ZAR 1.5bn working capital liquidity raise.
He also expects the company’s banking partners to bring new ideas to the business, often born from simple conversations and just asking the “right” questions. For example, a new structure to get more out of Irdeto’s cash balances across nine different markets was the recent fruit of one such conversation. “It is these types of conversation that lead to rolling out new structures. Sometimes the opportunities are in front of you and don’t require any new technology.” Although his team is not directly involved with the investor base, treasury provide support whenever needed.
Beukes has also transformed the internal workings of his seven-strong team. When he joined, MultiChoice had a traditional front, middle and back office treasury structure with staff focusing on different regions and countries. He has since rolled out a new structure with only two operating focus areas: cash and liquidity management and financial risk management. “We now have one team focusing on a specific operational area for the entire group. When someone from the business needs to reach out on a cash or FX matter, they know which team members to contact.”
He has established more management exposure for members of treasury, encouraging his team to present treasury topics to senior executives at the company. He has also introduced a rotational element that allows all team members to work in every element of treasury. “Our two senior treasury analysts rotate between cash and FX every year. They each have two junior analysts that support them, but they only rotate every second year. Over time the team gets exposure to both cash and FX while also getting to work with different team members.” It is part of a wider, help-out-when-required culture whereby although his staff have been appointed to specific positions, he encourages them to participate in projects outside their specialist area in a strategy very much informed by his own career progression.
Like many treasurers, Beukes never started out in treasury. He arrived by default – and never looked back. Following degrees in accounting and finance from South Africa’s North-West University, he began his working life in internal audit as a chartered accountant for South African agricultural services group AFGRI. Two years in, he leapt when opportunity knocked to join the mergers and acquisition team in AFGRI’s corporate finance department. A role he recalls involved “reaching out” and doing much more than “what was in front of me,” bringing in new and exciting opportunities. Like when the M&A deal he was working on required funding, providing his first taste of working alongside banks. “We were in a meeting with banking partners, and they asked for a copy of our covenant register. I had no idea what they were talking about!”
It wasn’t long before another, bigger opportunity arose. When his boss was made AFGRI’s new CFO, he asked Beukes to head up a rejuvenated treasury department. “I said to my boss that if he needed any help with treasury, I’d be more than happy to help.” Leading a new department without any formal handover or guidance left a “fairly young” Beukes teaching himself much of the job and relying on his own initiative and pro-action. It is that thrill of being slightly out of his depth that he now equates with opportunity, a sixth sense that tells him when to seize career chances. “If it doesn’t scare me, I’m probably not going to do it.”
It was at this point he also realised treasury was his forte: running multiple projects simultaneously, dealing with economic curve balls, anticipating risk and working with different personalities all came naturally. “Every day was different, and I realised running a treasury really energised me.”
Today, Beukes’ leadership style is centred around communication, candour and the collective. His priority is to provide clarity to his seven-strong team; make sure they understand his expectations, nurture trust and ensure their own professional growth. His pet hate is micromanagement which he says suffocates and squashes all initiative. “I don’t like to be micromanaged and I don’t like to micromanage. There is a big difference between providing guidance when required and constructive criticism – and micromanagement.”
Of course, nurturing his team in lockdown is more challenging. But he schedules regular check-ins, has introduced a contributor of the month award to recognise and celebrate those going above and beyond, and is adamant that career development won’t slip. “If you are not willing to invest in your team, they won’t invest in you. I am in charge of a team and have people who look up to me; I take that responsibility seriously.”
It’s a management style that reaps rewards, none more so than the “hard but honest” discussions that are only possible with candour and trust. It is these conversations, rooted in diversity of thought and ideas, that always render the best outcome and have laid the foundations of MultiChoice’s treasury overhaul. “I want to create an environment where everyone is willing and comfortable to share their views and opinions on all matters,” he enthuses. “Whenever someone apologises for asking a question with the precursor that it is ‘stupid,’ I will be the first to tell them the only stupid thing would be not to ask. There are no superstars in treasury: treasury works because the team as a collective works.”
Indeed, candidates’ ability to fit in with the team guides his approach to hiring and comes before standout skills or treasury experience. “You can always teach skills but if someone’s character doesn’t fit, it’s much more difficult to deal with. There is always going to be something you have to learn.”
No more traditional resumes
It leads the conversation to his enduring bugbear: the traditional CV. Rather than a typical list of roles and qualifications – or as he puts it “what you have done and what you haven’t done” – he urges candidates to detail how they added-value to a business. When he did, it reaped dividends. Looking to move on from AFGRI, he approached a US recruiter who urged him to rewrite his resume and LinkedIn profile, detailing how he added-value front and centre.
Looking at his own achievements through this lens landed him the role at Multichoice. “I was contacted by a Multichoice recruiter the day after I made my new profile life,” he says. “It changed the way I think about my job.”
Beukes attributes his can-do, proactive approach and belief that hard work and team spirit can unravel even the knottiest of problems to his upbringing – a learned confidence he will surely pass onto his five-year old twin daughters. “We grew up not having a lot, but my parents always did the best they could and provided for us,” he says. “They taught me that there will never be a replacement for hard work. If you put in the effort, you will always see the results. This is how you get noticed and create opportunities in life.” Alongside his parents, he cites a handful of other influential mentors and supporters of his treasury career. Like AFGRI’s former CFO Johan Geel who he worked with for seven years, plus three “close, senior” friends in CEO and business owner roles.
The conversation closes with Beukes final reflections on the need for treasury to add value, even more important given the backdrop of ever-increasing amounts of technology and the promise of new efficiencies and visibility. “It is up to treasury to invest time in making sure it keeps an eye on all these changes,” he concludes. “But make sure whatever you implement is good value for treasury and for the business. You must be able to show the benefits after implementation. There has to be a value behind the cost you pay at end of the day.”