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Hitesh Makhija, Raising the Benchmark in Finance

Hitesh Makhija has been the Cluster CFO for Olam International since 2014. He oversees eight entities, including 3 high scale manufacturing units and 10 businesses involving a turnover of $ 1bn+. He is responsible for Business strategy, driving financial profitability, and managing Controls & Compliances. In the last 4 years, his leadership has transformed Olam’s finance function into a much stronger and contributing finance team. In this Interview with Instinct Business he talks about his journey as a finance professional, what drives him, the qualities of the modern CFO and other sundry issues?

How will you describe yourself?

I will describe myself as a well networked, people’s person who is detailed, focused and results orientated.

Tell us about your journey as a finance professional and some of the factors that have brought you this far.

After I got chartered as an accountant, I joined Olam as a Finance trainee back in 2007 in Indonesia, worked in 4 different countries (Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore & now in Ghana). I have played various role from Factory finance manager to Business CFO for Rice business and Cluster CFO for Ghana cluster. I have covered this journey by delivering and exceeding expectations from each of these roles .Managing and leading diversified teams in various countries and using innovative ways to bring value to the organization. Understanding both external and internal environment and ensuring we are following the best practices for each task. Being second to best was never taken as an option. Another Important factor was also to keep myself up to date with ever evolving trends in F&A function globally to deliver best in each role at all times.

What does your role entail as CFO of Olam Ghana?

Olam Ghana is highly diversified; we are into various businesses including manufacturing of Biscuits, Tomato paste, wheat milling and cocoa processing. It also has Supply Chain businesses of Cocoa, Cashew and Rice. Ghana also provides oversight to the Rice and PFB businesses in West Africa.

As a CFO, leading F&A function of the group entails management of a direct and indirect team of 55 people Understanding the needs of business and bringing these solutions is a key part. Networking and managing both internal and external environment helps the business to be aware of and use this information to create sustainable value is also a major part of my role. Partnering with businesses in key strategic decisions to ensure the resources are best deployed and utilized also make the business grow as envisaged and planned. Continuous focus on controls and processes remains high on my agenda

What are some of the peculiarities in the finance operations at Olam?

Finance function in Olam, unlike other large multinational has a very fulfilling work experience. We are very less departmentalized and work in a very wholesome manner. Every finance manager/controller is a CFO for its own business unit. His responsibility would entail entire gamut of a finance role from Value reporting to Value preserving and Value augmenting. This not only encourages one to live our values of entrepreneurship and stretch and ambition but also gives a understanding of entire business and finance operation.

What are some of the innovations you have successfully introduced to Olam’s Finance Department?

In 2015, we embarked on a journey of having in-house global business services department and Ghana was the pioneer to go ahead of rest of the world to bring centralization, standardized process across the business units. Risk management which was seen as a tool of value, preservation was made a key value driver for the business. Living the business is key to this, Finance function today delivers on controlling and managing risks of business by working very closely to the business. Offloading reporting to automation and putting process of regular discussions. People processes to bring an engaged team together were revamped to address any concerns or requirements on a very regular basis. Various processes such as Monthly meeting, Quarterly town halls, Career conversations, Learning and development calendar.

Partnering Olam’s Digital journey by putting up various tools to enhance effectiveness and efficiency of our finance function. Automation of entire process of Procure to pay is one such key delivery.

Olam Ghana adopted the Cashless operation in 2017 by ensuring all the payments are done through banks. This avoids all cash related risk and complexities. This was possible by strong determination of the finance function which went ahead by getting vendors and customers to open more than 4,000 bank accounts to ensure they deal with Olam through banking channels. This saves a lot of delay in payment and working capital deployed.

Finance functions have evolved what are some of the fundamental qualities a modern CFO must possess?

Agility, perseverance and being the single source of all information are key qualities of today’s CFO.

The world is changing and it’s important for today’s CFO to be able to learn and adapt ahead of time the new technologies and systems relevant for its business. To be an efficient business partner, it’s important to be well networked to abreast of all information relevant for the business.

How well do you think the financial sector in Ghana has grown over the years?

The Financial sector in Ghana has grown well and even the latest e-commerce and mobile money industry has added to the sector. The government stepping in to increase capitalization of banks is also seen as a good step. We believe that the robust control by banks and tight regulation towards the banking industry should provide a sound financial sector. Improvement in stock and secondary market will also be essential for a competitive environment in the sector.

What are your biggest accomplishments on the job?

Having a world class finance team is the biggest accomplishment for me. Bringing the best people together and keeping them motivated and engaged to deliver on the business results gives me most satisfaction. Keeping them and business ahead is also possible with providing them with innovative tools & solutions is a key a accomplishment.

What do you do when you are not busy with office work?

Outside work time is for family and friends. I have a one and half year daughter which fills my family time with bliss and happiness. Though I keep some time for continuous improvement in personal development through regular interactions and participation in various forums and seminars

What is your advice to new entrants in the field?

Think out of box and have positive paranoia towards excellence in whatever you choose to do

If you had three wishes, what will they be?

Leave behind a legacy by giving back to the society with all my learnings and experience; that my organisation delivers on its vision, and lastly build relationships which lasts forever

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