Hendri Viljoen, financial director at SA Truck Bodies, has as his formula for success a combination of people skills and a penchant for adventure fuelled by a love for South Africa’s varied landscapes. Yuven Gounden spoke to him
The perception that a CA(SA) mainly works with figures is wrong. A CA(SA) is more involved working with people. If you do not love people, learn to love them. Otherwise, you will not become a successful CA(SA).’ These are wise words from 54-year-old Hendri Viljoen CA(SA), financial director at SA Truck Bodies, one of the key players in the transport industry in South Africa.
Viljoen is clearly not just another number cruncher, but rather someone who focuses the art of people management.
‘I don’t even work with the accounting software SysPro. I manage the people scattered around regions throughout South Africa. I certainly analyse what I receive from them, and I also do some serious number crunching myself. But I ensure that all staff in the finance section are “singing from the same hymn sheet” so to speak,’ he explains.
Viljoen’s love of flying almost steered him towards the Air Force, but the thought of constant migration made him opt for the CA(SA) route and today he has absolutely no regrets. He nevertheless still loves flying and acquired a microlight licence for a few years. ‘I also did fixed-wing training, and I recently bought myself a motorised paraglide wing and engine.’
The road to achieving the sought-after CA(SA) designation was by no means an easy one: ‘I studied BCom Accounting at the University of the Free State, then started my articles with PC Bruwer & Partners in Bloemfontein. I did my BCompt (Hons) at Unisa on a part-time basis. My biggest challenge was that our first baby was born in Dec 1987 and I had to prepare for the board exams in March 1988 while working full time. I overcame it by the grace of God and the help of my wife, who not only looked after the baby when I had to study but also summarised study material to ensure that I could spend time on what was really important,’ he says.
‘After five years as a partner at PC Bruwer, I joined one of my clients for two years. I then decided that I wanted to get back into private practice and joined Havenga, Rossouw & Viljoen (now Core Group) as a tax partner for eight wonderful years. In 2004 SA Truck Bodies offered me a position as financial director,’ continues Viljoen. In the same year, SA Truck Bodies completed the deal to take over Henred Fruehauf Trailers. The company that started out 33 years ago with 30 square metres of space and five members of staff has since evolved to a giant in the transport industry.
‘It is a privilege to have been involved in both private practice and in commerce and industry. For me, it is two different worlds but the one is not better than the other.’
When he has time away from the office and from his multiple roles as husband, father, and grandfather, Viljoen enjoys the thrill of mountain climbing and cycling, saying that it offers him a scenic perspective, very similar to that of flying.
‘I summited Kilimanjaro and also walked up to Everest base camp in the Himalayas,’ he relates. ‘I also climbed Aconcagua [the highest peak in the Andes] in Argentina with a phenomenal man named Sibusiso Vilane. He was the first black African to summit Everest and also the first black African to walk 1 113 kilometres completely unaided to the South Pole. His skills, leadership and ability to stay calm and in control in life-threatening situations on the mountain were amazing. In spite of his achievements he has remained a very humble and kind person.’
When Viljoen was schooled at Danielskuil in the Northern Cape, his sports activities were mainly rugby and athletics. Today he enjoys mountain bike riding for approximately three to four hours per week. ‘It is a wonderful way to experience the beauty of our country. I completed many races: Wines2Whales, Sani2c, Trans Baviaans, and on two occasions the Epic Tripper riding on the Cape Epic.’
He is an avid reader and also finds time to engage in farming activities with Bonsmara cattle and game (he manages a cattle farm in Dewetsdorp and a game farm near Kimberley).
It has been said that much of life is about faith and belief in yourself and Viljoen is living proof of this view. He is a committed Christian and models his life around some role models, among whom the most significant is probably Neil Armstrong, and Armstrong’s words when he climbed down to the surface of the moon: ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’
Professor Dave Lubbe also made a mark on the young Viljoen at university and today they are firm friends: ‘His academic knowledge, his kindness towards students, and his other interests like dog breeding, running and writing skills have taught me much about balance in life,’ says Viljoen. Professor Lubbe also asked Viljoen to lecture some of his classes, which he enjoyed tremendously.
The versatile Hendri Viljoen flies the SAICA flag high in every sense of the word. He also embodies the philosophy of embracing balance to lead a full life. Individuals like him add credibility to the CA(SA) profession as well as the SAICA tenet of responsible leadership.
Author l Yuven Gounden is Project Director: Communications and Marketing at SAICA