Laila Razack CA(SA) wholeheartedly believes you must give 100% in any job or role you may have. She says: ‘It may not always be enjoyable, but treat every day as an opportunity to learn something new and devote your full time and attention to it whilst you are there!’
Laila Razack CA(SA) knows what she’s speaking about, because she is one of the youngest CFOs of a JSE-listed company, Equites Property Fund, a real estate investment trust. In this role, she has fulfilled numerous functions, including transformation initiatives, staff development, a funding employees’ kids studies initiative, driving an increased focus on sustainability and adopting the UN SDGs, among many others. Here she shares some of her experiences.
Who influenced your career path?
My family have always been involved in building businesses and this impacted my passion for business and commerce.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The world we live in is so dynamic that we are required to constantly think outside the box, challenge our traditional mindsets, and step out of our comfort zones in order to run the business optimally and generate value for shareholders. This makes the working environment challenging, but also incredibly rewarding when you are able to deliver results.
What is one challenge you have faced in your career and how did deal with it?
A challenge I faced initially was having the courage to believe in myself and to make my voice heard. Over time, I have learnt that this is a necessity for operating effectively as a leader. Through constantly pushing through uncomfortable situations, I have significantly improved my ability to do this.
Do you see CAs(SA) as more than just technical people?
Yes, absolutely. A CA(SA) has the unique ability to analyse a decision or project through a multi-faceted lens. For example, Equites was initially a fully South African fund, but over time we expanded our footprint to the UK. Despite the growth in the UK portfolio, we had always run our UK operations through the South African team, with no physical presence in the UK. After a period of operating under this structure, it became important for us to have a physical presence in the UK, but this process had to be carefully managed to ensure integration with the South African team and the operating effectiveness of the UK business. Throughout this process, it became apparent that this was a strategic decision which included elements of HR and business processes and would represent a fundamental change in the operations of the group. Whilst this process is still ongoing, I have been integrally involved in this and will continue to work on implementation.
How has being a CA(SA) made your job easy and enjoyable?
The skills learnt during studies and articles definitely prepare us for lateral thinking and approaching any situation in a methodical and analytical manner. This approach has helped me in the way I approach my role and has resulted in the experience being enjoyable.
What is the best thing about being a CA(SA)?
The fact that it provides us with an all-round approach to scenarios. We assess the financial, accounting, tax, economic, ethical and commercial implications of any transaction or situation, which allows us to make well-informed decisions.
What are some of your career highlights?
I have grown a finance team that is well-regarded in the market. Together we continue to manage our balance sheet prudently, allocate capital efficiently, and generate returns for our shareholders over time.
Are you involved in any community projects and what is your motivation?
I am a director at the Michel Lanfranchi Foundation (MLF) and our focus is on the educational upliftment of young South Africans. For the past four years, we have been rolling out the MLF bursary programme, which provides full-cost bursaries to students across the country. We are proud of our contribution to improving the lives of young South Africans.
My motivation to do this is to pay it forward – in the same way in which we were blessed with opportunities, we need to create these opportunities for the next generation of leaders.
Name three keys that have helped you to be where you are today?
Work hard, learn something every day, and build meaningful relationships.
Laila plans to continue in her current role, learn more, and grow the company and the people within the organisation. Her greatest desire is to be more involved in charitable work and also be more involved in driving sustainability and social change. With the passion she has for her work, staff and development, there is definitely more great news to come.