Vukosi Fungeni typifies the diverse career opportunities available to CAs(SA).
Having grown up in Malamulele, a small Limpopo town, Vukosi Fungeni didn’t know much about the field of commerce. His focus in school was the sciences. However, from a distance, he pondered on how it would be exciting to become someone who contributes to corporate South Africa and the impact companies appeared to have on society.
He signed up for a BCom in financial accounting at the University of Cape Town. At first, it was hard going. Vukosi had been used to the cocoon of home and had never set foot in Cape Town, but his curiosity helped him along the way, even when the academics were overwhelming.
‘It was tough in the beginning,’ he recalls. “Economics was easy to follow, but Accounting was challenging because of its own set of “natural rules”, the debits and credits, and I had never been exposed to that before. At one stage I thought that I would not make it through the course, but once I completed the first year, I felt confident and began to become a contender in my cohort. Looking back on my time at UCT, it was a fulfilling experience, to not let the unknown overwhelm my youthful vision and determination.’
He went on to do his articles at PwC in 2009. It was there that he became reinvigorated to make a difference in the commercial world and contribute to strategies that could grow companies and communities.
He has since enjoyed the privilege of working for several large companies, starting with Engen in 2012, where he took on the role of a tax specialist. After being promoted to the position of planning analyst he began to develop an interest in value chain optimisation and innovation. Still based in Cape Town at the time, he met his future wife, Cwayita. They were soon married and after their second child was born, they decided it was time to move back to Johannesburg to be closer to their families and their support structure.
‘In 2016 I joined BP as a finance business partner to the retail business,’ Vukosi says. ‘At the time the company was in discussion with retailer Pick n Pay to form a strategic partnership that would provide consumers with convenience on the forecourt. In the fuel industry, there is little opportunity for real differentiation, which made the joint venture an exciting project that could bring synergies to the two companies by enhancing their consumers’ experience.’
In search of opportunities to learn and grow, he joined KFC as the financial planning and analysis manager responsible for formulating KFC’s Africa financial plans in close partnership with the company’s mothership in Dallas. In the time that he spent there, the entity’s operating model changed significantly, with many of its corporate stores becoming franchised and its head office scope reduced significantly.
It was during this transition that he started seeking new opportunities. He joined multinational skin care products manufacturer Beiersdorf − known for its famous brands Nivea, Eucerin, Labello and many others − as a category finance manager in 2019. From finance manager, he was promoted to the head of connected analytics, corporate reporting and governance, and ICT. It’s quite a mouthful and caters for the breadth of the company’s goals under his stewardship.
‘Investing in relationships with customers and target consumers directly impacts business competitiveness by strengthening loyalty,’ he says. ‘When customers feel connected to brands, they will engage with the company’s innovation and encourage their family and friends to experience the same. Much of my role focuses on enabling decision-making based on insightful analytics. Upon reflection, that is frankly the only sustainable way to drive business growth in our world today.’
Vukosi spends much of his time and energy investigating future trends and how to make the business more agile and adaptable to disruption. ‘I was fortunate that we had a new finance director and general manager who joined the company soon after I did. Together we designed a role for me that encompasses far more than the traditional finance activities. I am paying a lot of attention to advanced data analytics and the use of ICT to enable the core intention for my area.’
Having built a consolidated cross-functional team of analysts with expertise in finance, operations, supply chain, sales, marketing, and human resources, this ‘connected analytics team’ enables the organisation to speak as one and steer decision-making more effectively.
‘What I’m passionate about now is how big data analysis enables Exco to make decisions based on valid, real-time insights. It’s really about leveraging technology such as robotics to process transactions and produce reports and free our human capital to work on more agile, value-adding initiatives.’
Vukosi is applying this natural affinity for technology to enable Beiersdorf to target its brand messaging to the African market. With a previous focus on Caucasian skincare, the company’s innovation funnel is becoming more focused on diversity and inclusivity and understanding the needs of the markets where the company has a presence.
‘FMCG companies invest heavily in marketing in the traditional sense,’ he says. ‘But we are learning to embrace precision marketing to speak more directly to consumers thanks to the digital transformation enabled by 4IR. With so much power in the hands of the consumer, businesses must position themselves in the minds of existing customers. In this way, we are able to break our markets down into smaller, more specific segments to cater for their unique needs. By gathering customer data and doing efficient analysis, we are moving beyond traditional marketing and into a truly consumer-connected space where we can measure our return on targeted investments.’
As a professional who is deeply committed to helping young people grow and develop their careers, Vukosi says he could not be in a better position. ‘I am surrounded by young, bright and intuitive colleagues who are eager to bring their contributions and skills to the next level. Taking them out of back offices and moving them to the coal face has been extremely rewarding.’
He attributes his career development to the grounding he has as a CA(SA). ‘All that knowledge around corporate governance, understanding risk, knowing the importance of accounting basics and of completeness, accuracy, validity and integrity, have formed the foundation of everything I do,’ he says.
‘Having that strong base enables the individual to think broadly and innovatively and to partner with experts in sales, marketing, and supply chain to inform robust go-to-market strategies. This enables us to ask questions about what tomorrow holds, whether current strategies are sustainable and how we can better drive value growth for all stakeholders in the companies we serve.’