Achieving success through compassion
Creativity, resilience, an eye for opportunity and a longing for impact on a community’s quality of life are the driving forces behind SAICA’s 2020 Top 35-under-35 winner, Manual Rodrigues
The 34-year-old always wanted to change the world but realised soon enough it’s not about the world as a whole but rather about growth in small underprivileged communities. He therefore changed his philosophy of changing the world to changing their world, and he has certainly succeeded.
At the moment Manual is not only running one of the biggest businesses in Tete Province, Mozambique, but he is also impacting the livelihoods of thousands of people daily. ‘Sometimes you don’t need to have all the answers. If you follow your intuition, more often than not, you are led to the right place,’ says Manual.
One of the first moments in Manual’s stellar career was placing at the top of his CTA class and obtaining his honour’s degree (CTA) cum laude – no small feat as he only joined the CTA group in his third year after gaining his BCom Law degree (also cum laude). Manual is the ultimate all-rounder – having achieved 99% for art in Grade 12, he likes to draw and paint to relax and is also an avid karate enthusiast.
Manual credits his mother’s inspiring life journey as a big contributing factor to his successes. She matriculated with good results even though she lost both her parents and, as the oldest of three siblings, had to raise the younger children, acting as mother, father, comforter and provider. ‘When I face challenges, I have a constant reminder that someone has already been a phoenix, and so I rise. I fight. I don’t give up. I think it is an understatement to say I owe her as much,’ he explained to competition judges.
Manual currently serves as the managing director of Mozambican Escolha Do Povo (EDP), which is Portuguese for ‘The People’s Choice’, and is partner and CFO of Matswani Capital, a venture capital company with investments in various industries such as agro-processing, underground coal-mining, renewable energy. and bulk fuel infrastructure across the African continent. The four young partners have also raised R600 million for projects and their consolidated revenue for 2019 was R1,1 billion with a projection of R1,9 billion for 2020. When Manual joined Matswani Capital six years ago, they only had consulting contracts and their funds under management amounted to about R10 million. Manual is the only operational director serving on the board.
While being strategically involved in all of Matswani Capital’s projects and heading up the finance function for all their African operations, Manual has also been responsible for the EDP operations. He successfully completed a Portuguese language course in 2015 and is now able to present to government officials and conferences in Portuguese. (He has recently also taken up French to be able to communicate with customers and staff in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo).
‘This was a brownfields project and we raised all the necessary funding, obtained government support and approvals and put in place all the necessary infrastructure for a commercial poultry and maize milling operation,’ Manual explains. This infrastructure allows them to produce 120 000 day-old chickens per week, which get sold on the local market along with a high-quality chicken feed. Around 7 000 small-scale farmers then purchase these birds and grow them with the training and assistance of EDP’s highly skilled veterinarian and sell these, yielding a return on investment every 35 days. The project creates business opportunities for farmers on a number of fronts. EDP supports more than 55 000 maize farmers in the region and buys on average 4 000 tons of maize per annum at market-related prices. They also support 14 000 soya bean farmers, 83% of them being female, and provide fertiliser, seeds and training as well as buying back about 1 500 tons per annum. ‘I am extremely proud of the social impact that this business has had on the surrounding community,’ he admits.
EDP has partnered with the Mozambican government in this initiative as food security and the nutritional intake of the average Mozambican is a major concern in the country. This project now also offers a vitamin-fortified maize meal at affordable prices and a cost-effective protein source to the local population. Manual refers to this project as the ‘sweet spot’ where social enterprise meets commercial enterprise.
‘My objective is to combine the concept of social enterprise with commercial enterprise resulting in an integrated and sustainable staple food and poultry agricultural operation harnessing the assets of the government and the skills of the people, developing a self-sustaining micro-economy that can survive for many generations to come.’
In the year ending 30 June 2020 EPD managed to procure 2 500 000 kilograms of maize and 1 300 000 kilograms of soya beans from their farmers. By doing this they provided a solution on how a country can feed its people while creating opportunities and jobs in the process.
Not only has EDP offered farmers a diversified revenue stream but also the ability to increase production and employ more people from the community. It has also created spinoff businesses such as grain traders, transporters, waste disposal businesses, water sanitation businesses, retail outlet stores, and so forth. The Mozambican government has approached EDP to roll out this blueprint in other regions.
His partner at Matswani Capital, Robert Graham, describes Manual as an extremely competent and compassionate human being. ‘Not only is he extremely intelligent but his social skills are also phenomenal. He is perceptive and tenacious and has the ability to lead and galvanise a team through good and bad times and despite his busy schedule, always makes time to teach and train those who work below and beside him.’
Manual never intended on becoming a CA(SA) and started studying law at the University of Johannesburg. In his second year, his accounting lecturer, Liezl Grosskopf, noted he had potential in this space. ‘I was flattered but didn’t change (not then at least). In my third year, I was SRC president and in a meeting with the dean, Professor Amanda Dempsey, she somehow also got wind that I had a knack for commerce and sent my CV to audit firms. I was offered bursaries from PWC and KPMG and so after obtaining my law degree, I decided to make the change. Never regretted it, not once. (In my CTA year, when I got my first tests results and this was the first exam I ever failed, I may have regretted it a little.) But again, to have started CTA with results in the lower twenties and finishing the year cum laude was a huge achievement for me.”
Manual firmly believes that if there are no customers, there is no business. Therefore, even though taking care of the finances of the business is his main responsibility, the sales and client relations are what he enjoys most. ‘Finding creative solutions to daily problems is where I perform at my peak. You need to be flexible, tenacious and resilient. I tend to take on difficult projects and get a kick out of people telling me it’s impossible (until it’s done). Completing really difficult tasks and seeing the fruits of my labour and being able to give back to my parents and the communities I serve, bring fulfilment in my life.’
According to him, getting the project in Mozambique to a profitable state has been one of the biggest challenged he has had to face so far. ‘Going the route of owning your own business is filled with challenges. It’s part of the excitement but it comes with levels of stress and things do go wrong. My advice is to look at the market and what it wants. More often than not, we as business owners start businesses with an idea of what we think the market needs, and we get so caught up in fulfilling our vision that we forget that the purpose is to serve the masses. Adapt your thinking and be flexible and dynamic in finding those solutions.’
As a CA(SA), Manual believes it is important to equip yourself with as many skills as you can and to learn things outside your field of study. ‘Not only will it enhance your understanding of the world but also make you a far more interesting person. Your CA(SA) designation doesn’t create a grounding for you to understand people. As a business leader, spend time with your staff, do some tasks with them to understand how they think, and operate and build rapport with them. Lead from the middle. We as CAs(SA) sometimes think the knowledge gives us the edge but you need more than that to be successful.’
Much like the CA(SA) brand, Manual believes that quality is crucial and can never be compromised. He always strives for excellence and motivate those around him to do the same and has achieved success through compassion. He doesn’t mind rolling up his sleeves and getting into the trenches with his team to fight the battle together and is setting the example to fellow and future CAs(SA) that they are more than just finance people, they have the ability to change the world.
‘We have to measure on develop, influence and lead. By far, Manual is the candidate who ticks all of those boxes, and not just ticks them, he just blows the lights out, he hits it without the park with the work he is doing in Mozambique, he’s feeding people, he’s empowering communities, he’s empowering small business people, he’s giving people work and he’s running a really successful business. So, for me, it was a no-brainer!’ – Andile Khumalo CA(SA),CEO, Brodkast Group
‘I found Manual to be the top candidate in terms of the values that he’s lived. Firstly, the passion just stood out and secondly, his involvement with the communities and how he is really passionate about uplifting communities and the community development in Mozambique. And also the fact that he went and learnt two different languages to make sure that he interacts with people on the ground and locals – that was really great! And what he’s done for the business as well, to ensure it is sustainable, that’s absolutely amazing. I’m very impressed!’ – Gugu Mtetwa CA(SA), writer, speaker, fellow for Centre for African Management and Markets
‘Manual is contributing in building lives in Mozambique, he is contributing to addressing one of the major challenges in Mozambique in terms of food security and, most importantly, dealing with poverty in the area. I was impressed by the fact that he’s utilising the skills he acquired by being a CA(SA) and using all the values. That’s what we need in this world to solve the global problems that we are facing. Kudo’s to him!” Patrick Kabuya CA(SA), senior governance specialist: World Bank Group
The Top-35-under-35 competition was launched by SAICA in 2014 to recognise and promote young CAs(SA) who are not only achieving extraordinary results in their professional capacity but also have a significant and meaningful impact on society. The sponsors for this year’s competition were Intuit quickbooks, CAMAF medical scheme, CaseWare Africa, Makosi and adapt IT.