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Providing strategic direction for SAEON’s financial portfolio

By Staff Writer
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Benny Molefe manages SAEON’s financial portfolio

In January this year, Benny Molefe took over the reins as SAEON’s financial manager.

Benny believes in research and critical thinking to manage complex financial issues, such as the reality that public-sector companies are continually being expected to do more with less.

This is an important position that leaves little margin for error, but Benny is confident that, with the support of SAEON’s reliable and competent finance team, any hurdles can be cleared through hard work and collaboration.

In the course of his career, Benny found his calling working in the public sector, despite the many financial and political challenges – a natural fit for this analytical thinker who thrives on change and new challenges.

A living testament to the value of lifelong learning, he completed his MBA and an MPhil in Development Finance while working full time. His secret? Hard work, perseverance and a passion for excellence.

SAEON eNews caught up with this skilled professional to learn more about his vision for this crucial portfolio.

You earned a Bachelor of Accounting Sciences from the University of South Africa. What was it about accounting that sparked your interest?

I realised that apart from the fact that every industry needs an accountant, accounting can enable you to get to know the ins and out of various industries and markets. Accounting also provides opportunities to move with the times, stay up to date, and meet high-calibre individuals that can help you grow in your career.

In addition to your bachelor’s degree, you hold an MBA from Milpark Education Business School. What was the most valuable part of the experience for you?

The most valuable part was to understand and be able to do at least basic research in business and finance.

In what way does your MPhil in Development Finance from the University of Stellenbosch Business School add value to your current position at SAEON?

After spending more than five years in financial management at public-sector entities and experiencing first-hand the challenges of implementing funding and policy to achieve the development mandate or goals of these entities to some degree at least, I decided to enrol for this course to gain insight into the relevant techniques and strategies to apply.

How important is continuous learning and development to enhance your skills and to keep up with current business trends?

Global business, finance and technology are changing rapidly, hence the importance of continuous learning to maintain the required standards.

Your current position requires you to do research and report on macro-economic factors influencing business performance. How important is this in a facility such as SAEON?

Research and reporting on these factors are crucial to ensure sustainable funding for SAEON.

Your career path has taken you from big corporates such as Sud-Chemie and Total SA to research institutes such as the Agricultural Research Council and SAEON. What motivated you to move from large corporations to the world of research?

I was largely motivated by the financial aspect. In public entities, issues associated with departments such as supply chain management, for example, are enormous and challenging, and provide better opportunities for career growth. I was intending and managed to do and understand basic research into business and development finance issues.

What attracted you to this key position at SAEON? Did you have any prior experience of SAEON and its projects?

SAEON projects are similar to those of research institutions or schedule 3 public entities that are predominantly publicly funded. My previous experience at the Agricultural Research Council helped me to gain a quick understanding of SAEON projects and operations.

In accounting and finance, attention to detail is of utmost importance, yet without ever losing sight of the bigger picture. How do you stay detail-oriented while managing multiple projects and priorities?

I prefer to apply principles of self-management, planning and organising techniques, such as knowing my role within the organisation, prioritising projects and setting deadlines.

An integral part of your position as financial manager is collaborating with other functional areas within SAEON such as the seven nodes spread across the country. You also need to collaborate very closely with NRF Corporate regarding policies, processes and financial data. How do you deal with the challenges of working in such a complex organisational environment?

Most South African schedule 3 public entities have a complex organisational structure because of South Africa’s socio-economic challenges as an emerging market country, including the conditions and policy issues under which they operate to meet their public mandate.

Please share with us your vision for this complicated portfolio.

To ensure sustainable funding for SAEON operations within the NRF and government mandates.

This is an important role that leaves little margin for error. How do you ensure that the necessary checks and balances are in place?

The absolute priority is to ensure that you build a reliable and competent finance team that consistently support each other within their various responsibilities.

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SAEON’s finance team. From left: Patricia Mahlalela, Itumeleng Mphahlele, Benny Molefe and Carolene Pitsi

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), in partnership with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), recently hosted South Africa’s first national Natural Capital Accounting Forum. The aim was to explore how natural capital accounting could support South Africa’s progress towards economically and environmentally sustainable development, including its linkages to South Africa’s National Biodiversity Assessment (NBA), National Development Plan (NDP) and the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Do you foresee that natural capital accounting will play a significant role in the future of this country, and how will your position make provision for that?

Natural Capital Accounting provides economic policymakers and other decision-makers with standardised and comparable statistical information. Regular reporting of SAEON’s financial performance and other economic factors will provide stakeholders and other decision-makers with important information – the contribution of ecosystem and natural resources to the social and economic goals of the organisation.

What has been the most surprising part of your career in finance so far?

My passion for working in the public sector, despite the many financial and political challenges associated with it.

What is the best career advice you’ve received?

Always be aware of the business and financial challenges of an organisation in order to make a real difference.

You obviously have a hectic schedule. Does that leave any time for hobbies? If yes, what are these?

Reading business and research articles and newsletters. Playing table tennis with friends.

Your favourite book?

Africa is Open for Business by Victor Kgomoeswana. This book provides useful insights about business opportunities in the continent that could be the basis for further analysis.

Someone you admire? And why?

No specific individual, but all the political and business leaders who are committed to the development of the continent.

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