8 Questions for FD Michael Nzule on strategy, career and crisis

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CFO East Africa caught up with Michael Nzule, financial and strategy director for Mitchell Cotts Freight Kenya Limited, to better understand the finance leader's approach to strategy and crises - and also convinced him to impart critical insight on that elusive X Factor and his leadership life lessons.

CFO East Africa caught up with Michael Nzule, financial and strategy director for Mitchell Cotts Freight Kenya Limited, to better understand the finance leader's approach to strategy and crises - and also convinced him to impart critical insight on that elusive X Factor and his leadership life lessons.

CFO EA: What makes a good work plan?
Michael: A good work plan must include starting with the end in mind. The plan must focus on what results are expected to be achieved. Thereafter, the plan should assign the right human and financial resources who should have commitment to the plan and clarity on what they will be accounted for. There should be no ambiguities. Further, the work plan must include actions and strategies to deal with uncertainties.

CFO EA: What are the worst days for you in the office?
Michael: In logistics, emergencies happen often, a bad day for me is when I have unhappy customers.

CFO EA: Tell us something surprising about you?
Michael: I love teaching and training. I was in the pioneer team that set up KCA University in Kenya. I have deep interest in marketing and even took marketing specialisation at graduate level. I have been a keynote speaker for Marketers Nite, an event organised by Marketing Africa Limited and I also publish articles in the Marketing Africa Journal.

CFO EA: What kind of books do you read?
Michael: I read biographies a lot just to know what values great people stand for and what makes them succeed as leaders. I have read almost all books on Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai, and I am currently reading “Beyond the Shadows of my Dream” a biography of Dr Martin Oduor Otieno. Key leadership lessons include persistence, patience, the art of listening, firmness and authenticity.

CFO EA: What personal and professional crises have you faced and what lessons have you learnt from them?
Michael: At a personal level, I have faced challenges dealing with long term illness in my family. The key lessons there include love for each other, togetherness, the need for encouragement, supporting each other, and the power of faith in God! When there is peace at home, even at work one will thrive.

At company level, the major crisis I have faced was the death of a staff member during the Covid pandemic. It was difficult to deal with the trauma that caused to staff and implementing the necessary protocols including setting up communication and crisis management processes. This called for demonstration of care beyond staff to families, showing empathy and managing working remotely. Surprisingly, staff productivity increased during the period, and staff stayed close to each other more than before. The key lessons were that true leadership needs to go beyond the normal work routine to build strong working relationships across all levels.

CFO EA: What are your career highlights and lowlights?
Michael: Being the top student in the MBA class at the University of Nairobi and getting awards from the university and the Marketing Society of Kenya are key milestones in my career path. Another highlight is introducing working capital and balance sheet optimisation projects at EABL. This included firsts within the broader Diageo Group that of consignment stocking and the supplier financing programme which unlocked more cash for the business.
My lowlights include dealing with compromised integrity and fraud. I do not believe there is an alternative to doing the right thing; integrity involves consistency in doing the right things. I believe that adherence to ethical codes of doing business is paramount.

CFO EA: What advice do you have for entry level professionals?
Michael: They should be patient, open to possibilities, willing to learn and push boundaries. They should not be limited but build trust with their managers, ask questions, be accountable and take ownership for results. They should ensure they get recognised and not fear speaking up.

CFO EA: What is the X Factor needed to rise to management?
Michael: Being consistent in delivering results, expanding boundaries and a thirst for growth. It is also understanding people in your organisation and building exceptional relationships. Be truly authentic, take ownership and don’t forget to be humble.

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