CFO Ash Makau details reasons to change the plan, not the goal


Ash Makau, regional CFO for Africa and Europe at Volcafe, has furthered his expertise with certificates in Sustainability for Finance and Digital Innovation for Finance, showcasing a commitment to staying at the forefront of industry trends.

Ash Makau, regional CFO for Africa and Europe at Volcafe, began his journey at Strathmore University where he completed an ACCA qualification in accounting and finance. He furthered his expertise with certificates in Sustainability for Finance and Digital Innovation for Finance, showcasing a commitment to staying at the forefront of industry trends.

Since 2012, Ash has navigated through various roles, starting as a management accountant at Sopa Lodges. At Olam International, he served as country finance manager in Tanzania and later as regional finance manager for East Africa, overseeing financial operations across multiple countries. His tenure at Olam culminated in the role of cluster CFO for East Africa, where he managed finance operations across diverse segments, including cotton, coffee and cocoa.

Ash, who joined Volcafe in May 2021, drives financial excellence and promotes sustainable initiatives within the coffee trading industry. In this role, he leverages his extensive experience and strategic vision to foster partnerships and support both customers and suppliers. He nabbed the Young CFO of the Year award at the ACCA Africa CFO Awards 2023.

"While my professional career has immensely shaped my perspective on a lot of things, the most impactful lesson has been on the ability to be the last man standing. Not in an illustrious James Bond-esque style, but rather a measured and pragmatic approach to going the distance, against all odds," he says.

Three key ingredients

When Ash speaks to young professionals and future leaders, he emphasises three key ingredients that build resilience and staying power, sets them apart and creates an avenue for growth in life and career – the right attitude, the ability to pivot and the three Cs.

“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference, thus the reason smart leaders hire attitude and train skills,” he explains. “The author of The Mind Connection, Joyce Meyer, says that a bad attitude is like a flat tyre; if you don't change it you won't go anywhere. Attitude is firmly centred on your ability to take responsibility for your work and your actions, while accepting your mistakes and learning from them.”

“It is the ability to take criticism positively while embracing the lessons and adjusting accordingly. It’s saying yes to the tough jobs nobody else wants because there is nothing as character building, skill imparting and heart fulfilling as just doing it, Nike-style,” he adds.

On the ability to pivot, Ash opines that plans do not always work and therefore you should change the plan and not the goal. Knowing when to pivot requires confidence and decisiveness, and one must remain objective because failing to plan and failing to recognise a failing plan are two sides of the same coin. Ash advises professionals to keep an eye on the end game, staying immersed in the process and remaining open to taking feedback.

The three Cs

Finally, he details the three Cs: communication, collaboration and coordination.

“In a nutshell, effective communication is the key to both collaboration and coordination, and is also intricately interconnected with our first two points. As a leader, you cannot succeed if your entire spectrum of involved stakeholders does not understand the end game, the road results and the stakeholders’ role. You must communicate with clarity, consistency and conciseness while ensuring two way communication with a constant feedback loop,” he explains.

“Collaboration eradicates a silo mentality, allowing you to make use of all resources available to execute the plan. It also gives you sponsors, by creating a sense of ownership with various collaborators along the way. It gives the plan sustenance, allowing it to take a life of its own, and you become a conductor, guiding the tapestry of the orchestra. Lastly, coordination can only exist in the midst of effective communication and collaboration, and is the fuel that allows the plan to chug along even in difficult times without grinding to a costly halt,” Ash concludes.

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