Ernst Vriesendorp, CFO and COO of SolarNow, fell in love with East Africa when he worked on a project in the Maasai Mara in 2014.
Ernst Vriesendorp, CFO and COO of SolarNow, fell in love with East Africa when he worked on a project in the Maasai Mara in 2014. As the financial business development manager at Asilia Africa at the time, Ernst was tasked with a conservation project that involved working with Maasai farmers in the Mara to improve cattle management with specific regard to grazing and the eventual sale of meat products in Nairobi.
“For me, it was a dream project where I could use the business skills and education, I had built in investment banking while building a business case based on fundamental foundations where impact meets business with the outcome of improved conservation. That’s where my connection and love for East Africa really started,” he says.
After his initial stint in Arusha, the entrepreneurial Ernst shuttled between his native Netherlands and Kenya. He founded Bouwsteen Consulting in 2015, took on the CFO role at Oedipus Brewing in 2020, before moving into a director and CFO position at Impact Hub Amsterdam in 2021.
In 2022, Ernst joined energy solution provider SolarNow, holding the dual roles of CFO and COO - and based in Uganda. SolarNow is headquartered in Kampala and Nairobi where a team of 30 work together to provide solar solutions to their markets in Kenya, Uganda and further afield.
After a very impactful period of pioneering and introducing solar solutions to homes, the company changed its model to commercial and industrial solar solutions.
Connecting the figures
Ernst and his family have settled into the rhythm of life in Uganda, and he has even learned to navigate the infamous Kampala traffic. He has also adapted to the business environment, noting that doing business in Uganda is closely connected to becoming part of the society and forming relationships with people.
That aspect, he reveals, is much more the case in East Africa than in other societies, which he dubs as over-regularised. The pace of doing business is also different to other countries in which Ernst has worked.
“Logistics and obtaining permits take time. I would say you really need to prepare for different scenarios and for the unexpected,” he adds.
Ernst describes himself as an entrepreneurial CFO, who brings figures to life.
“As a CFO, be very close to the business and really connect the figures with company strategy and your daily operations. This alignment and execution is key on the path to success,” he advises.
Impact, according to Ernst, should not only be reported from the sidelines but should be made a concrete and integrated part of reporting. “ESG is a growing skillset for companies in general,” he says, adding that it should be an area that the CFO of the future should look to develop.
“I’m quite hands-on as CFO and COO and take-up tasks myself. I enjoy working closely together with the team, and I think my style is collaborative,” he says.
He is also quite demanding of himself - and members of his team. Ernst encourages his team to take ownership which he has found is crucial to personal growth as one takes opportunities to scale the corporate ladder. He has seen his team challenge themselves much more and take ownership.
Outside the office, Ernst is a family man who enjoys the cultural mix in East Africa. He enjoys venturing into the unbeaten tracks of the untamed wild to run marathons, and has completed both the Rwenzori and Maasai Mara marathons.