CFO Ezekiel Lovililo explains the perils and privilege of being on the fast-track

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Taking inspiration from family members in finance, Ezekiel Lovililo, the CFO of Nicol Tanzania, has rapidly risen through the ranks, deepening his knowledge in both the private and public sectors.

At a tender age, Ezekiel Lovililo, CFO of the National Investments Company Limited (Nicol) of Tanzania, knew he wanted to become an accountant. He was not only inspired by his uncle, a career accountant, but also his father, who pushed him to join the profession.

“It’s something that I was built up to be because I remember my uncle used to be an accountant. So, at a very young age I already knew that is my way,” he says. “My dad was always insisting that ‘you should study to be a CPA’. I started knowing about CPA when I was in primary school.”

Ezekiel’s journey to climbing the accountancy ladder teed off when he enrolled for a certificate course at the state-owned Mzumbe University.

Upon passing the mature entry examinations, he was accepted into the same university to study a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance.

His desire to work in the profession prompted him to enrol for a CPA course, using his university transcripts, three months after completing his undergraduate studies.

“By the time that I was starting CPA studies, I was also pursuing a master’s degree. So, I was studying both at the same time,” Ezekiel says. “Immediately after my certification I went back to the government [where] I worked as an accountant in the Ministry of Finance for more than three years.”

While at the Finance ministry, Ezekiel worked with the Millennium Challenge Account project, a US development assistance programme aimed at supporting economic growth and poverty eradication in the world’s poorest countries.

Moving to the private sector

The chances of landing a permanent job in the Tanzanian government were slim in 2015. In addition, the US-funded project was struggling to achieve its goal of helping authorities implement policies which spur economic growth and development. Consequently, the then budding accountant decided to hunt for opportunities in the private sector.

His first port of call within the performance-driven private sector was at First Assurance Tanzania where he landed a job as a financial accountant in November 2016.

“That’s where I started getting excited about the profession,” he says. Ezekiel was part of the team hired by then Barclays Africa Group (later rebranded to Absa Group) which had months earlier completed the purchase of a controlling 63.3 percent stake in Kenya’s First Assurance, under which the Tanzanian unit falls.

He had to learn the ropes fast given the fast-paced work environment relative to the government.

“I remember there were so many reports to do and prepare; and you see I was coming from the government sector so there was still a lot of things that I did not know. At the same time, I also came under the Barclays Africa Group umbrella and there were staff from First Assurance who saw Barclays staff as coming to take their jobs, which was not true,” Ezekiel recalls.

“It was a very difficult situation at the start, but I had support from the Group. There was a lady called Shantel who came from Barclays South Africa. She took me through the reports, showed me what needed to be done and within six months, I was the most dependable employee in the office. I had to make extra time to make sure I mastered the reports. That was a very hard, hard time,” he explains.

After five months on the job, and with staff changes following the change in ownership, Ezekiel was promoted to assistant CFO of First Assurance in April 2017.

Steep learning curve

Ezekiel later landed another opportunity at a rival firm, Britam Insurance Tanzania, where he was CFO until June 2022 — effectively becoming one of a select group of accountants to have ascended to such a senior role at a young age.

At Britam, he managed a team of about 10 in the finance, administration and procurement units.

The role, however, came with enhanced pressure to deliver tangible results because he also took charge of driving the firm’s five-year strategic plan and reporting progress to the board.

“At Britam, the board was very demanding. But it is where I grew very fast, and this was because of pressure and demand of the job. The targets were ambitious and failure to attain them was not excused,” he says.

“There were also several engagements with other CFOs from group level [Britam also has a presence in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Malawi, and Mozambique]. The engagement was significant. I developed extensive knowledge on driving finance initiatives, investment strategies, digitalisation of the finance function, prioritising investor relations, supply chain management and how to manage the treasury,” he adds.

Ezekiel lists timely adoption of IFRS 9 and 17, digitalising payments through Host to Host, leading an objection of a tax assessment from TSH 26 billion to TSH968 million and unlocking shareholders dividends, after a long-standing dividend drought, as some of his major achievements at Britam Tanzania between October 2017 and June 2022.

So why did he leave Britam to join Nicol in July 2022?

Investing in the public sector

“It was time to tackle new challenges and I was looking to explore more in another industry. I was interested in getting to know more about investments because it is something which I am also looking at doing as an individual later in my life,” Ezekiel explains.

His job at the publicly-traded institution largely involves looking for funds for investment, quite unlike his previous roles where he was tasked with looking for clients with capital available for him to invest.

Outside the office, Ezekiel does karate, walks his four German shepherd dogs, and hunts - as well as spending time with his family. “I read a lot of self improvement books which I believe sharpens my mind,” he adds.

Asked about attributes which make him successful in his career, he says: “That is a tough question, but I think it is the way that I choose to focus and deliver impact throughout my career. I focus most of my time and energy on initiatives that deliver impact on critical strategies for the business. As Robert Collier said, success is a sum of small efforts repeatedly, day in and day out, so that’s my secret for a successful career.”

“Another thing that I have come to learn is to look at the business and take time to think how I can strategically partner with the business to improve and effectively utilise resources for better returns. Automatically, the business also favours you because of the time and focus you put in. I also love to learn so much through conversations with people who are already top in the industry, connect with great people and have the right attitude and discipline as well as putting God first,” he concludes.

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