CFO Rana Auditto applies Kaizen principles to the global stage

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As CFO of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Global Network, Rana Auditto oversees five African countries and offices in Canada, the UK, and Germany - all from Rwanda.

As CFO of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Global Network, Rana Auditto oversees five African countries and offices in Canada, the UK, and Germany - all from Rwanda.

Rana's list of achievements is not just confined to numbers on a balance sheet. His leadership philosophy emphasises developing and mentoring diverse teams across continents.

CFO East Africa recently chatted with Rana to find out more about his career, transition to living in Kigali, and digitalisation

How did you end up working as an accountant?

People joke that I was destined to be an accountant because if you add an ‘R’ to my surname it basically spells out ‘auditor’. I grew up in Delhi in India where I did my chartered accountancy studies and started my own practice. That was almost 35 years ago. Since I loved working with numbers, it was just the right profession for me. I didn’t enjoy chasing clients for fees and decided to work in the development sector instead. This is how I eventually ended up working for a multi-million-dollar development project funded by Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in India and then for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in India and in Canada with a brief stint in Thailand.

How was your transition to Rwanda?

AIMS was also partly funded by IDRC in the past and they were looking for a CFO to strengthen their financial control framework. I thought maybe it's time for me to do something very exciting and use my experience in a more meaningful manner. Before taking up the job, me and my wife, travelled to Rwanda to look at the place as our knowledge of Rwanda was limited, but we heard that Kigali was one of the cleanest and safest cities. When we came here, we just fell in love with this city and we were convinced to move.

When I came here and saw the efforts made by the government in transforming the country, it was mind-boggling – the progress was visible everywhere, whether it was in the field of education or infrastructure or state of the art facilities or widely available digital platforms. They have done exceptionally well. Rwanda is committed to education particularly science and technology. We thought we could live here for just a few years but we are here since 2017 and we love our stay in Rwanda. Kigali is a beautiful city, clean, safe and friendly. Our transition here has been seamless.

What are the highlights of your long career?

While working in India as a controller on a CIDA funded project, through negotiations with several stakeholders, the project was able to save 5 million dollars by installing the factory to produce perforated pipes rather than importing them. Similarly, here in Rwanda, since I joined AIMS, we managed to raise more than 5 million US dollars to bridge the funding gap. It is a highlight because they were struggling very hard to raise the money to pay for the institutional costs.

While working for IDRC in India and Canada, we managed to save more than a million dollars annually in travel costs by centralising travel bookings and more than 1.5 million dollars annually by implementing Muda to Kaizen principles (continuous improvements – resources optimisation) that are currently implemented by Toyota. In addition, significant process improvements by reducing the size of the standard operating procedures in grant administration, we have simplified the global grant management operations and saved enormous amount of staff time which resulted in significant cost savings. I am also proud of mentoring many of the finance managers who have since progressed to become heads of finance.

What other examples of application of Kaizen can you cite?

There were several, e.g., at IDRC, optimising the office space by adopting open office concept saved us almost 700,000 dollars per annum; changing financial information management system saved us 250,000 dollars per annum in licensing costs, implementing shared services platform saved us almost 1,000,000 dollars annually in staffing costs; consolidating banking operations through single bank saved us almost 500,000 dollars annually in exchange losses; etc. All these improvements were done with complete participation of management and the staff - yes, there were some challenges but were addressed by involving affected staff in a very constructive manner.

What is your view regarding migrating data to new systems?

When it comes to data migration, the key is to adopt a strategic mindset. My suggestion is not to migrate all data indiscriminately but to leverage AI tools to synthesise information. The emphasis should be on migrating data that proves essential for the next decade and beyond. This strategic approach ensures that the decision-making process at the business level is well-informed and aligned with long-term goals.

As CFO how do you communicate effectively with other decision-makers and network with peers?

The ability to simplify complex financial details is paramount for engaging decision-makers effectively. Unless financial information is presented in a manner that decision-makers, who might not be financial experts, can easily comprehend, the engagement in the decision-making process may falter. It's about continuous learning, upgrading oneself, and ensuring that financial insights are communicated in layman's language, fostering active participation from decision-makers.

CFOs should act as connectors, fostering a culture of learning from each other's diverse experiences. I resonate with Malcolm Gladwell's concept of connectors and mavens. No individual possesses all-encompassing knowledge, but through networking, we create a collective wisdom that goes beyond individual capabilities.

Shifting focus to AIMS, could you provide insights into the institute and your leadership approach?

AIMS, which was founded in 2003 in South Africa, initially focused on providing master’s degrees in mathematical sciences and later become a network of entities spread over five African countries that offers post graduate training, research and public engagement for the advancement of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in Africa. From a financial management perspective, we've started with a centralised secretariat based approach and have recently adopted a decentralised structure with finance and other network-wide operations managed through its centres.

I serve as the global CFO based in Kigali, overseeing a centralised web-based accounting system and network-wide financial operations. Additionally, an audit and finance committee at the international governing board level provides oversight.

In my leadership role, being available is about active listening and creating an environment where individuals feel comfortable making mistakes and learning from them. It's about building the next generation of leaders, providing support, and sharing experiences. I firmly believe in giving individuals the space to grow and navigate challenges, particularly in a multicultural, multi-generational work environment.

Aspiring CFOs should focus on being smart with resources, striking a balance between service and stewardship, and actively contributing to business decision-making and building capacities. A continuous commitment to learning, process improvement, and staying updated is crucial. Challenges may include insecurities among CFOs, but transparency and fostering the growth of the next level can address such concerns.

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