Juma Kalutu: the operational CFO

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Azam Media CFO Juma Kalutu took on his first leadership role at the age of 29. CFO East Africa recently caught up with the finance executive to find out more about his career journey and future plans.

Juma Kalutu has amassed extensive finance-related experience spanning over a decade, showcasing a progression of roles with increasing responsibilities. He started as an accounts assistant at Corteva Agriscience in February 2012, and steadily advanced through various positions including finance controller at Zola Electric and financial accountant at Tanga Cement. At the age of 29, he was appointed acting CFO of Lafarge Tanzania in 2019. He moved to Toyota Tanzania in 2021 to take up the position of head of finance - and assumed the role of CFO at Azam Media in January 2024.

Juma spoke exclusively with the CFO East Africa about his career journey and future plans.

Why did you leave Toyota to join Azam Media?

Azam is the largest media house in Tanzania, with a significant footprint in Sub-Saharan Africa. The company has a presence in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi and Zimbabwe. I was attracted to the opportunity to learn about the media industry having worked in the automotive, logistics, mining and manufacturing sectors. My ambition is to become a CEO and working in different industries and experiencing different perspectives will adequately prepare me to tackle whatever challenges come my way when leading a company.

How did you end up as an accountant?

I got the inspiration from my mum who was a senior accountant at Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority. She used to take me to work with her when I was a child and I would sit there and watch her work through these big books, which were manual general ledgers. My cousin, Dr Neema Kiure Msussa, who is a CPA convinced me that it was an ideal profession to pursue if one is keen on corporate success. Neema is a senior partner at EY Tanzania and one of the first females to be appointed partner at a Big 4 audit firm.

What inspired you to pursue an MBA at the University of Dar es Salaam?

I am not yet done with the MBA. I still have to defend my thesis later this year. The reason I took the course is because my career thus far has been in accounting and I wanted something that could give me a broader picture in business. With the advancement of technology, most accounting functions are now performed by ERP and AI systems and therefore the job of a CFO should now shift to thinking about how to make businesses profitable. My thesis is centred around the ability of the external auditor to detect fraud. It takes into consideration the role played by the auditor's work experience, time pressure and the contribution of whistle-blowers. I became interested in this topic because I am cognisant of the extent of financial loss and reputational damage to companies, caused by fraud. It also costs lives if you consider the recent case at Boeing which could result in airline disasters where people die.

What have been the highlights of your career thus far and how did you achieve them?

Being appointed CFO of Lafarge at the age of 29 was a significant milestone. I have also twice been nominated for CFO of the Year by the Institute of Management of Tanzania (Top 100 executive lists) and finished fourth both times. My recipe for success is centred around an eagerness to learn and to push barriers. I am also a team player, from a young age I have learnt the benefit of collaboration. I am also an operational CFO; I get out of the office and go down to see how the business really works in order to identify ways in which we can link what we do to the numbers.

How many people report to you at Azam and what is your leadership style?

There are approximately 50 people in the overall finance team spanning seven countries. My immediate priority since joining the company three months ago is to understand the operations. The customer base is key and getting to know the customer is essential to see growth in sales. We are in different jurisdictions and each of them has different tastes. Besides this, I am looking to do as much automation of finance processes as possible because this will free me up to look at value addition. The role of the CFO is changing to that of a chief value officer and consequently we need to free up our time to contribute to company strategy as opposed to being tied down in reporting.

Finally, what do you do outside of work?

I love soccer; I am a big fan of Chelsea in the Premier League and of Simba domestically. I am also a family guy; my weekends are spent with my wife and two children. Besides going to the gym and swimming, I also read inspirational books. I highly recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma.

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