Ask Stavros Constantinou FCCA what’s in his in-tray and his answer is: ‘Everything under the sun.’
It is more than a figure of speech for the finance director at Del Monte Kenya. The produce and trading company is involved in the entire lifecycle of many of its products, highly attuned to climate change conditions, and when the MD is absent, the FD takes charge of operations. ‘My role and responsibilities include knowing everything about the company and in as much detail as possible,’ Constantinou explains.
‘We have all witnessed increased unpredictability and inconsistency when it comes to rainfall predictions’
FD, Del Monte Kenya
Group CFO, Multiple Hauliers, Kenya
CEO, Andreas Psaltis and Sons, Cyprus
CFO, HS Data, Cyprus
Various financial roles in the UK and Cyprus
It is something his ACCA training and 30-plus years as an accountancy professional, alongside an MBA from the UK’s Oxford Brookes University, have helped to prepare him for. Born in Cyprus, where he also did his secondary schooling and military service, Constantinou spent his childhood and undergraduate years in the US and has since worked in the UK, Cyprus and now Kenya. ‘The globe is my nest,’ he says. ‘I’ve had a multicultural, well-diversified and rewarding career.’
Roles in industry and practice across the various countries and sectors have equipped him for technical challenges – such as reporting in Kenya using IFRS Standards while reporting to a corporate executive office in the US that uses US GAAP – and developed the broad skillset his operational responsibilities demand.
As well as leading his own department, with the support of finance section heads, the FD at Del Monte Kenya takes collective decisions with the MD and heads of departments such as plantation, production, human resources, sales and marketing, internal audit, legal and others. ‘I am part of a team that leads a team of thousands of workers. Business continues 24 hours a day times 365 days. There is no room for dull moments, complacency or dead time,’ he says. ‘We must all liaise efficiently, like a Swiss clock.’
Ensuring that operations run in a smooth fashion while minimising downtime and unpleasant surprises will always throw up challenges, but increasingly these have been unprecedented. Take global warming. ‘We have all witnessed increased unpredictability and inconsistency when it comes to rainfall predictions,’ Constantinou says. Kenya has been through a cycle of prolonged drought, followed by unexpectedly heavy rains, then a slow transition back to drought, which can cause particular challenges for East African organisations.
‘We are all put to the test as the market suffers from adverse inflationary pressures’
‘This uncertainty has a direct impact on costs, which escalate, due to the need for increased irrigation, working hours, labour costs and utility requirements,’ explains Constantinou. If farmers are uncertain when to prepare for planting and harvest, this increases unpredictability and inconsistency around crop yields.
Covid-19 also affects costs. ‘We are all put to the test as the market suffers from adverse inflationary pressures, due to increases in the cost of freight and major commodities such as tinplate,’ says the FD.
In Kenya, Del Monte has responded by innovating. ‘We have to be resourceful, improvise and take short, medium and long-term corrective and preventative measures,’ says the FD. Measures taken include moving to drip irrigation to save and divert water more efficiently, using drones to monitor plant reactions to extreme weather, and introducing hygiene measures and safeguards to protect our workers in and out of the field against Covid-19.
Holding more meetings virtually during a pandemic, for example, does more than minimise Covid-19 transmission. It reduces travel times and atmospheric pollution, the FD points out, and careful scheduling also allows net working hours to be utilised more efficiently. ‘As one manager’s job finishes, another’s starts, so virtual meeting attendees complement each other in perfect coordination, and business continues,’ he says.
Proactive planning, positive thinking and collaborative working have allowed Constantinou and his colleagues to overcome recent challenges and turn them into opportunities, while continuing to prioritise other important and ambitious projects. ‘Diversification and expansion are essential for the agro business,’ the FD says. ‘In Africa, Del Monte used to grow only pineapples. Now we also grow avocados and mangos.’
‘It’s preservation and respect for Mother Earth, humanity and the environment that’s at the centre of my interest’
Del Monte Kenya’s food processing operations include the cultivation, production and canning of fresh fruit and vegetables and prepared foods.
In Thika, Kenya, it owns and operates a warehouse, a pineapple cannery, a fresh pineapple packing facility, and a juice production facility.
The company is a subsidiary of US-based Fresh Del Monte Produce, which was created in 1989 when Del Monte Foods sold off its fresh fruit division.
Del Monte Kenya has 6,500 employees and in 2021 was named exporter of the year in Kenya in the East Africa Maritime Awards.
Every project requires detailed presentations and collaboration between departments, and success depends heavily on the traditional knowledge and expertise of Constantinou and his finance team. ‘It is the duty of the FD to ensure, even before a product is considered for production, that this will add to operating income in a healthy and consistent way,’ he says. In a multinational with networks of interdependent regional and global round-the-clock operations and supply chains, that’s an especially complex undertaking.
‘These intricacies, I admit, were a major shift in priorities and responsibilities, because it’s a whole lifecycle, not just part of it,’ says Constantinou. But new experiences and challenges are part of the appeal of being an accountant and an operational FD. In addition to more familiar responsibilities, he faces tasks such as responding to requests from offices in different time zones and from other Del Monte companies around the globe. ‘It’s a blessing, even in disguise. It keeps you vibrant,’ he says with a smile.
Being part of ‘an alive and thriving multinational public listed company’ suits the FD. So does the company ethos – its core values are excellence, passion, creativity, care and trust. ‘I find its core values profound, as they touch the heart and soul,’ he says. Meanwhile his gardening hobby reflects something much deeper. ‘It’s preservation and respect for Mother Earth, humanity and the environment that’s at the centre of my interest,’ he says. They are themes that chime with the corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability strategy of Del Monte Kenya’s parent company, Fresh Del Monte.
Constantinou believes accountants can do more to support humanity and the planet. ‘The profession is evolving continuously, but I see further need for corporate social responsibility and sustainability, and to an equal extent inclusion and diversity.’ At Del Monte Kenya, CSR initiatives range widely from a programme to empower women – through workplace facilities, health screening and reproductive information – to planting around 61,000 trees across Kenya including 11,000 at the Ol Donyo Sabuk National Park.
‘It’s not what you do in life that matters, rather it is how you do it,’ says the FD. ‘I care for my family, whether related by blood or business, community or country, and without limits.’ He is mindful that small acts combine to become more than the sum of their parts. ‘You can lead a fulfilled life by setting a series of objectives. Continuous, persistent, team and self-generating processes can collectively achieve the one plus one equals three effect,’ he says. ‘I believe in “little miracles” on the non-stop journey towards excellence.’