‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way,’ says Amit Kooyela FCCA, whose achievements are a testament to his self-belief and can-do attitude.
The career highlights of the current group CFO and head of HR with HV Holdings, one of the biggest enterprises in Mauritius, include criss-crossing the Indian Ocean, imposing accounting unity on a gaggle of highly disparate subsidiaries, and pulling off a first-time multi-billion-dollar-rated bond issue. It’s not difficult to see why he thinks the CFO’s natural role is to challenge the status quo.
‘I like to try out new things. I’m not afraid of taking on something I don’t know about’
‘I always had some kind of dream about being successful,’ says Amit. But the boy from a modest background, who began working as market helper at nine years old, could not have imagined the personal and professional journey ahead of him, the places he would live and work along the way, or the decisions that would shape his future.
‘At 16 I had my own market stall, and at 18 the opportunity to go to university,’ he says. ‘Deciding not to go was the first big decision in my life.’
It was one that took him into the world of accounting, auditing and finance. A friend at an accountancy firm suggested he work there before going to university. Six months later, he had been promoted twice and invited to stay on. ‘Then the firm offered to pay for my ACCA studies,’ he says, and so he decided to remain.
Group CFO and (since 2023) group head of HR, HV Holdings
Series of finance and managerial roles at AP Møller-Maersk, culminating in cluster FD for Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar
Accounts assistant, Moore Stephens Mauritius
The ocean wide
A proud member of ACCA, Amit was a finalist in last year’s ACCA Africa CFO Awards. Gaining his ACCA qualification was one of his proudest moments, not least because of the determination needed to secure it. ‘I had to keep putting it on pause,’ he explains. He had moved out of practice and into industry with shipping and logistics giant AP Møller-Mærsk. ‘Before I joined, I didn’t know anything about shipping or logistics. I didn’t even know the company, Mærsk. It was a big step up.’ He then spent 13 years moving around the company – and the world – exploring the unknown.
‘I like to try out new things. I’m not afraid of taking on something I don’t know about,’ says Amit, who recently completed an MBA. ‘Each relocation has meant restarting a new life in an unknown place and learning about new cultures; you need to have an open mindset. This has contributed towards who I am today, giving me the competence and skills to be able to work from a blank piece of paper.’
It was in this spirit that in 2020 he joined HV Holdings and returned to his home country to take on a new challenge. ‘HV Holdings is a family-owned enterprise; it’s very different to the corporate world.’
It is, though, a large diversified business, with operations in Mauritius and Madagascar, encompassing real estate, retail and distribution, manufacturing and international trade.
‘Business partnering is the new normal. Accountants must go above and beyond to add value’
‘When I joined HV Holdings, my main objective was to develop a strategy to ensure the production of group consolidated financial statements and have these audited by a Big Four or Big Six firm.’ Before his arrival, this mandatory banking requirement for the business had been proving difficult to secure. There were 30-plus entities in the group, audited by multiple firms; all had different year-ends, while some did yearly accounts and others quarterly. Education and cultural change were needed, not just on what needed doing differently, but also why.
Amit redesigned the finance function and rebuilt the team. Competencies were assessed, and staff recruited and relocated from across the world – during the pandemic – with the help of videoconferencing. A single group-wide year-end was introduced and a set of HV Holdings-specific accounting principles laid down, covering, among other things, a standard rate of depreciation, when an item should be capitalised, and what was an acceptable reconciliation for the statement of financial positions.
He then stepped into the unknown once more when the shareholders decided to issue a bond to refinance debt. ‘I had no experience of this, so I started reading and learning.’ Consolidated business plans had to be developed, and deft communication was needed to help financial institutions understand the business model. ‘We successfully raised that bond,’ Amit says with satisfaction.
A unitary board with independent directors was formed, on which Amit sits. Within a year, it has built up committees for audit and risk, remuneration, and corporate governance, chaired by independent non-executive directors.
Started as a single textile trading shop in Madagascar; diversification led to an office in Mauritius opening in 2001. Today, the business covers everything from property development, home equipment and franchise retail & distribution to international commerce
Turnover in 2022, placing HV Holdings in Mauritius’s top 100 companies
Profit before tax
‘Good corporate governance and the functioning of a unitary board is becoming increasingly important for family-owned businesses as it helps create a healthy pressure and balance in decision-making, establishes a framework towards excellence, increases the confidence of external stakeholders towards the company and attracts talent,’ Amit says.
‘Physical exercise helps you to clean up your mind, reflect and come up with good ideas’
Amit is living, breathing and encouraging others to follow HV Holdings’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles; he is the vice chair of the CSR committee, which recently organised a beach clean-up. Amit is also the architect of the group-wide ‘HV Keep Fit and Sweat for a Cause’ campaign to promote participation in physical activity such as walking, running, cycling and swimming. The campaign links directly to the company’s purpose, ‘Making everyday life better’, with kilometres covered or calories spent converted to provide clean and safe drinking water to vulnerable communities.
He firmly believes in the power of exercise. ‘It helps you to clean up your mind, reflect and come up with good ideas.’
So what does he think about when he’s playing football or out running? ‘My next priorities include digitalising the consolidation process and improving the control environment with a framework that will enable finance managers to self-assess a balance sheet or a statement of financial position reconciliation, and distinguish between a five out of five and a three out of five.’ He also has an organisational redesign of HR under way. ‘It’s all about continuous improvement.’
It all echoes his perspective on his profession. ‘Business partnering is the new normal. CFOs and accountants must go above and beyond to add value,’ he says. He himself is a contributor to ACCA’s report on the CFO evolving into chief value officer. The CFO needs to be a change agent and challenge the status quo, he says, and take the lead on strategy, working closely with others in the C-suite, and initiating cross-functional collaboration with managers in areas such as operations and sales, to get things done. After all, he says, ‘everything boils down to the bottom line’.