This Black History Month, Brewer Morris is delighted to interview a number of Black tax and treasury professionals to recognise and celebrate their careers and achievements. We’ve invited our Black clients and candidates to speak to us about their career journeys, the challenges they’ve faced in the workplace and their views on what needs to be done to promote racial equality and inclusion within the industry.
Our second interview is with Alouis Ngoshi, Group Treasurer at The Weir Group PLC.
Tell us about yourself and your current role.
I am the Group Treasurer for Weir Group, a FTSE listed organisation employing 15,000 employees across 50 countries. I lead a team of 6 treasury professionals with an additional 3 that report indirectly and report directly to Group CFO. In addition to my day to day responsibilities as Group Treasurer I also sit on the Treasury and finance risk committee, this includes the CEO, CFO, Finance Controller, Head of Tax and divisional Finance Directors and reports directly to the board. My main role is to manage the financial risks to the company. A critical part of this is relationship management with the banks, credit rating agencies and noteholders as well as internal stakeholders.
Tell us about your journey
I was born and grew up in Zimbabwe in a small village with no running water or electricity. After my GCSEs, I knew that I wanted to study A-levels which I had to move to the city to do. I was 18 years of age. It was very daunting to leave behind my family and all that I knew to do this. Anglo American ran a scholarship scheme that involved selecting one individual from each province in the country on an academic basis. I applied for this and was selected amongst thousands of others for Mashonaland Central Province. This was a big breakthrough for me. My parents relied on subsistence farming to pay for our school fees. The country experienced a severe drought for during the 1991/92 rain season and I was supposed to start my A – level in 1992. Without this scholarship, I would not have been able to further my studies. It also paved the way for me to eventually work for such an illustrious global company firstly as a graduate accountant in 1997 and rising to senior finance manager by the time I left in October 2002.
Anglo American opened doors for me, it was a big global company. In fact, during the scholarship interview, it was the first time I had spoken to a white person! Once I joined on the conglomerate on graduation, I immediately became exposed to people from very diverse backgrounds. Before then, I had preconceptions from the villages that white people have all the wealth and power. You learn growing up that colonisers moved people into small holdings whilst the large more productive farms went to white people. As a child, if we took our cattle onto these large farmlands, the white girls and boys would chase you away and this gives you an inferiority complex. My belief was that they have everything I could never dream of. There is a strong systemic belief that white people are superior in Africa which goes all the way back to slavery when black people had to comply to survive upon being enslaved, those who were left behind mostly survived by selling others to enslavers. This slave-master relationship continued with colonization. My early years in Anglo American however taught me that I was not necessarily inferior to anyone because of where I was born. I was fortunate to work with highly professional white colleagues and bosses who believed in me. They instilled in me a sense of belonging, that I had as much right to be there and that I was as smart and as capable as my white counterparts.
Since then I have been driven as much by adversity as I have the opportunities at work, for example when I started at Anglo American my salary as equivalent to $800 USD when I left it was equal to $200 USD due to hyperinflation. This prompted me to emigrate to Ireland where I joined an accountancy firm, it was not easy leaving my family and country but being part of a global organisation has helped prepare me to fit in. I had studied CIMA by then also and it became second nature to me to focus on what I can do and to ensure I deliver on it. I understood how the markets work, how to interact with people and race had ceased to be an issue for me.
What attracted you to a career in treasury? What has been your career highlight?
The GFC in 2008 led to our practice (where I was now a partner) dissolving, this was devastating at the time. I had a young family and thought everything was mapped out, I had to completely reevaluate my career and re-prioritise. I knew that a career switch was needed from consultancy. During my graduate trainee at Anglo America, I had done a 6 months rotation in treasury. I uploaded my CV to a recruiter site, and they happened to be looking for an accountant with mining and treasury experience. There was one line about this treasury experience on my CV and that was the best thing I ever did. I immediately loved that treasury is always forward-looking and gave me exposure to strategic planning, as well as a wide network. I enjoy talking to bankers, lawyers, other professionals and using this to expand my knowledge and skill set.
My career highlight was very recent actually, I joined Weir Group and 2 months into the role the Covid pandemic hit, our bank loans were due to be refinanced anyway – the plan was to start the refinancing project as soon as our December 2019 year end results were published. Two weeks into the process, Covid 19 became a global pandemic and at the same time, the Russia – Saudi Arabia oil price war escalated leading to negative crude price. Oil & gas is about a third of Weir’s business. As a result of these challenges and other legacy systemic balance sheet issues, one rating agency downgraded us and the other one had a negative outlook. Despite all that we managed to refinance the RCF to a 3-year facility and extend our Term Loan which had become current by a further 21 months. This went a long way to help stabilise our share price soon after announcing successful refinancing. To get it over the line I had continuous discussions with the banks explaining our credit story, showing them the resilience of our aftermarket business and providing a detailed the plan for post refinancing capital structure evolution. It required collaboration and agility (we lost two banks and managed to bring in two others to replace them), expert knowledge and continuous discussion, showing that we have an exciting strategic plan going forward. Without that they would have walked away and the share price would be decimated. Feedback was very positive and the chairman personally called to say well done and thank you to me and my team.
How have you achieved success during your career?
Very early on I developed an idea of who I wanted to be. Asking myself “what values do I want to live by? Professionally, how do I want to be viewed?” That package creates a value in you as a person, as you become valuable as a person that attracts other people to you and vice versa. My strongest driver was always that I had the desire to say I do not want my children to grow up in the same way I did, I want to provide for them in a way that makes me proud and will make them proud. In a way that sets up a good platform for them to achieve whatever they dream of. Once you have started that journey you begin to grow, I have always asked myself “Do I know what my boss wants to achieve and my boss’ boss?” I always have the thought process of “What are they looking at? How do I get to know about those things so that I can add value to what they want to do?”
I am always looking ahead; I’m not scared of going back to basics and learning. If required I will often just open a book and learn something from scratch. I’m always learning from other people as well.
I have always defined what I want to be in my own mind. Even without knowing about the concept, I have had sponsors throughout my career, although I perhaps I didn’t realise it at the time. I suspect I could have progressed quicker if I had sought out mentors / sponsorship directly.
What barriers or perceived barriers have you either experienced or do you feel exist for black people building a career in treasury?
The reality is that young black people may have to work harder to prove you can be trusted and have integrity. Statistically, if you are a black young person and come from certain neighbourhood, you are more likely to have been subjected to a stop and search by the police so many times. You may even have witnessed a knife crime for example or know someone close to you who was a victim or perpetrator. That is just part and parcel of the institutionalised racism. All you can do is show you are different and that you have integrity, that people can rely on you. You need to have that inner belief in yourself, drive and determination to do the right thing and equip yourself with the necessary skills to achieve your dreams.
I don’t think there are barriers in treasury per se, I haven’t come across any bias within the profession as such myself. I think I experienced more bias outside of the treasury bubble.
The only time I experienced obvious bias was in Sierra Leone when I was travelling with African minerals, a white colleague was driving me as my driver was unwell and someone asked “how come you are driving your driver today?” this didn’t worry me but I can see how this kind of scenario could really impact how somebody feels in the workplace.
I think bias is more strongly felt at the beginning of someone’s career, it can easily knock your confidence, I don’t think any malice is usually intended but it is an ingrained, systemic bias.
In the UK we have a class system, networks build over a long period of time and still black people (and women for that matter) are not really part of that network. Because you don’t have access to these networks, you are at a disadvantage right from the beginning because you are not aware of the opportunities available. The result is that you do not equip yourself early on with the skills required in some of these professions and it becomes very difficult later in life to breakthrough.
Some black people in the UK still do not really have a sense of belonging, we don’t feel at home, as part of the country and this excludes can exclude us from participating. Maybe a feeling of “I don’t belong at this table” but we do, and we have every right to be there. Incidences like the Windrush scandal do not help in building this sense of marginalisation.
What advice do you have for young professionals who may be inspired by your story and would like to follow a similar path?
It’s all about value creation, treat yourself as a brand, product that someone would want to buy. I use the example of the diamond in the ground covered by soil it doesn’t shine no matter how rare and valuable it could be, but when you bring the diamond out, put it on the table and polish it, now it can glow and has tremendous value. Only when you have realised your value will people be attracted to you.
Be self-motivated and driven, you have to lay the foundations for yourself. Get the education required, understand what theoretical and practical information you need. Have an inquisitive mind, understand the bigger picture and embrace collaboration. Always keep in mind, what value do you bring to the table?
Seek out a mentor or sponsorship but remember to make sure that you are someone people want to mentor and sponsor.
My advice to young black people thinking about a career in Treasury is to remove your own mental barrier, the one that says you can’t, perhaps the one that doesn’t know about treasury. Take it upon yourself to learn and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Speak up, get on the stage, you have every right to be there. Don’t be afraid to speak up or afraid you might be wrong, the point is not about being right it’s to be there and getting out of your comfort zone.
There are lots of very capable young people out there. As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to keep your core values, always operate with integrity and show people that they can trust you. But do all this in a way that doesn’t mean losing yourself, embrace that you are a black person, too many young black professionals think they need to act, dress and talk like a white person. That is why we have lack of black role models.
Please note that all comments and opinions provided are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by.
Should you have any questions about this interview or if we can support hiring on your team or your own career search, please contact Rachael Crocker.