When Innocent Rwetabura strode into the interview room, he didn’t have the temperament that would be associated with someone of his stature – holding a top tier position at one of the leading Telecom companies in the country.
To the contrary, Rwetabura was unassumingly gentle. He patiently sat there, readying himself to be bombarded with questions.
Perhaps his extensive experience in the financial and telecom sector at some of the biggest companies in and outside of Tanzania elevated not only his skills as a finance expert, but his overall demeanor.
Rwetabura’s history speaks for itself. He moved to Tigo with vast experience having held various top positions at other companies, some trading in the Telco industry.
According to him, accounting has always been in his blood. Yes, dealing with numbers comes with the package, but his motivation has not always been remuneration and perks that come with the profession, but the desire to become an accomplished accountant coupled with the fact that the career is intellectually stimulating.
His journey in the financial and accounting sector started when he was hand-picked for a job right after graduating from the University of Dar es Salaam in 1998.
He first dipped his feet in the employment pool by working as assistant accountant for Citibank. Just a month into the job, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) came calling, he took the opportunity. “The terms might have been better at Citibank but the prospects at PwC were even rosier. I needed to be where the ‘action’ was. It was my pathway to become an accomplished accountant in an environment that offered unequalled accounting professionalism,” he said.
Rwetabura is no doubt an ambitious man. He has served various companies in different capacities over the years. He worked with PwC for almost five years. Thereafter he moved to the then Celtel (now called Airtel) as a finance manager – from being an auditor to finance. When he started off as finance manager, the company was small. As the company grew, his position was elevated to that of Financial Controller.
After about one and a half years, he was moved to Sierra Leone within the same company as a financial controller. He rose through the ranks to become the finance director of the company after one year.
His success didn’t come without cost.
“Sierra Leone having emerged from civil war, and the negative media perceptions being peddled at the time, my wife did not particularly want to join me although she did visit from time to time,” he said.
After three years – in 2010, Rwetabura felt that it was high time to come back to Tanzania.
On arrival, he joined Zantel as finance director dealing with budgeting and reporting. He held this position for less than two years before moving to G4S Security Company. The reason he moved was that he had been promised to take up the role of a managing director that never came to pass. Transitioning from a Telco company, Rwetabura encountered a few challenges he was uncomfortable with.
He left the security company and joined Helios Towers, albeit at a lower position. But while there, the company centralized finance function and subsequently, his position became redundant.
He was given six months to get his affairs in order. As he was still calculating his next career move, Tigo came calling. In 2015, Rwetabura’s auspicious journey with Tigo Tanzania was incepted.
His Life at Tigo
Rwetabura first held the position of Financial Controller at Tigo. Simon Karikari, the current Managing Director was then the Chief Financial Officer. Later, Simon Karikari took over the reins at the top management prompting Rwetabura’s promotion to the current position.
His professional traits coupled with personality traits that include his humility, approachability and his likeable disposition have played part in catapulting Rwetabura to his current position as CFO. It is worth noting that, he has made significant achievements since he joined Tigo including; to increase efficiency in Operating Expenditure (OPEX) in such a way that operating profit grows faster than the Top Line. Also, he oversees the team that integrated in time Tigo’s systems with the Government Electronic Revenue Collection System (ERCS), that helps Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) to collect VAT and excise duty electronically.
“The work of a CFO is that of a gatekeeper who stands between the shareholders and the company’s developmental needs. The task engenders adequate planning, implementation, managing and running of all the finance activities of the company, including budgeting, forecasting and negotiations,” he said.
The role played by CFO entails overseeing the company’s financial matters to make sure that the interests of shareholders are maximized and upheld.
“Sometimes, I, as the CFO see myself as a challenger to the Managing Director and at the same time, a partner. CEO and the commercial team may come up with an idea. To implement it, the CFO needs to agree or come up with a viable solution. Traditional CFOs were challengers. Today’s CFOs are more flexible, partnering with the entire system to produce far-reaching results for the benefit of the company and the shareholders,” he adds.
According to him, the ever-changing financial environment must be met with the right tools and standards. The use technology to identify risks is crucial in today’s financial environment. This helps in designing appropriate mitigation plan on timely fashion.
“It is true that the financial environment keeps changing almost every year just like everything else. We must keep up the pace if we are to stay ahead. For example, our financial reporting must comply to the International Reporting Standards. Therefore, having competent and well-versed team not only in finance department but across the board is imperative.” he said.
In Tanzania, Tigo led the rest of the pack into interoperability, linking not only the other networks but also the banks – ushering in the much-needed financial inclusion to Tanzania. Tigo was also the first to introduce 4G, 4G+ platforms along with exciting apps, living up to the maxim of being a truly digital lifestyle company.
Traditionally, voice as a product dominated the market needs. Today, as a result of the changing lifestyles and the accompanying technology, Tigo is seeing an upsurge in the uptake of data and mobile financial services.
“Our strategy is to remain the pioneering brand in new services that include data and friendly financial services that have risen from a paltry 5 percent to more than 45 percent currently. In 2014 we pioneered in interoperability with other mobile service providers and banks. We are also the pioneers for free WhatsApp and Facebook in Kiswahili. Our tier-three data center in Salasala still remains a very strategic investment into the future,” he said.
Rwetabura understands the importance of family ties. He is married and is blessed with three children.
With a demanding schedule that requires a lot of hours put in, he endeavors to do all the work at the office, and by the time he leaves for home, he focuses his undivided attention on his family.
Before reporting to work, Rwetabura first makes a stop at the gym. This is a routine he started when he was working in Sierra Leone. Since then, he has never looked back. However, his lifelong hobby is watching soccer and long tennis on TV.
With over 20 years of experience working in finance, 46 -year-old Rwetabura has a long list of mentors to thank for his career. However, one man’s mentorship still remains etched in his mind. “He is a Malawian who recruited me from PwC to Celtel. This man was so meticulous, so organized and with great discipline. He converted me from an auditor to a real accountant. He brought me to the field where the action is,” he says in appreciation.
Rwetabura believes that what keeps him going is his ability to identify and nurture capabilities in others and aligning them towards achieving their goals. His maxim is that failure should not be accepted.
“One must strive to achieve goals no matter the hurdles,” he affirms.
“One should try to work smart, not necessarily working hard. Future CFOs must foster great commercial acumen at the same time, seek to hone their skills through studying to keep abreast with the ever-changing business environments,” he adds.
According to him, in order to excel in their careers, accountants and indeed all workers should embrace the companies they work for. They should always take themselves as the cogwheels of production and not extricate themselves. This means that they should have a sense of ownership. They should always have a sense of direction and envisage the direction the company should take, knowing that it’s the business that keeps them going.
Sheer determination, meticulous and impeccable accounting practice together with a whole world of exposure and subsequently, the knowledge gathered in leading Telecom companies accounting environments in and out of Tanzania, are the professional hallmarks that have catapulted Innocent Rwetabura to become Tigo’s first Tanzanian Chief Financial Officer (CFO). This is not a mean feat by any standards. He calls it working smart.