Breaking the millennial intrapreneurial mould

AUTHOR │Adel Du Plessis CA(SA), MHEd (Cum Laude) – LinkedIn Profile

Compulsive job-hopper, sense of entitlement, little time for experienced colleagues – sound familiar? These are the three main stereotypes used for millennials in the workplace. A CA(SA) millennial intrapreneur who proves this wrong is Inacio Dos Santos, born in 1982 and currently CFO for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region of Kantar, a multinational (MNC) evidence-based insights and consulting company with its headquarters in London

Spending the last 18 years at Kantar (not a job-hopper), starting in a junior role, taking the time to grow in his career (no sense of entitlement), specifically keeping and selecting Gen X and Baby Boomer members on his teams (values experienced colleagues), Inacio is either an anomalous millennial or these three millennial stereotypes are myths. In my conversation with Inacio, I learned the following about his approach to these stereotypes:

… sticking with an MNC for 18 years (not a job-hopper)

Inacio’s conscious decision to stick with Kantar was because he has been extremely fortunate to have support and gain a lot of experience over his lifetime: ‘My biggest support has been from my family and particularly my wife, Alicia. Throughout my career she has always been my biggest champion. As most of us know, when we are studying for our SAICA exams, not only do the stress levels go up but maybe also the waistline with all the nervous snacking!  Fortunately, I passed the first time, and Alicia stuck with me through thick and thin, not only during the student years, but as my career progressed,which often involved a lot of travel away from home to our offices in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.’

Inacio also remembers the managers who had faith in him, who created a growth environment and gave him opportunities to gain experience. ‘Being an understanding manager who facilitates a nurturing work environment is imperative for job tenure − this is all about personal relationships, it does not matter what size company you are in, and I was lucky enough to have two great managers. There is only so much the business can facilitate: the rest is up to your day-to-day dealings with your team and managers.’

Growing in a business has many benefits including developing deep insight. ‘By working for such a long time within the same business and territory, you gain deep knowledge about the operations, the offer, pressure points, procurement challenges and where you can add value. As a CFO, by default you will never have enough budget for everything, so having this critical operational knowledge and experience you can prioritise what to align with the business strategy to maximise ROI.’

… taking the time to grow in your career (no sense of entitlement)

Inacio makes it clear that while financial success is important and you must be paid a market-related salary, you should also consider the other benefits that you can gain from any position. It does not matter which title you start with. ‘I started as a junior management accountant, and for me, it was about self-development. I was fortunate to travel internationally and learn about different cultures and ways of working within an MNC and was able to be flexible in balancing my work and home life. All these factors are important, as good companies and managers should help facilitate this for valued employees. It is therefore important that when you start with your CA(SA) career in your ‘twenties you should make sure that you have your own development plan that goes beyond titles and material benefits – your plan should rather focus on roles, activities and on-the-job-training that will facilitate your learning journey.’

… being comfortable with Gen X and Baby Boomers (values experienced colleagues)

Inacio’s parents and extended family immigrated from Madeira to South Africa in the 1970s. Inacio grew up as a first-generation South African in Westonaria, a small mining town west of Johannesburg. Working in the family’s businesses gave him exposure to various people and cultures. He elaborates: ‘From a young age I worked in our family supermarkets, bottle stores, taverns and fresh produce stores. My sisters and cousins often teased, and still tease me, as I spent a lot of time with my uncles and aunts at their businesses and family functions, soaking up their stories and experiences. I still believe that these experiences served me well, even in the corporate world where I have often had to use these interpersonal skills in my role across the Middle East and Africa.’

It is probably resilience that got me through it all! I sometimes compare tough situations to opening batting in cricket − the new ball is always difficult, but once you get through the first hour or so, you can cash in. So I often use this analogy, knuckle down and push through

Sport has also contributed to Inacio’s maturity and leadership skills; so much so that his high school cricket coach made him captain of the first cricket team at a young age. He still speaks highly of Inacio today, stating that as a 14-year-old Inacio already had the maturity of an 18-year-old. Says Inacio: ‘I enjoy leading by example, and sport sets a great foundation to build leadership skills to use in the corporate world.’

Being an intrapreneur

Coming from an entrepreneurial family and being an entrepreneur at heart, Inacio has always used these skills as an intrapreneur in a large corporation. In his current role, he takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation. ‘One important attribute which I also developed over time within an MNC was to have the courage of my convictions and not lose my entrepreneurial spirit. Irrespective of our lower share of the business within the global context, I believe we have come up with some innovative solutions for our business in the Middle East and Africa. Our global HQ have taken some of these ideas on and used them in other markets.’

Harnessing and expressing intrapreneurship in an MNC

Here are Inacio’s five suggestions:

1 Often act as a facilitator and project manager for a lot of initiatives

 

 

‘While you are boxed as the FM/FD/CFO, you are involved in all commercial and operational developments across the business. A good CFO will allocate sufficient budget for key initiatives and always have some buffer available for the CEO. This comes with vision and intrapreneurship intuition. Often different challenges come up that require ad hoc investment which will keep the ship steady or lead to more growth in future.’

 

2 Build and nurture all relationships ‘If you cannot talk to people and understand their needs, you will always struggle to get buy-in. Choose your moments when to lead actively versus leading passively depending on the issue at hand.

 

‘I try to keep it simple by looking inwards and asking myself if what I am doing, or what is happening, is something that I would like done to me. This is specifically important when dealing with people and management of people.’

 

3 Stick with your gut when it comes to ethical dilemmas in an MNC

 

‘Different cultural backgrounds sway the ethical needle differently. Chartered accountants are the guardians of financial information for all stakeholders and therefore when we are faced with an ethical dilemma, we need to follow theconceptual framework approach (S120) of the SAICA CPC where we need to identify, evaluate, and address the threats to compliance with the fundamental principles.

 

‘I have been fortunate that I have not faced many ethical dilemmas in my company, and when I was faced with them, the company was supportive of my views.’

 

4 Stay healthy mentally, spiritually, and physically

 

 

‘I try to exercise weekly, and this certainly helps to clear the mind. And I enjoy time with my family − they help to take my mind off work-related stresses.

 

‘My former CEO gave me some great advice: “Try not to take things too seriously − and laugh when you can.”’

 

5 Flexibility is important in a service-based company ‘Your offer and operations need to be nimble, and you must be careful how much you invest in certain solutions for clients. Make sure you are up to date with other innovative offers out in the market, especially digital and AI-based offers that could be a substitute for your offer.

 

‘In emerging markets, where ambiguity makes decision-making difficult, we often take a risk-based approach versus commercial realities.’

Whether Inacio Dos Santos is an anomalous millennial or the three millennial stereotypes are myths, his 18-year intrapreneurial journey and sticking with one company show us that this can be remarkably satisfying.