Focusing on CFO Rob Hunter

In this week’s staff spotlight we meet Rob Hunter, SafeLane’s Chief Financial Officer. He explains why the company’s future is purely positive, and we get an inkling into why his nickname is the Chief Friendly Officer.

How long have you been the big bad bean counter at SafeLane Global and what did you do before?

I’ve been with the company for four years.  Before I joined, I worked for a number of companies including Bulmers, Wyevale Garden Centres and Xerox.  I was most recently the Finance Director of an international recruitment company.

Were there good perks working for Bulmers?

That was a team that liked to work hard and play hard – and yes, we did get some free cider!  In fact, I thought I should try some Strongbow shortly before my job interview with them – and haven’t looked back as far as cider is concerned.  I now live next door to a cider orchard!

I was lucky enough to spend a year working as Finance Director of Bulmers South Africa; that was a brilliant opportunity to experience a very different culture and lifestyle.  I have maintained a fondness for the country ever since.

How did you arrive at SafeLane?

SafeLane is an incredible company – and it combines the humanitarian values and commercial aspects I rate highly.  When the opportunity arose to join the team, it was absolutely what I wanted to do.

First and foremost, SafeLane is a commercial entity – and I am a very commercially driven professional, so the role suited me.  Secondly, SafeLane makes a positive difference – from creating safe infrastructure through enabling development, to personally saving and protecting lives.  The company has a beneficial influence on wider society, it furthers the locations it operates in and that aspect appealed to me hugely as well.

Being a commercial operation in a humanitarian environment is a fantastic combination.

We have a focus on returns for all stakeholders – but the footprint we leave behind is always positive.

What do you like most about the job?

Ultimately, the teamwork at SafeLane is second to none.  And I’ve got great support teams.  We all get on well and have a good laugh, even in these challenging times.

I try to play to the strengths of individuals within my teams, and I know when to support and mentor if teams need building up.

Over the four years I’ve been with SafeLane, having joined as Finance Director, I have been able to develop my teams to take on elements of my role – over time and through experience.  That has allowed me to expand my horizons and advance the business.  The key is still being able to drop down into the detail – but only when necessary.

What have been your biggest challenges?

Cash!  Not just in terms of having it – but getting cash to the right places at the right time – it’s a continual battle. 

We operate in many jurisdictions internationally, some of which have limited banking, some of which have no banking, some of which are sanctioned. 

Naturally, that makes moving funds around the world incredibly difficult.  But we have become expert in managing this.  One of the key ways we achieve this is by having a very strong relationship with our own banking partners, and ensuring we always maintain our very strict compliance standards. 

Many people we’ve interviewed for Staff Spotlight talk about one of the perks of the job being travel – where have you been with the company?

I’ve travelled widely, but in terms of project visits specifically I’ve been to Somalia, Iraq and South Africa.

I’ve found every single travel opportunity fascinating.  There really aren’t many finance jobs where you get such an opportunity and yes, I agree, it’s one of the benefits of working for SafeLane.

When you see operations and you meet our field personnel, it helps you understand the realities of life on the ground.  You see what things are really needed for; you see what makes a real difference to quality of life as well as operational effectiveness (and what doesn’t). 

Naturally, having that in depth understanding then helps with decision making further down the line.  That’s one of the reasons I encourage our back-office teams to visit our operations.

A highlight for me was having the chance to spend a week with our South African colleagues at the dog school.  I love being outside so spent the whole week working on the veranda – but I found that being heard on the phone above the dogs was a challenge!

How has SafeLane coped with the covid19 pandemic?

I am very proud of our response to the crisis.  The wellbeing of our teams, in the offices and on our ‘front lines’ is at our core as a business no matter what – and that sets us apart.  These challenging times have proven that to me over and over again.

We have teams around the world who can’t travel home on rotation and enjoy much needed leave with their families.  We have professionals prevented from returning to their operational teams.  They are all stuck – and I am really grateful for the constructive way those involved have pulled together and found solutions.

Financially and operationally the business remains strong and we have begun bouncing back as lockdowns lift.  We are ready to capitalise on opportunities in the new-normal.

What is your vision for the future of the company?

The future for SafeLane is definitely bigger.  The whole business has worked hard over the last few years and we can see the benefits of this now; both in terms of our growth and our ability to weather the storm. 

SafeLane has moved from strength to strength – not just financially, leading to us winning the Queen’s Award for International Trade this year – but in terms of our infrastructure for example.  We have much more robust systems in place, our brand is unified, our structure is simplified, and our teams are strengthened. 

We will continue to grow organically, and we will grow through targeted acquisition as we have in 2018 and 2019 – I expect that to continue in 2020 and beyond.

What has lockdown meant for you personally?

Working from home has meant I miss contact with my teams in all locations – but that has of course been compensated for as I get to see more of my wife and two children.

I’ve also painted the shed, the garden furniture and anything else that didn’t move.  I am still clinging on to the hope of getting away on holiday this summer, but it will be a close call.

More critical is getting our international personnel back into their leave rotations, and I am confident we can enable that soon.