Finding creative financial solutions in post-Soviet era
Joseph De Gennaro
Bachelor Arts in Accountancy (1988), FCPA, GAICD
Current: Finance & Supply Chain Director Asia Pacific, Hoshizaki Lancer Pty Ltd
Former: CFO for Coca-Cola HBC, Slovakia
As country CFO for global billion-dollar company, Coca-Cola HBC, Slovakia during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Joseph attributes his professional success to being imaginative and resourceful in managing the finance function.
Joseph was living and working in Ukraine, Belarus and Slovakia just after the Berlin Wall came down, when the Soviet Era ended and Eastern European countries became independent states. The political landscape changed dramatically and the economic situation was very challenging to navigate.
“Going from State-run to an emerging free market came with many financial difficulties, as access to foreign currency for imported equipment and materials was really tough,” Joseph says.
“While I was working in Belarus, the local currency devalued 550% during the course of one year, often falling 20% in a week. We would use our intuition and knowledge of the local economy to anticipate the large currency devaluations, in order to purchase locally sourced raw materials and equipment and stock pile them for later use. This included pallets of sugar, resin used for PET manufacture and vehicles – anything that would keep its value and was required for the business.
“We were continually finding innovative ways to enhance the company’s profitability and access to foreign currency (USD). For example, we would purchase resin locally, manufacture plastic bottle preforms and export them to our sister companies in Slovakia and Czech Republic to earn hard currency for international trade.
“Often convincing my Managing Director, an expatriate American, to approve our radical financial ideas was difficult. However, our team achieved great success and the company was able to minimise the impact of foreign currency movements on operating profits.”
Joseph started his successful journey in accounting in Port Pirie, located in rural South Australia. After one year, he moved to Adelaide and continued working for CC Bottlers Ltd, a locally listed public company, while studying a Bachelor of Accounting at UniSA part-time.
“I worked in every type of accounting position for CC Bottlers which gave me great exposure to the industry and the business operations, which has really benefited me in my more senior positions.”
Joe moved to the USA for two years in the 1980s before Coca-Cola Amatil bought CC Bottlers. He believes the biggest differences between working in the USA and Australia compared with Eastern Europe are the infrastructure, business models and level of economic development.
“In Eastern Europe there were strict systems in place, including the order in which you had to pay suppliers. There was such a vast difference in how you go about conducting business.
“One of the more memorable incidents was when our office in Ukraine was raided by the Tax Police, who were walking around with military style guns. A completely different experience to an audit by the Australian Tax Office!
“One of my many fond memories is from my time in Slovakia, for my 40th birthday the whole finance team organised a surprise party. I found the local staff had an amazing sense of community and incredible family values. They were highly educated, multi-lingual and extremely motivated. I experienced this across Eastern Europe.
“I worked with other expats from across the globe and the local staff made us feel so welcome, they really took us in and made us feel at home. They helped us in settling into their countries.”
In 2004 Joseph and his family moved back to Australia and he started working for the billion-dollar Japanese company, Hoshizaki Corporation, as the Finance & Supply Chain Director Asia Pacific of their Australian based subsidiary, Hoshizaki Lancer Pty Ltd. Hoshizaki Corporation is a world leader in Draught Beer and Soft Drink Dispense systems, Ice Machines and Professional Food Service Refrigeration and Freezer units.
“I feel fortunate to have only ever worked for companies who produce products that people enjoy.”
With hindsight, Joseph’s advice for recent graduates is to gain as much international experience and variety in different roles as possible.
“Working in a foreign country is great for your self-development, self-reliance and cultural and business awareness, which in-turn will improve your career.
“My wife has a Bachelor of Visual Arts with Honours and was awarded a University Medal for Academic Excellence, and our daughter completed a Bachelor of Journalism and is now studying a Graduate Diploma in Marketing. So our whole family are UniSA alumni!”