By Frank J. Mendelson
Editor’s note: Bevan Carr is the Chief Financial Officer and one of the founding shareholders of the Employ Africa Group, a multinational business with subsidiaries in most African countries as well as in Ireland, the U.K., and the United States. The company currently has contractors and employees in more than 20 countries in Africa. Additionally, they have a successful African outsourced payroll division within the group that currently service clients in more than 25 countries on the continent. Carr splits his time between Durban in South Africa and Westfield, New Jersey.
What were some of the company’s 2022 highlights?
Last year was earmarked as a year of change and planning for the future in Employ Africa as we embarked on several projects. The board believed all of this was necessary to keep pace with the significant growth within the group. We have almost completed the process of ISO 27001 and ISO 9000 certification (for information security) as well as having recently embarked on the process of the complete automation of our contractor timesheet, payroll, and invoicing process within the group. We also spent the last few months of the year on a process of restructuring our group’s reporting lines to refine our managerial structures and detail all job profiles within our organization to help with hiring of future staff.
What are the chronic challenges for companies that have, or are moving into, global expansion?
Expansion into Africa can be very difficult and frustrating for those coming from first-world or more advanced economies. Less advanced, or even manual systems and understaffed departments on both the immigration and tax fronts, often result in complicated situations and increased turnaround times for businesses delaying the proposed expansion, frustrating clients, and costing money for all involved in the business cycle.
What resources do you use to stay current on the latest trends and legislation in payroll?
The Employ Africa Group follows a multi-pronged approach, and this is a vital part of our business process. We make use of several African-based payroll software service providers that send updates as soon as they are informed of legislative changes.
Additionally, we have in-country partner agreements with several firms—generally accounting and tax firms or payroll businesses on the continent—and have regular meetings throughout the year to ensure changes are documented and implemented on time.
Our internal teams, which are based in the various parts of Africa, do research at set intervals looking for any changes in legislation as published by the respective revenue authorities.
How do you select vendors you want your company to work with?
When interviewing prospective partners, we ensure they fully understand the pressures and intricacies of working with global companies. Most accounting, tax, and professional employer organization (PEO) entities on the African continent tend to only have a local client base and are not aware of the difficulties associated with working in different time zones, different languages, and different cultures.
The Employ Africa Group tries to make use of only a single trusted partner in each country, and we try to direct all our business through this partner, even if it is outsourced payroll work, immigrations, or PEO/employer of record (EOR) services. The more business and money that changes hands between the parties, the more of an impact there is on the service delivery and the urgency with how matters are handled.
How did you get started in your career?
I served my articles with Mazars—formerly Moores Rowland—in Cape Town. I stayed in public practice for several years, and afterward, did a year stint as financial director for a national paint company in Cape Town. I learned that I preferred public practice, so in 2008, I bought an accounting practice in Durban. I met Brendan Boyers, the other founding shareholder, and Employ Africa Group CEO, when I began working on his personal taxes and was the external accountant to his parents’ business. Brendan managed to convince me that PEO/EOR and outsourced payroll services across the African continent was the way to go. This led to a great adventure taking us back and forth across the African continent and around the world.
What is one of the most difficult payroll situations you have been in?
Business in Africa is not for the faint of heart, especially when operating in as many jurisdictions on the continent as we do. We have seen it all, including fake submission documents, fake receipts, fake proof of payments, fake statements of account, fake tax clearance certificates, fake work permits, and even fake business licenses. Probably the most bizarre occurrence was when one of my clients, having landed his business in a multi-year, multiple tax type hurricane, was offered complete relief of the problem by the court official appointed to take inventory of the business assets to be attached by the revenue authorities.
How do you hire?
Currently, we tend to hire most employees based on work experience rather than academic qualifications. Our growth trajectory has been so significant in the last 18 months that our staff has doubled. We have not been able to hire less experienced staff who may have more academic qualifications but need on-the-job training to keep up with our operational requirements.
What books are on your recommended reading list?
I tend to read more non-fiction books. I really enjoyed reading a book called “Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of Our Capacity.” The book is about people who are extremely good at a particular thing like running, memory, sleeping, and bravery, etc. I find it fascinating that there are people who can learn to speak languages fluently in weeks and others who can recite the decimals in pi for several hours or more than 50,000 numbers.
What are some stress management techniques you have found useful?
I manage my stress by exercising six, sometimes seven days a week. I have been running and cycling for years. I have also raced on foot, bike, canoe, and surfski, on the road, in the mountains, on rivers, and in the sea. I’ve probably run around 100 marathon-plus distance events—from ultra-marathons to Ironman—and luckily got to represent South Africa at Duathlon (Run-Cycle-Run) recently at the Age Group World Multisport Championships in Romania.
I’ve recently followed my 8-year-old son into the local Mixed Martial Arts gym where I do about three sessions of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Muay-Thai a week. Being new to this, I can say that having the stress punched or chocked out of you qualifies as a stress relieving technique.
What are your thoughts on how to incorporate professional development into the lifestyle of a full-time job?
You simply must block out the time in your and your employee’s calendar for professional development, or you will fall behind your competitors. Besides the requirements to maintain certifications, I try to attend as many seminars and webinars as possible, so I can listen and learn from those experienced professionals who have worked for bigger and more complex organizations.
We are also in the fortunate position that many of our competitors in the global space are also our clients in Africa, so we can listen, learn, and take advice from people who manage very large and complicated corporations.