Ashley Dafel, MBA – On Collective Wisdom (Pt. 2)

Read Part 1: Ashley Dafel, MBA – On Collective Wisdom (Pt. 1)

Have you had any mentors who have helped you develop personally and professionally?
My mentor at Anglo American – Danie Louw. He changed my life by having the foresight to see that what we achieve in life is both intellectual and emotional. Working with people is all about connecting with their hearts and minds. He had the guts to implement policies and training that supported that idea and we are all better for it.

He changed my life by having the foresight to see that what we achieve in life is both intellectual and emotional.

You are now in the corporate development or M&A group for Husky. How do you enjoy it?
It’s a challenge and I enjoy it. It allows me to use different skills that I have acquired throughout my career. For example, a key part of the training I have received is on dealing with ambiguity. You have to evaluate different paths to get to finality and understanding.

M&A is all about ambiguity because when you start looking at a transaction you don’t know if it is going to work

and there are many different steps that you need to take to get an understanding. In addition, M&A is not only about science, but about art as well. No two deals are the same – that is where the art applies. My role is a more comprehensive one than what might go on at a larger M&A shop because they stop after negotiation and closing a transaction. In my role I have to manage the integration and the ongoing operations of the investment to drive the value for which it was acquired. Once this foundation is in place only then is it handed off to operations. I find it incredibly stimulating. I have a team made up of different people with different skills and we work as a complimentary unit. Ninety-nine percent of these team members don’t report directly to me so I have to lead through persuasion and influence. Leadership is not about the number of people reporting to you. It’s about how you get a group of people working towards a common objective while taking the journey.

M&A is all about ambiguity because when you start looking at a transaction you don’t know if it is going to work

What are the top 4 skills needed to work in an M&A group?
I would say that the top 4 skills, in addition to understanding the business, to work in an M&A group are:

  • Finance and financial modeling
  • Negotiation
  • Leadership and people management, especially when it comes to integration
  • The ability to be comfortable in dealing with ambiguity

What advice would you give new graduates who are looking at an accounting or finance career?
Be humble. Understand that you don’t have the full picture in any problem and that you need the collective wisdom of others on your team. I would say to get a mentor, but the challenge can be that the mentor will help you only at the technical/professional level and not at the emotional level. I worked in one organization where they put a mentoring program in place. With a mentor you need to make sure that he/she addresses the group dynamics and organizational behaviour elements. I know I said this already, but it’s important to repeat it – the collective will always know more than the individual so seek out the feedback and wisdom of your team.

Be humble. Understand that you don’t have the full picture in any problem and that you need the collective wisdom of others on your team.

Ashley Dafel, has taken some calculated risks in forging his finance career. He left a country he knew for a country he had only visited. He opened himself up to a new way of thinking, and embraced it. His views on organizational behaviour and maximizing individual productivity have meant that he has built several very successful teams. This is all quite impressive, but perhaps what is most impressive is the passion and humility with which he talks about all of the above. I know that my conversations with him have been some of the most enlightening I have had as a professional and I hope that some of his ideas in our upcoming installments will also enlighten and inspire you.