SMEs Case Studies

As hands on advisor business consultant


  • Travel tour management company – the second largest in South Africa.

  • Reviewed and improved process method of undertaking time consuming (6 to 8 hrs) costing quotes with less than a 5% success rate. Designed and introduced new system with relevant up to date 3rd party costs. RFQ's now took less than 1 hour to have a similar result.

  • Valued overall business - post offer date as owners went ahead without consultation.

  • Ensured the shareholder equity structure was Forex compliant - Reserve Bank requirements.

  • Assisted owners with negotiations and increased amount received by + 25%.


ALUCAB (PTY) LTD – 2 yrs.

  • Manufacturer fabricator of small truck bakkie canopies.

  • Introduced monthly management accounts - overcoming resistance from accountant - with KPIs needed by management to enhance their overall understanding of the various elements of the business.

  • Undertook a high level health check and saw a significant gross margin discrepancy - big red flag.

  • Was catalyst for a forensic audit that revealed a systemic staff fraud stealing expensive raw materials.

  • Staff were fired and foreman put on notice, plus a proper stock control system was implemented.

  • The bottom line profit more than tripled. Business expanded, exporting to Australia and Germany.



  • Pension fund administrator using its own in-house archaic developed  system using Excel.

  • Initially was asked to review overall financial performance. Recognised business using an antiquated system - management had engaged a software company to create a new system. But 3 months and several hefty bills later there was not a single positive sign of progress. Had a face to face meeting with reasonable demands – none were met - and engagement curtailed. All outstanding bills returned.

  • I sourced another software developer and became the project manager. It took a further 2 years to fully develop, test and abandon the old antiquated system. The person who had created this legacy system was very resistant to change, needing to acknowledge and accept the need for change.

  • Much of the project management effort centred around close monitoring of the software developer as well as changing the attitude of the person who had developed the old system who was also part owner - so it was a delicate process using the weekly meetings to make small incremental steps.



  • A diverse property business group with over 20 diverse commercial properties throughout South Africa.

  • Owned by one person with no staff, bar a personal secretary, and reliant on a property administration company to manage all these properties for a fee - which lowered profits by 20%.

  • Owner was a “knit picker”. Brought me in to double check all the information that was provided to him. I was able to present all the information by property over the years in a more lucid manner.

  • It was a reasonably lucrative role though not a comfortable one. Unreasonable untimely ad hoc demands were being made. Eventually I pulled back and told owner he did not need my services any more.

  • About 9 months later the owner contacted me to return and assist again. The property administrative company contract had been terminated - now in a mess trying to do in-house. I declined.



  • An investment group continuously searching for new business opportunities. Undertook at least 8/10 financial feasibility models for a wide range of different scenarios such as taxi/bus electronic advertising, private electricity generation, mobile phone money transfers to car rentals.

  • Importantly all the models had built in “What If” options so as key assumptions changed the impact on a predicted outcome would show the new result and sensitivity of the assumptions and changes.

  • Only a few opportunities were invested in. One resulted in a major acquisition that is still very profitable.

  • My earnings were not great as I worked at risk on most of these models or at a significantly lower rate.


  • Importer of money note and coin counting machines from China for resale in South Africa - coupled with a service support side. The business was owned by 2 young late 20s partners.

  • Brought in at the request of their auditors to provide overall support and guidance. Besides acting as a mentor, with much coaching done as well, introduced key important initiatives.

  • Chaired regular management meetings with supporting minutes being kept. 

  • Drafted a shareholders agreement that incorporated a partner sales commission as profits were initially shared on a 50:50 basis but the one partner generated 80% of sales.

  • Designed - set up monthly management accounts with budgets / variances. Included both financial and non-financial information, with KPAs / KPIs.

  • It took at least 6 months to develop a regular monthly reporting routine. Based on questions partners were eventually asking, understanding and appreciating the benefits, was satisfying.



  • A privately owned general printer of forms, pamphlets, small books, posters, leaflets and small banners.

  • Started with general review. Financial systems unreliable, inadequate staff training, set up errors and misclassifications. External accountant relied upon hopelessly inadequate.

  • Owner quite a character and an enigma. Great at generating sales but attention to detail severely lacking, very short attention span. Maintained accounting systems were fine as told to him by the accountant.

  • Forever an optimist and discussions always took at least 4 times longer than necessary, repeated points and checked understanding to ensure owner understood the crux of whatever was being discussed.

  • Out of the blue the owner sold the business without seeking any further advice – and merely received the net asset value. Left money on the table.

  • Continued a similar business with portions of business not sold. But was over-extended financially by overcapitalizing in new printing related machinery, plus located in an industrial area rather than where customers based in the high street. After many years now in process of winding up.

  • Starting for a third time a much smaller similar business. Owner’s intentions always good and positive, sadly insufficient review / research into possible options. Managing to survive on third venture.

  • One of the most frustrating clients ever as always listened to advice but then went and made own unilateral decisions based on gut feelings and superficial untested data and information.

Other Significant Assignments: < 1 Year 



  • Travel tour management company in a niche market for golfers wanting to travel as well as play golf. 

  • Poor quality costing systems and insufficient understanding of the full range of costs to be included.

  • Introduced an electronic input costing format, similar to one I developed and introduced for another travel client, to speed up the process and ensure all key significant expenditures were correctly accounted for.

  • The question of future foreign exchange rates was always an issue and never resolved satisfactorily.

  • A major faux pas was the misunderstanding of the SARS (South African Tax Revenue Services) rules regarding who qualified for 15% VAT exemptions. When I pointed out that they had misinterpreted the zero exemption rules I was not believed as even the auditors had not recognized. We had to go to a top tax specialist consultant who confirmed my view on the matter. The implications were immense. 

  • Needed to revise prices to recognise this matter. Hard currency prices adjusted to mitigate



  • A company manufacturing bespoked furniture for interior designers clients.

  • Was asked by the auditors to review financial processes with a focus on costing of orders. Soon discovered owner was a good talker - but I saw through that and shortcomings were discovered.

  • Owner had worked at another furniture manufacturer. Bought this business and took the prior furniture manufacturer’s costing rules for this newly acquired business but these were totally inappropriate. Two different businesses in terms of volumes, types of items manufactured and overhead structure.

  • Challenged many assumptions and manner of recording but was always diverted or provided with further misinformation. There were random “process watches” with clip boards supposedly writing down and recording what was going on in the various production stages.

  • None of this information was real nor kept and purely done to give workers the impression that processes and work rates were being closely monitored.

  • Surviving by rolling cash deposits for new business to cover current running costs. His only measure was cash in the bank.



  • An electrical contractor for existing and new building installations.

  • Was referred by a business associate as business struggling. Initially focus reviewing processes and process methods to determine how jobs were costed and priced. Was all paper based and had to be signed off by the owner. Entire process was cumbersome, unreliable, time consuming.

  • I mapped out the steps adopting a cradle to grave process. Created an electronic version with current material prices, labour hours at current charge out rates and a new rate for recovery of overheads. The expected profit was to be earned was now also computed which was vital for accepting any job.

  • Set up a proper stock accounting and control process with access to the latest cost prices for purposes of costing RFQs based on a LIFO costing principle which ensured built in most recent current costs.

  • Creating this new system took a few months, as steps were tested as they were developed.  I printed out the documents produced - these were designed to look and feel like the previous paper based documents. To illustrate to the owner they were placed side by side – clearly showing a very similar and aligned new system - but he decided was too "complicated" and resisted the change in total.

  • Sadly, the resistance to change was far too great. I wrote off about 40% of my fees. I realised I should have had greater buy-in from the owner at the start and reinforced along the way. I had relied too much on his partner, who was also his wife, for feedback; plus she was encouraging me to continue.

  • Probably the only assignment that I regard as a failure and not reading the “passive aggressive resistance” signals.



  • A tourist related group of companies. 6 companies dealing with local and international travel, tour operator, private flights, bed and breakfast accommodation and publications located in Lilongwe.

  • My client and his wife were the major shareholders in all companies and each company had minority shareholders numbering from one to three individuals and in percentage terms from 5% to 49%.

  • One of the businesses operated in US$. Most businesses traded with one another. There were numerous I-C trading and balance sheet accounts. A Group accounting view had never been attempted before.

  • The owner wanted to know what the financial consolidated group looked like and the net asset value - a crude valuation.

  • The initial task was to align the various chart of accounts for all the companies as there was no single common chart of accounts. This was done to about a 95% success level as there were numerous minor accounts within each company only pertaining to that business.

  • A challenging part of the exercise was to identify and unpack all the I-C transactions, many in different currencies, and match each one. Invariably involved an exchange rate difference adjustment.

  • It had been many years since I had done such a complicated involved technical consolidation. Needless to say it ended well and the outcome was much appreciated by the owner. 

  • My sense was that the financial accountant wanted to learn, assisted me in some areas to dig up specific transactional data, and I was more than willing to share my knowledge with her. She learnt much about the principles and process of preparing consolidated accounts.

  • This was a once off exercise and I was well paid. The owners, I think, were pleased with the outcome as I never had any negative feedback after submitting my 17 page detailed report.

  • I had an enjoyable 10 day stay, with overall positive hospitality being offered, and a pleasant plus was a weekend flying trip over the lake to a small island near the Tanzania border.



  • A printing company specialising in large screen prints for displays in shops, shows and exhibitions.  Brought in by the auditor to review the accounting processes and financial record keeping.

  • The accountant was not qualified and a friend of the owner. The record keeping had serious shortcomings and many aspects were not technically correct. The most glaring one was that the petty cash account had huge sales transactions going through it - many mysterious entries that could not be explained. There were significant cash sales going through this account as well.

  • When I asked for clarifications concerning many odd entries the accountant's responses were invariably vague. On her office walls, photos of her children with horses, horse boxes etc – an expensive life style for a moderately paid accountant raised questions in my mind. 

  • I fed back my findings to the owner and auditor suggesting that a forensic audit was needed as I was confident that there were certain untoward transactions occurring. 

  • The owner decided to leave the matter there and not to open up a possible can of worms.


Sub-contracted to Ernst & Young Large Clients : >1 Year



  • I was asked by a partner at Ernst & Young to project manage an existing in-house project for a client known as OMIA. OLD MUTUAL is a well-established over 150 years business and the public impression from the outside was a well operated business with modern up to date systems and processes.

  • OMIA had about 20 dedicated staff whose primary role was to capture data to update existing policies and / or create new ones into an existing antiquated legacy system.

  • There was also alongside a small team of 3/4 sub-contractors known as the “Fix Up Team” (FUT) headed up by a Chartered Accountant.

  • The issue OMIA was having was two-fold. Namely, there were far too many errors occurring with FUT being kept constantly busy and operating on a permanent basis, while staff complained of being over worked. The impression being that the two issues were linked.

  • The embarrassing matter for OMIA was that it was customers or policy holders or their agents who were discovering the errors, more often than not discovered belatedly – meaning months to years after the error had occurred – and obviously impossible to trace back to the person responsible.

  • I asked the IT department to provide me with an electronic data dump with a time date stamp of all transactions for a period of time. This enabled me to trace and record when the errors occurred and nature of the errors. I captured this data and prepared a report with a graph highlighting errors. This showed the types of errors and that most actually occurred in the afternoons when the bulk of the work pressure had dissipated.

  • I workshopped the outcome with team members. The conclusion reached was that in fact staff were too relaxed in the afternoons with volumes much lower and that their concentration levels presumably declined. The exact opposite of what was claimed to have been the cause.

  • During this workshop, as well as feedback from FUT, I concluded that there was insufficient appropriate training of staff aggravated by a high staff turnover due to poor supervision.

  • OMIA senior management committed to improving the induction and training of staff in the future.


SHELL PETROLEUM LTD (Public quoted company.)

  • The external public impression was a well operated  business with modern up to date systems and processes. Again I was asked by a partner at Ernst & Young to join an existing consulting team that had been onsite for a few months. They were assigned to the accounting department.

  • The core issue was that all accounts had not been correctly reconciled for years – staff were merely drawing up a balance for each account but not unpacking nor identifying what made up the balance. Clearly having no appreciation of what reconciling an account balance actually entails.

  • I was tasked with tackling the large complicated accounts with in excess of 40,000 entries over a period of years. I followed the established methodology set up by the project leader and soon realised that it was rather a cumbersome long winded method prone to human error.

  • These large accounts took between 8 and 12 full days to reconcile. The old DOS based legacy system was not at all user friendly and very difficult to analyse. I contacted the IT department and asked if the data from the accounts could be downloaded into Excel. I managed to persuade them it was a sensible approach and senior Shell management approved my request. A week later the IT department complied. 

  • I then built up Excel Macro formulae using the concatenating method to combine various types of data, such as text, dates and monetary value from different columns all in the same single row in order to create a unique Id reference. Then reviewing all transactions, matching and setting off those that matched each other in terms of a debit entry versus a credit entry – in a chronological order.

  • There were so many transactions of an identical amount and type that these were aggregated line by line in a cumulative manner and set off until a balance remained that matched the account closing balance. There was then a 99% probability that the most recent unmatched transactions totalling to the closing balance were in fact the right transactions to include in the account reconciliation. 

  • Adding the complicated concatenating formula alongside thousands and thousands of entries, then working from the start to end to ensure that transactions were correctly matched and eliminated still took some time that just could not be avoided. It was amazing to find that there were transactions going back years that had never been identified as not having been settled. These were all added to all the outstanding entries, for the most recent period, to equal the closing balance.

  • The time for now doing a similar large account reduced to less than two days – which might still seem long but involved the various steps to convert DOS data into useable analytical data.

  • Management were able to decide whether to follow these up or write them off – some of the customers were likely to dispute queries going back years or the customers themselves no longer existed.

  • SHELL management were pleased as the whole project was completed sooner with more accuracy.