Hela Fourati

Hela Fourati joined the Tunis, Tunisia office of corporate advisory and private equity firm Swicorp in July 2004 as group finance manager. Prior to joining Swicorp, she spent several years as a senior manager in the audit, consultancy and organisation practice of KPMG Tunis. Fourati, who speaks English, French and Arabic, is part of a five-strong senior administrative team at Swicorp. Swicorp provides intellectual and financial capital to businesses in the Middle East and North Africa out of its offices in Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Iran. The firm's private equity division focuses on a range of investments including start-ups, development capital and buyouts.

Your background was with accountancy firms. What made you leave that environment, and what are the main differences between your former roles and your new one?
As a CPA, I chose to begin my career by joining the world of the audit firms. Eight years later, I decided it was time to take on a more entrepreneurial role where I could be a principal rather than a consultant, and had to choose between establishing my own accountancy and audit firm and joining a corporation in the accounting/ finance function. When I approached Swicorp, I learned that it was searching for an experienced accounting/finance professional to help structure the finance function and ready it for the growth ahead. I joined Swicorp in 2004 as group finance manager covering both the investment banking and private equity activities. In hindsight, this move enabled me to achieve three personal objectives: make the jump to the corporate world; take on managerial responsibilities and view the finance function of a firm from a different perspective than that of an auditor; and begin to learn about private equity, an industry I had become more interested in the more I learned about it.

What are your main day-to-day responsibilities and what are your main priorities looking forward?
My operational responsibilities are extremely varied. They include structuring the finance function within the private equity activity; recruiting a full finance team; supporting the partner team in fundraising efforts; contributing to transactions through involvement in weekly fund team meetings; and, in due diligence processes, coordinating legal and financial structuring aspects of transactions and coordinating back-office functions such as capital calls, investor reporting, etc. Going forward, as Swicorp's private equity activities continue to grow rapidly both in size and scope, my key priorities will be to complete the process of recruiting and putting in place a fully fledged finance team to implement a wide-ranging private equity IT tool, optimize the entire chain from supporting transaction teams pre-transaction to interacting with portfolio companies, and providing EVCA-compliant reporting to our investors.

Swicorp has offices in diverse locations ?does that make the finance function fairly complex? How do the different offices co-ordinate with each other?
Actually, I would say that having offices in diverse locations (and more generally covering the entire MENA [Middle East and North Africa] region in terms of transactions) does make the finance function more complex. We have to deal in the back office with different environments, particular local regulations, specific accounting and audit constraints as well as different people and cultures, while maintaining a high level of coordination and collaboration.

A finance trail has been set up: usually, a senior professional is in charge of the finance function of the office (manager level) with one to two collaborators reporting to him/her (financial controllers). Coordination between offices is done on a regular basis at the manager level, with conference calls covering the main issues, updating the teams, maintaining cohesion and ensuring adhesion to the firm's objectives.

Does the administrative team interact much with the rest of the Swicorp organization, for example with the investment team?
Swicorp has adopted a model whereby the finance team interacts closely with the rest of the Swicorp organization specifically with the investment teams, as we seek to provide comprehensive financial and administrative support across the entire chain spanning pretransaction (due diligence, deal structuring) and post-transaction phases (interaction with portfolio companies, upward financial reporting from investees, etc).