Petrie Terblanche is clearly excited about his capacity to make a real difference at Criteo, a Paris-based company that produces software to retarget online advertising.
“My passion is to work for a company where I can help to improve and scale processes, while reducing the overall risk exposure. At Criteo, I live through the changes as my ideas for its growth are implemented.”
As vice-president: internal control and risk management, Petrie identifies and maps enterprise risks and seeks to mitigate these to ensure Criteo can compete in one of the world’s most fiercely competitive economic fields – the ‘ad tech’ sector.
Petrie came to the sector, which produces analytics and digital tools to target advertising at individuals and particular audiences, from Silicon Valley in 2015.
The field’s fast-moving pace is clearly a draw for him: “Things are changing quickly and I love that. You have to be current with technology best practices and the latest in risk management to stay relevant.”
Having previously worked for public accounting, IT hardware and mobile peripheral firms, he describes the transition to a software company as exciting.
He has to consider a number of completely new factors when mapping the firm’s enterprise risks; developing its internal risk management strategy; and advising on and testing internal controls to ensure financial reporting compliance.
“I have to visualise how our products are connecting data virtually and globally via billions of transactions. The scale and impact are different as is the mutability of the potential change, which poses a different order of risk.”
Without any specialist training in the ad tech sector, Petrie had to learn quickly on the job. “I immersed myself into the R&D environment and thought processes.”
“But the beauty of my work is that I work transversally across a global multinational company. I have greater visibility than most of the staff and I have the capacity to exert influence at multiple levels.”
With this ability, however, comes significant responsibility.
“Criteo is now set to turn to growth. Last year was challenging as the firm transitioned from a single product to a multi-product offering. But now we are going to do more – moving to automation and self-service for our client advertisers and publishers.”
The change is a great opportunity and so are the dangers. “Macro risks can bring companies to their knees, if they don’t watch out,” warns Petrie.
The opportunities and challenges are amplified by the company’s youth.
“As a French company founded in 2005, Criteo was publicly listed in 2013 and the staff are mainly young 30-somethings who were not that exposed to the corporate culture of internal controls and risk management. I was hired to introduce that knowledge, to inculcate the understanding of risk.”
Petrie, who leads an eight-strong team, also has to manage the challenge of complying with two different sets of company reporting standards – although Criteo is headquartered in France, it is listed on the American Nasdaq stock market. “The challenge is how to figure out the optimal solutions, maintain agility and manage risks effectively.”
In looking for the answers to the questions posed by Criteo’s development, Petrie travels widely, collaborating with an international crowd on the leading edge of risk management.
Petrie says that at work “each day is rarely the same day as yesterday”. Away from his workplace, a stylish set of offices with its own cafeteria serving French cuisine, the novelty and sense of pleasure also infuses his domestic life in Paris.
At home, with his husband, a Stellenbosch alumnus, and their toddlers – twins named Nico and Emma– the family enjoys a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower and all the fun of European city life.
Describing the experience as an “adventure”, Petrie is learning French and delving into French culture. He enjoys cycling and, in summer, picnics along the river Seine. After more than a decade in the US, he also appreciates the French capital’s location close to other European cities and closer to friends and family in South Africa.
Petrie attended Stellenbosch University’s centenary celebrations in Paris last year. “It was great to meet fellow alumni – we had an immediate connection.”
He says that he still uses the network he forged at the University and describes the level of its graduates as “phenomenal”.
“Stellenbosch really prepares students for the future.”
- By Mark Paterson -