• Companies usually go bad when bosses play the popularity game.
  • Ex SAA boss Vuyani Jarana finds himself a surprising hit at the airline.
  • Why he shoudn't go back.
  • For more go to Business Insider.

Not since Brian Molefe sashayed his way back to Megawatt Park as CEO in mid-2017 amidst applause and throaty ululating following a two-month stint as MP in a failed bid to make him Finance Minister, has as much love been shown to a boss as to former SAA head Vuyani Jarana.

Eskom staff loved Molefe’s people-centered approach, his acceptance of the utilities generous remuneration packages, not just for himself, but them too.

Exactly why SAA staff are willing to join winter picket lines in support of Jarana is unclear, but he is the first person out of nearly a dozen to occupy the role that unions have backed to lead the airline out of the mess it is in.

Here’s the amazing bit. About 500 SAA staff embarked on a protest this week for a guy who quit his job, without asking him whether or not he wanted it back.

When he resigned he asked for his 3-month notice period to be waived so he could leave sooner rather than later. He was duly released from his obligations this week. There have to be smoking skid marks outside the revolving door of the office of the CEO at SAA.

Most of us have lost count of how many people have occupied the role over the past decade. Some have been good, some indifferent, but none has evoked the response from staff as Jarana has done.

It’s weird.

All of us have had bosses during our working careers. Some have been insufferable idiots. Some inspiring. And if you are very lucky, some were mentors who extracted your best self from you.

But would you have gone on strike for any one of them?

That’s what unions at SAA are threatening to do. Jarana is clearly respected. But he can’t go back. With popular staff support, his hands would be tied in terms of the tough cuts the airline needs to survive.

It points to the reality dawning on rank and file SAA staff, many of whom are really good at their jobs, that someone who actually seemed to be making headway in the mess that is the relationship between government and the boards of State owned Enterprises, is gone.

He may very well have been the last chance between them keeping and losing their jobs. More than 10,000 people work at SAA. Various studies have pointed to the airline being substantially overstaffed.

The next CEO probably needs to wield the axe to staff numbers and unprofitable routes. They will end up being far less popular than Jarana proved to be, at least outside of the boardroom. The next CEO will learn their longevity will probably require them to be unpopular.

A thankless task.

Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award-winning financial journalist and broadcaster.

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