South African CEOs are falling like flies – with no replacements in sight
- First Absa, then Massmart, and now Comair have seen CEOs quit.
- Succession plans should have been in place – but weren’t.
- Now the hunt is on for replacements.
A third South African CEO has just quit a public company with no successor in place.
Comair said late on Tuesday that Erik Venter had resigned to pursue his own interests. He’s been with the company for 23 years, 13 of them as CEO, and was instrumental in diversifying its income stream away from just plain aviation and into new fields such as pilot training, catering, and holidays. Now 30% of Comair’s profit before tax comes from non-airline sources.
Venter’s sudden departure with no obvious successor in place follows that of Maria Ramos from Absa in February, while Massmart CEO Guy Hayward announced he would be leaving later this year. The board is yet to announce his replacement.
Corporate governance guidelines recommend boards have clear lines of succession in place in case an emergency replacement is required.
None of the boards of Comair, Absa, or Massmart seem to have had such contingencies in place.
Previously succession at Massmart had been clear. Founding CEO Mark Lamberti handed over to his protégée Grant Pattison, who in turn made way for Hayward, who had been the finance director.
In the case of Absa, Ramos’ own appointment had been messy. She had been brought in from the outside as a surprise replacement to Steve Booysen, who himself had succeeded in a complex battle for power with then deputy CEO Rupert Pardoe, who had joined the bank from the Anglo American stable.
Comair is different. Venter is just the fifth CEO in its 73-year history. There had been no indication that he was planning to go. But that boardroom has also not been without its upsets. Venter was chosen over then joint CEO Gidon Novick about a decade ago when the board challenged the need for two bosses.
Venter, who leaves at the end of July, has been in the process of implementing a new maintenance relationship with Lufthansa after Comair lost faith in the ability of SAA Technical to keep its fleet flying.
Comair earlier this year appointed former Air Traffic Navigation Services CEO Wrenelle Stander to run the airline part of the business. It’s unclear if she will be now be asked to take charge of the whole group.
Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award-winning financial journalist and broadcaster.
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