Imperial CEO's 'disturbing' conduct creates first problem for new Eskom board

Business Insider SA
  • Eskom got a "heavyweight" board in January, including Imperial boss Mark Lamberti.
  • A court has now raised questions about Lamberti's conduct in events leading up to a successful damages claim by former Imperial employee Adila Chowan.
  • Eskom – and the department of public enterprises – are now "studying" that judgment.

Eskom's board is studying a recent court ruling involving fellow board member Mark Lamberti, the company said this week – and so is the public enterprises department, a government official told Business Insider on Tuesday.

Nobody will say yet what the consequences could be – not even off the record – but a change in Eskom's nearly brand new board could be on the cards.

Lamberti, CEO of Imperial Holdings and previously with Massmart, was one of the "heavyweights" appointed to the Eskom board in January after Eskom managers apparently pleaded with then still deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene.

The board quickly stepped in to deal with Eskom's troubled management.

But that board will now itself have to consider the implications of a high court judgment that found Lamberti owes a former Imperial employee damages – after he called her an "equity employment employee".

Lamberti was found joint liable with Imperial to pay damages to, and the legal costs of, Adila Chowan, who was once considered a likely future chief financial officer in the Imperial group.

The court found that Lamberti and Imperial liable for the impairment of Chowan's dignity.

Lamberti apologised to her, and his company suggested that no findings of racism or sexism had been made against him.

But it is the background to Chowan's complaint – and the way companies under Lamberti dealt with it – that may come in for the most scrutiny when it comes to his place at Eskom.

In a two-and-a-half-year period, Imperial group company Associated Motor Holdings (AMH) appointed 14 executives, the court said in judgment, eight of those after Lamberti became CEO. All but one of those were white men.

"It is, therefore, undisputable that AMH, as far as its senior management was concerned, fared very badly in redressing the imbalances and wrongs of the past," said judge Piet Meyer.

Once Chowan filed a complaint, the court said, AMH intentionally breached its duty "not to have subjected Ms Chowan to occupational detriments on account of her having made a protected disclosure".

Instead she was subjected to disciplinary proceedings about the way she went about her complaint, and ultimately dismissed.

Lamberti's involvement in Chowan's suspension – after she lodged a complaint against him – was "disturbing", the court said, and her questions about the same firm dealing with her grievance and her suspension were never answer.

Lamberti chose not to testify.

"Ethical deterioration is not a general societal thing, it happens in selected businesses — it starts with the guy at the top," Lamberti said in March.

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