‘IT WAS NOT A BLACK-WHITE ISSUE’
The inclusion of a key Standard Bank executive on Liberty’s board three months before Liberty boss Thabo Dloti resigned has given rise to the perception that Dloti’s ouster was a planned move.
However, Liberty chairperson Jacko Maree and Standard Bank’s joint chief executive Sim Tshabalala strongly denied that Dloti’s resignation was contrived. Standard Bank is Liberty’s biggest shareholder. Maree and Tshabalala also denied that there was a nefarious plot to replace him.
Liberty this week said David Munro, Standard Bank’s head of corporate and investment banking, would replace Dloti. Munro’s position would be filled by his deputy, Kenny Fihla.
Speaking to City Press, Maree said that the move to appoint Munro and include him on the board was not done in preparation for Dloti’s exit.
“Standard Bank, as a major shareholder with a 54% stake, has two seats on the board,” he said.
“The decision to appoint David Munro was made by the board on Friday May 26,” he said.
Coincidentally, Munro joined the Liberty board three months ago and the Liberty board, according to Maree, pledged its support for Dloti during a meeting at that time.
When asked why a black executive within the wider Standard Bank group was not forwarded to Liberty, Maree referred the question to Tshabalala.
Tshabalala told City Press that, although the company had a number of executives, including Zweli Manyathi and Funeka Montjane, the company had other plans for them.
Tshabalala, however, admitted that Liberty’s succession planning could have been better.
He further pointed out that there were four executives who could have succeeded Munro in the corporate and investment banking department, but Fihla was chosen.
“We know our competition want him both here and internationally,” he said about Fihla.
Both Maree and Tshabalala said there wasn’t another executive within Liberty who was “competent” to take over from Dloti.
“There was no executive inside Liberty – white or black – that the board felt was competent to take Thabo’s position. It wasn’t a black-white issue,” Maree said.
The Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals called the move a regression of transformation in the financial services sector. Sibongiseni Mbatha, the president of the association, said it was satisfied with the reasons offered by the parties, but was disappointed that another black executive was not appointed in Dloti’s place.
Maree said on Radio 702 that he and Tshabalala had a discussion with Dloti shortly before the resignation.
He said prioritisation and speed of execution of tasks were issues the parties discussed, and that Liberty had struggled to expand on.
“We were in a bit of a reflection point and, in this pressure cooker, Thabo decided to resign,” he said during the radio interview.
The Black Management Forum (BMF) also entered the fray, and took a swipe at Maree for allegedly describing Munro as a seasoned and accomplished executive, but then described Dloti differently.
“When he remarked on Thabo Dloti, he said it took courage to appoint him. It tells you of the mind-set that we are wrestling with in this country,” said Langalethu Manqele, BMF executive committee member and chair of BMF Gauteng. According to a statement issued by Liberty on the matter, Dloti quit after a disagreement with the board. “Thabo Dloti, the current CEO, is leaving Liberty following a difference of opinion with the board on the immediate focus of the company at a time when the organisation is facing tough operational and environmental challenges. Mr Dloti believes that, given this environment, alignment among key stakeholders is imperative to ensure the effective execution of the strategy required to drive the company forward. This alignment, coupled with the ability to act decisively, is in the best interests of the company and hence Mr Dloti is stepping aside,” the statement read. In a text message to City Press, Dloti reiterated that he had resigned because there was a difference of opinion. “I resigned because the board and I did not agree on the immediate focus of the organisation to address operational and long-term challenges facing the business. I could not turn around the company without them supporting the actions I was busy implementing,” he said, declining to comment on the issues the parties disagreed on. “The specifics are largely confidential, however, we were not aligned on the emphasis of execution between the initiatives to deliver immediate outcomes and those that were going to pay off in the medium to long term,” Dloti said. On his future plans, Dloti said he would take time off to recharge and prepare for today’s Comrades Marathon, and would consider his options at a later stage.