Sim goes it alone
Standard Bank boss affirms the group’s strategy that, although it was criticised, appointing two CEOs in 2013 made sense
Subtle and humble are two of the words used to describe Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala, who, until last week, held the post jointly with Ben Kruger. The two were appointed in 2013 as part of what the bank said was a necessary structure to effect its turnaround strategy. It was heavily criticised for the dual appointment.
Speaking to City Press this week from the bank’s head office in Rosebank, Johannesburg, Tshabalala said discussions about this joint leadership had continued since it came into being, and added that the arrangement was necessitated by the conditions at the time.
One of the most common sustained criticisms against Standard Bank was the assertion that the joint-CEO structure was an insult to black excellence and, in effect, meant that Tshabalala, whom many thought was a natural choice to succeed Jacko Maree at the time, was incapable of leading the group alone and needed to be yoked with a white man to do his job.
As it turns out, it was Kruger who proposed that Tshabalala continue as sole captain, and that he step down. Kruger will stay on as an executive director and report to Tshabalala.
Asked whether he thought he was ready to lead the bank alone, Tshabalala again made the point that, in light of what was happening in the banking group at the time, if a single person had headed up the restructuring process, they would have suffered a breakdown because of the immense workload.
The bank was exiting its international operations at the time, selling off units in Turkey, Argentina and Singapore, downscaling operations in Hong Kong, and deploying capital to local and African operations.
Tshabalala said the bank was also setting up a R21 billion information technology system at the time. It is scheduled for completion later this year.
“You had major projects that required the attention of a CEO, and you could have done it as a CEO. But I am prepared to bet you that whoever that person was would have had a nervous breakdown today. And thank God we didn’t make that decision then because the load was just enormous,” he insisted.
“If you are truly an African institution, you need more people from outside South Africa at senior executive level,” Tshabalala added.
He pointed out that, given that the bank operated in 19 African countries, and those countries contributed significantly to the profits of the group, it made sense that the bank reflected the demographics of the continent.
At least 30% of the bank’s profits come from its African operations.
Hence, reasoned Tshabalala, this was where he hoped to source executives in his bid to have more faces from outside the country take up roles in the higher echelons.
However, the constant monkey on the bank’s back remains transformation, and Tshabalala readily admits this: “Nobody in their right mind would claim that any of the country’s leading financial institutions and businesses are transformed. We are all doing our best.”
Currently, the bank is spoilt for choice regarding some of the country’s top black executives.
Tshabalala admits that, because of its financial muscle, the bank does not struggle to recruit talent based on pay packages. However, it is the retention of talent that is problematic.
“To be honest, a lot of people leave simply because they are frustrated, or because they don’t like their bosses or don’t get along with them. A lot of the time, people feel that the culture is not conducive for them to stay. It depends on all of those variables.
“We try to constantly monitor the reasons people leave and try to address them,” he said.
Tshabalala, a firm believer in teamwork, could not stop bragging about the long list of excellent black executives the group boasts, rattling off names such as Kenny Fihla, Thulani Sibeko, Funeka Montjane, Zweli Manyathi, Lincoln Mali, Simphiwe Nghona and Alpheus Mangale.
He said that, if some of these executives were to run their respective units independently and listed them on the JSE, these businesses would be in the top 40 on the JSE.
Looking to the future, Tshabalala said he hoped to continue steering the company towards improving various aspects.
“The main measure at the moment is return on equity. Our target range is between 15% and 18%. At half year, we were at about 16%,” he said.
He said that, although Standard Bank would continue on its growth path within the country, it also wanted to position itself to benefit from the growth of African countries in which it operated, especially from those whose GDP was growing faster than that of South Africa.
Tshabalala said that, on the local front, the bank had consolidated itself as a strong leader in home loans, vehicle and asset finance, cash management, and unsecured and corporate lending, and was working hard to make even more improvements in these categories.
SOLE ROLE Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala