THE MOST USE­LESS CEO EVER?

Financial Mail - - BETWEEN THE CHAINS - @Sikonathim mantshantshas@fm.co.za

n June 22 Johnny Dladla was thrust into the na­tional spot­light when he was ap­pointed the sev­enth CEO of Eskom since March 2014. His tem­po­rary ap­point­ment car­ried much hope, as he was not well known out­side the util­ity de­spite 22 years of ser­vice.

Cer­tainly Dladla had no me­dia pro­file. This could be con­sid­ered a good thing — it sug­gested he had man­aged to avoid pub­lic­ity. Many an ob­server, in­clud­ing yours truly, took Dladla’s low pro­file to pro­ject the image of “Mr Clean”. Op­ti­mistic as that prog­no­sis was, it turned out to be an un­nec­es­sar­ily hur­ried and in­ac­cu­rate con­clu­sion, much to my re­gret. “Mr Use­less” seems a more ap­pro­pri­ate ti­tle, con­sid­er­ing Dladla’s al­most four-month ten­ure at Eskom’s helm.

Any am­a­teur strate­gist will tell you there is al­ways low-hang­ing fruit for a new leader to har­vest to gen­er­ate good­will. Given the mess at Eskom, there was a lot of low-hang­ing fruit for the tak­ing. With the al­le­ga­tions — and moun­tains of ev­i­dence — of cor­rup­tion, start­ing from the low­est man­age­ment lev­els and ris­ing to the very top, Dladla could have come in and be­gun a thor­ough spring clean.

The nu­mer­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions into fraud and cor­rup­tion by Eskom had un­earthed ev­i­dence that could be used not only to get rid of some of the rot­ten ap­ples there, but also to se­cure crim­i­nal con­vic­tions. There were also the high-pro­file cases of malfea­sance, in­clud­ing the billions dished out to man­age­ment con­sul­tan­cies Mckin­sey and Tril­lian by man­agers who fall within Dladla’s area of au­thor­ity.

Dladla came in a month after gen­er­a­tion di­vi­sion chief Mat­shela Koko was placed on special leave and then sus­pended for ir­reg­u­larly dish­ing out hun­dreds of mil­lions to Im­pulse In­ter­na­tional, a com­pany in which his step-daugh­ter owned a sig­nif­i­cant mi­nor­ity share­hold­ing. No short­age of pros­e­cutable ev­i­dence.

OWhat did Dladla do? He came in and buried his head, hop­ing the prob­lems would go away with­out the leader hav­ing to lift a fin­ger. In fact, not only did Dladla look the other way — he was also the big­gest ob­sta­cle to those col­leagues who felt any sense of duty to clean up the util­ity.

Win­dows of op­por­tu­nity

When Dladla fell sick and took a week off in Au­gust, he was tem­po­rar­ily re­placed by Ayanda Noah, the ex­ec­u­tive re­spon­si­ble for cus­tomer ser­vices. She swiftly put two se­nior man­agers on sus­pen­sion. The third of­fi­cial, Pr­ish Goven­der, avoided his sus­pen­sion let­ter by call­ing in sick, sources say. Goven­der, Charles Kal­ima and Ed­win Ma­belane were the se­nior man­agers who gave ef­fect to the grand Mckin­sey/tril­lian grab.

As soon as board chair­man Zethembe Khoza read about the sus­pen­sions in the me­dia, he seems to have in­structed Dladla to re­scind them, though both he and Dladla deny this. Pres­sure was then piled on Noah and HR direc­tor Elsie Pule to lift the sus­pen­sions.

An Au­gust be­reave­ment in Dladla’s fam­ily pro­vided an­other win­dow of op­por­tu­nity for the util­ity to do the right thing. Mea­sures to sus­pend the three were put in place while he was off work. That plan was still­born.

In­stead of do­ing his job, Dladla has blown hot and cold ex­cuses about why he won’t pro­ceed with Koko’s dis­ci­plinary ac­tion, which has cost more than R1m be­fore the first hear­ing takes place. He’s made the same tired ex­cuses for not act­ing against the three man­agers.

Those who work with him say Dladla has been at the beck and call of chair­man Khoza and their po­lit­i­cal boss, pub­lic en­ter­prises min­is­ter Lynne Brown. Cor­rup­tion has flour­ished at Eskom un­der their watch.

Per­haps be­ing a spine­less yes-man is how Dladla has sur­vived 22 years at the util­ity. Ei­ther way, it has turned him into the most use­less CEO I have ob­served there in 13 years.

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