And she thought Transnet was tough...
RUPERT PARDOE? He was the last senior executive earmarked to run Absa from outside the group. Raised at Anglo American, Pardoe was a square peg in a round hole and wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. The deputy CEO left the group before the relationship could be formally consummated, and Steve Booysen, a long-serving insider, subsequently took over stewardship of the bank from Nallie Bosman. Booysen’s own four-and-a-half-year tenure ends this month.
Ranked by Fortune Magazine as one of the 20 most powerful women on earth, Booysen’s replacement – Maria Ramos – takes over at Absa on 1 March. And she’s also an outsider. Popular consensus rates her chances of success considerably better than Pardoe’s. However, she faces severe economic headwinds as well as a fiendishly complex array of internal challenges in an uncertain domestic and global banking environment.
Ramos has her work cut out. She’ll be fully cognisant of that fact and also painfully aware that she has no exe c u t ive level banking sector experience. Senior banking sector executives are surprised by the appointment. They rate Ramos highly, but privately question the timing of her appointment amid considerable global market sensitivity.
The announcement of Ramos’s appointment in November last year came as Nedbank was also poised to reveal its replacement for Tom Boardman, who retires in February 2010. It decided, almost at the last minute, to postpone the appointment.
“It was my call,” says Julian Roberts, the new CEO of Old Mutual, the company that controls Nedbank. “I’m new in the job and I looked at the issues we have to deal with globally and felt it better to pause and come back to it in due course,” he says in a recent interview in London.
Ramos enters Absa with her eyes wide open. She acknowledged the state of the global economy and its ramifications at the recent World Economic Forum gathering at Davos in Switzerland. There she pointed to the impact that the economic crisis was having on her clients at Transnet. At Absa she will have 10m clients, a growing number being in financial distress – as reflected by the sharply higher provisioning levels in the group’s most recent financial results.
“There are no silver bullets,” Ramos said in Davos. “My sense is (we have) 18 to 24 months of a very tough economic environment globally.”
Ramos declined to be interviewed for this report, and Finweek understands Absa has agreed to give her 100 days to settle into her new position before it wheels her out for interactions with the media.
Despite the fact she’s highly respected, concerns abound regarding her lack of operational banking experience at executive level. Insiders suggest much will depend on her ability to retain outgoing CEO Steve Booysen’s remaining executive team – at least until she has her