Off the bridge but on the ball
Grindrod according to the chairman
IVAN CLARK’S only problem with being Grindrod’s chairman is it doesn’t keep him busy enough. “There’s a top-class CEO and good management team. My role is to support management in its growth initiatives and offer strategic input when I can. I’m always available for any big decisions and can draw on my background in shipping and logistics.”
Clark has developed outside interests through his company, Clark Investments, but having headed Grindrod through some crucial years as CEO, it seems the group will always be close to his heart. Perhaps not surprisingly for a chairman, he has a bullish outlook about Grindrod’s future.
“We’ve had two years of what I’d call protecting the silverware. It’s been done deliberately: when there’s trouble around, keep your head down, because we worked so hard to get there. So profits have been flat the past two years and probably will be again this year. But there’s a new executive team in place and I have confidence in that team. It’s important for the future to revitalise management without taking away anything from the past.”
Clark achieved a lot while CEO, laying the keel for its current low-cost fleet, buying Island View Shipping and starting the diversification into logistics.
“When we started that, some investors said it wasn’t a good idea – that we should stick to shipping. But it was done carefully, and every development in the landside chain had to do with the movement of cargo. It achieved two things: we could ride out the shipping cycle better and it was complementary to the shipping business. Both of those happened and I see it now in Grindrod riding out a shipping cycle that’s down.”
On the investment side, Clark succeeded in convincing chairman and Grindrod owner Murray Grindrod to abandon its dual ordinary and N-share structure. Shares held by Bidvest were bought back, a group that has more than a passing interest in Grindrod. The ordinary shares were split five-to-one, introducing muchneeded liquidity to the stock and attracting overseas investors. The share price took off, with Grindrod at least twice being the best-performing share on the JSE over calendar years.
“It might sound silly now but when investors didn’t have a choice, with the N-shares removed it made the retail investment decisions simpler. And each individual investor had a full vote,” Clark says.
He now sees South Africa, and Africa, entering a super-cycle based on commodities and the strong emergence of the Bric countries’ – now Brics, with the inclusion of SA – economies. “Adding the cocktail of trading and logistics – and with Grindrod’s strong track record and balance sheet – I quite frankly feel the world’s our oyster in our fields of business.”