Off the bridge but on the ball

Grindrod ac­cord­ing to the chair­man

Finweek English Edition - - COVERSTORY -

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.”

GRINDROD LO­GIS­TICS

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