Sipho Maseko:

“We all want a sus­tain­able, prof­itable Telkom”

Finweek English Edition - - FRONT PAGE - BY TINA WEAV­IND

It’s 6:45am and Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko has just f in­ished a 9km run. He’s tougher than most of us: just over two weeks ago, he was fight­ing for his life in the in­ten­sive care unit of a Jo­han­nes­burg hos­pi­tal after chok­ing on his own blood dur­ing a rou­tine op­er­a­tion. He stayed in hos­pi­tal for a week and was at death’s door for more than 28 hours.

“Only my board knew at the time,” he says. “They were ob­vi­ously quite wor­ried.”

It’s a good thing that they were: Maseko says he isn’t leav­ing any­time soon as he’s “hav­ing a lot of fun”.

He’s shown a lot of re­silience as a leader as well, pub­licly shrug­ging off a slew of scan­dals that had to have hurt his re­la­tion­ship with his board.

The first bar­rage Maseko faced was in Oc­to­ber when the company’s well-re­spected CFO Jac­ques Schin­de­hütte was iced.

At the time spec­u­la­tion ran high that Schin­de­hütte had been sus­pended over a R6m share pur­chase the day be­fore the fixed-line op­er­a­tor went into a closed pe­riod. The trade raised eye­brows not just be­cause of its tim­ing, but also be­cause within a week Telkom’s share price ral­lied more than 10%. Schin­de­hütte even­tu­ally paid the loan back.

The sus­pen­sion was a spec­tac­u­lar pub­lic re­la­tions dis­as­ter. At the time Telkom said only that it “re­lates to al­le­ga­tions of per­sonal mis­con­duct... which came to the board’s at­ten­tion through a whis­tle-blower”.

In­sid­ers said that the sus­pen­sion had to do with Schin­de­hütte hir­ing a con­sul­tant whom he had known prior to join­ing Telkom. But t hen other i nfor­ma­tion sur­faced i ndi­cat­ing t hat he had gone through all the right chan­nels.

Schin­de­hütte went to a few dis­ci­plinary meet­ings, but noth­ing came of them, and he ul­ti­mately re­signed with full ben­e­fits in Au­gust. Deon Fred­er­icks, who had been the act­ing CFO for 10 months, was made per­ma­nent in Septem­ber.

No off icial state­ments have come to light about why this hap­pened. Although the horse has long since bolted, Maseko said i n an i nter view with Fin­week on 18 Novem­ber that he didn’t want the spat to be­come pub­lic. “Look what has hap­pened at PPC,” he said.

The spec­tre of the R6m shares then came back to bite Maseko, when he be­came the f irst South African CEO to be made to at­tend a two-week di­rec­tor du­ties course. The Com­pa­nies and In­tel­lec­tual Prop­erty Com­mis­sion (CIPC) said that he had breached the Com­pa­nies Act by en­abling the loan and ruled that if he didn’t com­ply with the rul­ing could be f ined R1m and a re­fer­ral to the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity.

Then came the al­le­ga­tions – once again with no of­fi­cial ex­pla­na­tion – that Maseko had hired Bos­ton-based man­age­ment con­sul­tancy firm Bain & Co just days after he was ap­pointed CEO. No record of a pub­lished or archived com­pet­i­tive process has yet been found.

But the most re­cent, and most bizarre, scan­dal to date has been t he de­ba­cle around Maseko’s l icence plate. In July, it was re­ported that Maseko was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for fraud in­volv­ing an al­legedly cloned car li­cence plate.

Maseko was said to have racked up more than R30 000 worth of traf­fic f ines – but th­ese were be­ing sent to the owner of his pre­vi­ous car, a black Range Rover. Busi­ness­man Mabena Mot­shoane, who had bought Maseko’s old Range Rover, said that he kept on get­ting the f ines. Mot­shoane said that by chance, while driv­ing on the M1 high­way, he no­ticed another car with the same plates. He

then laid charges with the metro po­lice and at the Booy­sens po­lice sta­tion.

When the au­thor­i­ties ar­rived to have a look, Maseko ap­par­ently re­fused to let them see the car, and a few days later the plates were changed.

This week, Maseko said that he had never re­ceived an of­fi­cial no­tice about the num­ber plate de­ba­cle. “No one has come to me. There has been no for­mal com­plaint.”

But i nvestors have barely fl i nched at Maseko’s almost con­tin­u­ous kick­ing by the me­dia. With Maseko at the helm, Telkom has been one of the big­gest stars on the mar­ket. The stock was trad­ing at R27.32 a year ago; at the time of writ­ing it was up to R64.

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