“We all want a sustainable, profitable Telkom”
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.