The man af­ter Moyo

Af­ter more than a year of un­cer­tainty, Old Mu­tual has ap­pointed a per­ma­nent CEO — an in­sider who has spent his en­tire ca­reer within the group — to re­place Peter Moyo

Financial Mail - - PROFILE - Stephen Cranston cranstons@fm.co.za

ý Af­ter al­most 14 months in limbo, Old Mu­tual has, in Iain Wil­liamson, fi­nally made what is widely re­garded as the safe choice as CEO.

Wil­liamson has been act­ing in the post since Peter Moyo’s sud­den sus­pen­sion in May 2019, and his sub­se­quent dis­missal from the top job.

It has been a long process, but the ap­point­ment was held up by Moyo’s le­gal cam­paign to be re­in­stated, and tech­ni­cally Moyo might still have more op­tions.

Wil­liamson, who turned 50 in May, has been part of the

Mu­tual fam­ily since he was 18, when he was awarded an ac­tu­ar­ial bur­sary. He worked for the fledg­ling mass mar­ket group scheme busi­ness (now the largest and most prof­itable part of the com­pany) dur­ing his univer­sity va­ca­tions.

And he worked in both the cor­po­rate and in­di­vid­ual life busi­nesses. He was part of the team that pre­pared Old Mu­tual for de­mu­tu­al­i­sa­tion in 1999, and then spent four years in the new Old Mu­tual global head­quar­ters in May­fair, London.

“I was an in­ter­nal an­a­lyst, valu­ing the com­pany it­self and the com­pa­nies we planned to ac­quire,” he tells the FM.

In London, Wil­liamson de­vel­oped his pas­sion for cy­cling. “I hated the Un­der­ground so I ar­ranged with the group trea­surer, Don Hope, to cy­cle to work to­gether.” When he went back to Cape Town he be­came fi­nance ac­tu­ary for the re­tail af­flu­ent divi­sion (as in­di­vid­ual life was re­named) and was later ap­pointed its CFO.

He then fol­lowed his boss Ralph Mupita to take the CFO post at Old Mu­tual Emerg­ing Mar­kets, which later be­came the separately listed Old Mu­tual Ltd. Wil­liamson moved to Joburg for seven years when the Old Mu­tual ex­ec­u­tive re­lo­cated to Sand­ton but moved back in 2018 when he was ap­pointed COO. “My old­est daugh­ter is go­ing into ma­tric next year so we won’t be mov­ing up to Gaut­eng per­ma­nently just yet.” He also has to con­sider his triplets, who are in grade 5.

The en­tire ex­ec­u­tive team are now work­ing from home be­cause of the Covid-19 epi­demic.

“We nor­mally have 10,000 peo­ple com­ing to work in our Pinelands [Cape Town] and Sand­ton cam­puses. At the height of the lock­down, it fell to 200 and even now it is only about 1,000.”

Wil­liamson is lead­ing the com­pany at a crit­i­cal time. He says it is mov­ing from a sta­bil­i­sa­tion phase into a tran­si­tion phase, but it is still some way off the “reimag­ine” phase when cri­sis man­age­ment makes way for real strate­gic change.

“We still have a life in­sur­ance joint ven­ture in China and its ex­pe­ri­ence is that while man­u­fac­tur­ing is at full throt­tle, con­sumer spend­ing is still at 70% of pre-virus lev­els.”

Denker Cap­i­tal port­fo­lio man­ager Jan Mein­t­jes says the ap­point­ment re­moves some un­cer­tainty, and Wil­liamson’s op­er­a­tional strengths would have counted in his favour in the Covid-19 en­vi­ron­ment.

“Nor­mally an out­sider tak­ing a fresh look at the busi­ness would have been ben­e­fi­cial, but rad­i­cal changes are dan­ger­ous right now.”

Wil­liamson says he is on board with the “eight bat­tle­grounds” strat­egy in­tro­duced by Moyo, some of which has al­ready been de­liv­ered, such as the R1bn re­duc­tion in over­all costs. “It has be­come clear over the past few months that we need to be much more dig­i­tally en­abled and con­nect with cus­tomers on their terms.”

His big­gest worry in the short term is that re­tail cus­tomers who can’t af­ford to keep up their pre­mi­ums will al­low poli­cies to lapse.

Wil­liamson says Old Mu­tual still has an agency force and a branch foot­print sub­stan­tially big­ger than those of archri­val San­lam. It also has a larger as­set man­ager, es­pe­cially in the pri­vate eq­uity and in­fra­struc­ture space.

Nee­lash Han­sjee, port­fo­lio man­ager at Old Mu­tual Equities, says the group needs a boss who can de­fend its strong po­si­tions in em­ployee ben­e­fits and the mass mar­ket, and also re­gain share in the mid­dle mar­ket. “The share is cheap and un­der­es­ti­mates the group’s po­ten­tial.”

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