SAA CEO Bezuidenhout kicked downstairs after Chair scuppers Emirates deal

The news that South African Airways acting CEO Nico Bezuidenhout has stepped down, doesn’t come as a surprise given the recent comments around chairperson Dudu Myeni. The one that pops to mind is that she is apparently the reason a R2 billion equity deal that Bezuidenhout had organised with Emirates Airlines fell through. Internally the reason given is that Bezuidenhout, who was drafted into the position to implement a turnaround at the ailing airline following then CEO Kalawe’s suspension, had completed this turnaround. If Bezuidenhout produced a turnaround in 8 months then I’m sure other corporates will be lining him up for a job. And given the recent comments around Myeni, the departure lounge’s water looks to have been muddied. – Stuart Lowman


by Liezel Hill

(Bloomberg) – South African Airways said Nico Bezuidenhout, its acting chief executive officer, will stand down and move back to the carrier’s Mango low-cost airline.

Bezuidenhout, who has been running the unprofitable state-owned carrier since November following the suspension of Monwabisi Kalawe, will return to Mango as CEO immediately, spokesman Tlali Tlali said late Wednesday in a text message.

While Tlali didn’t give a reason for the transfer, an internal memo circulated within SAA and obtained by Bloomberg said it’s being carried out following the completion of a turnaround program that Bezuidenhout had led. The memo from Chairwoman Dudu Myeni says an update on filling the now-vacant CEO position will be provided “in due course.”

The new appointment would represent the sixth permanent or acting CEO at SAA in three years, if Bezuidenhout’s two stints in the position are counted separately. SAA, which has been surviving on government-guaranteed loans, had been working to reduce costs and improve efficiencies under Bezuidenhout. The company this year closed unprofitable routes to Beijing and Mumbai and has renegotiated airline leases and supply contracts.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene was advised of the decision regarding Bezuidenhout on Wednesday and is “seeking clarity” from SAA’s board on the matter, Phumza Macanda, a spokeswoman for the National Treasury, said in an e-mailed response to questions on Thursday. The Treasury took responsibility for the airline’s turnaround after it was transferred from the Department of Public Enterprises in December.

Costs Curtailed

Bezuidenhout’s move continues a series of changes at the top of SAA in the past year. Even before Kalawe’s suspension, the airline accepted the resignation of six board members in October and appointed two new directors. More recently, Tlali confirmed this week that Barry Parsons, the company’s chief strategy officer, has resigned.

The current SAA board’s term runs through the end of September and an appointment process is underway, Macanda said.

SAA’s operating costs in April and May, the first two months of the carrier’s financial year, declined 14 percent from 12 months earlier, Bezuidenhout said on June 30. While the performance is improving, it’s too early to say that the company’s turned a corner, he said in an interview July 7.

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