State court brawls go corporate – Old Mutual farce

This inter-personal boardroom battle being slugged out in the courts bears uncanny similarities to that of the Public Protector and Pravin Gordhan/Cyril Ramaphosa, and we see the same collateral damage happening. The Old Mutual fight between its charismatic and crafty chairperson, Trevor Manuel, and canny CEO Peter Moyo, is the perfect illustration of that old African saying that when two elephants fight, the grass gets trampled. The Old Mutual spat has cost its shareholders a drop of 11% since Manuel first suspended Moyo, the biggest fall in the five-member FTSE/JSE Africa Life Assurance Index. The stock is at its lowest level since the company moved its main listing back to Johannesburg from London last June. As for the damage being caused by the battle for the heart and soul of the ANC, spearheaded by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, the cost is inestimable. No company or government can operate effectively when those in charge are preoccupied with watching their backs and jockeying to stay in power – or grasp it. The fall-out is visible as the power-balance shifts back and forwards, with any semblance of teamwork out the window. Just watch the performance of any sporting team when its’ members are feuding.  Lock the protagonists in a room and throw away the key, I say. – Chris Bateman

Boardroom brawl at South Africa insurer pits Manuel Against Moyo

By Roxanne Henderson

(Bloomberg) – The nastiest boardroom bust-up in recent South African-corporate history has left the chairman and chief executive officer of the nation’s oldest insurer with bloodied noses. Neither one is backing down.

Nor would they, it’s not in their character. But their fight is now hurting the reputation of Old Mutual Ltd., a financial-services company started in 1845 that has businesses spanning money management to consumer lending, and operations in 12 other African countries.

As an anti-apartheid activist, Trevor Manuel, 63, was jailed several times, and was eventually appointed finance minister, where he oversaw the country’s longest stretch of economic growth. Zimbabwean-born Peter Moyo has worked in the top tier of South Africa Inc. for more than a decade, and has sparred separately with the nation’s top mobile-phone network operator and biggest retirement-fund administrator.

“I cannot see a scenario where the two gentlemen who are on opposite ends of the ring, so to speak, survive this saga,” said Morris Mthombeni, faculty director at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science. “It’s not helpful. People are paralysed because of the leadership vacuum created when a board and its CEO are in a public spat.”

Moyo, 56, emerged victorious in their first round in court and arrived for work on Wednesday morning after a ruling temporarily reinstated him. Old Mutual immediately fired back by seeking leave to appeal the judgment, sending Moyo back home that same afternoon. The drama continued when a bomb scare at the company’s headquarters had staff standing on the pavement, according to CNBC Africa.

A second case brought by the on-and-off CEO to declare Old Mutual’s board as delinquent directors, still has to be heard.

The battle spilled into the public arena at the end of May when Old Mutual announced it had suspended Moyo, citing a “material breakdown in trust and confidence.” It later clarified that the dispute involved a conflict of interest related to an investment firm Moyo founded before joining Old Mutual. Moyo was dismissed three weeks later.

The feud has been marked by accusations and counter-allegations of conflicts of interest by both parties. Over in the public sector, the state-owned money manager, Public Investment Corp., has been crippled by a series of scandals that resulted in the CEO leaving and the entire board quitting.

Concerns of the impact of the spat is showing in Old Mutual’s share price, which are down 11% since Moyo was first suspended, the biggest drop in the five-member FTSE/JSE Africa Life Assurance Index. The stock is at its lowest level since the company moved its main listing back to Johannesburg from London last June.

‘Taking a hammering’

“We’re saddened that our reputation is taking a hammering,” Old Mutual spokeswoman Tabby Tsengiwe said by phone. “But we have maintained all along that this isn’t our choice. We’re trying to speak to the issues at hand, which is that there has been an irreparable breakdown in trust and confidence.”

Old Mutual is a “good company and that’s why I am desirous of going back,” Moyo said. Manuel directed questions back to Old Mutual.

“I imagine people are taking sides within the organisation and that is informing their behaviour as things unfold,” said Mthombeni at GIBS Business School.

There are many examples of leadership fall outs which result in an irretrievable breakdown in relationships and “one of the parties bowing out in one way or another,” he said. “In this case it’s on steroids in that both have gone to court and ventilated issues in court. That just makes life untenable for everyone.”