Mary Vilakazi takes over at FirstRand as Pullinger steps down and Celliers leaves FNB 

FirstRand leadership changes demonstrate deep pools of management talent and benefits of multi-year succession planning

Media Release: Johannesburg, 4 October 2023FirstRand Limited today announced new internal management appointments, all of which are effective from 1 April 2024.

Alan Pullinger will step down as group chief executive officer (CEO) and will be succeeded by Mary Vilakazi, currently group chief operating officer (COO).

Mr Pullinger leaves a long and successful career at FirstRand, spanning 26 years, including the role of RMB CEO until his promotion to FirstRand deputy CEO in early 2015. He became group CEO in early 2018 and, at the time of this appointment, indicated to the board a time horizon of six years. As such, succession planning for this role has been anchored to his expected departure in 2024.

Commenting, Alan Pullinger said: 

“The depth and quality of the FirstRand management team means that stepping down as CEO, and the subsequent changes that this decision prompts, is a seamless process. We have all worked together for many years, in a collegiate and empowering environment, to execute on a consistent strategy to deliver growth. FirstRand’s business philosophy means that we behave and think like owners and the entire leadership is collectively and individually invested to deliver on the group’s commitments to its shareholders, customers, and employees. It has been a tremendous honour and privilege to be a part of, and to lead, FirstRand and I have full confidence in handing over the baton to Mary and her new leadership team.”

Mary Vilakazi joined FirstRand as group COO in 2018 from MMI Holdings, where she held the roles of chief financial officer (CFO) and deputy CEO. As one of three FirstRand executive directors, she has worked closely with Mr Pullinger on strategy execution and successfully led a number of key growth and diversification strategies. Ms Vilakazi is close to the strategies and operations of the underlying portfolio of businesses through her membership of the executive committees and advisory boards of the operating businesses. As the CEO of the corporate centre, she has oversight of the key central functions of risk, compliance, treasury and audit. 

Commenting, Mary Vilakazi said:

“I am delighted to be entrusted to lead one of the largest and most profitable financial institutions in Africa. During his tenure, Alan has demonstrated inspirational leadership and I have been privileged to work in partnership with him and the broader team. I take over at a time when the portfolio is in good shape in all of its jurisdictions. The things that set FirstRand apart from its peers and enable it to outperform remain firmly in place. Our portfolio of leading brands, our top-quality talent, our unique and long-standing culture of empowerment and accountability, and our relentless focus on shareholder value creation will continue to underpin the group’s success on my watch.”

After ten years as CEO of FNB, Mr Jacques Celliers will take up a new role with executive responsibility for the group’s fintech strategy, which is to develop revenue streams from activities ancillary to financial services. Many of these activities have been built within FNB over a number of years, including, amongst others, the MVNO and the nav» lifestyle offerings, both of which are gaining traction with customers. The group believes this strategy now requires dedicated leadership to scale and grow. 

During his tenure as CEO of FNB, Mr Celliers led a successful customer-centric strategy, supported by an innovative technology build that resulted in FNB becoming the market leader for digitally enabled financial services. This track record means Mr Celliers is uniquely placed to execute on the fintech strategy. 

Commenting, Jacques Celliers said:

“I am grateful for the time I spent at FNB, it was an honour to lead such a committed and innovative team. Together we built a market-leading digital institution, with great customer propositions delivered on a well-constructed and agile platform. 

“I am excited to now give dedicated focus to some of the really innovative offerings currently sitting in FNB. These offerings have resonated with customers but have the potential to materially scale, both within our own customer base and eventually the open market.”

Harry Kellan will take over as CEO of FNB after ten years as CFO of FirstRand.

Mr Kellan joined FNB in 2005 and spent seven years as CFO, after which he was appointed FirstRand CFO in 2014. Mr Kellan’s long tenure at FNB prior to his group role positions him well to now lead the largest customer franchise in the portfolio. As a long-standing member of the retail and commercial executive committee and the FNB advisory board, Mr Kellan has been involved in shaping many of the key strategies FNB is executing on. 

Commenting, Harry Kellan said:

“Going home to FNB is an exciting prospect. I feel energised at the prospect of leading a motivated, already high-performing team and work alongside them to shape the future of these famous brands, FNB and WesBank. I am inheriting a great business in great shape, with a brand recognised for excellence in innovation and exciting customer propositions. I believe the insights and learnings I have gained as group CFO can bring new perspectives to the business, in particular unlocking greater collaboration with the wider portfolio.”

Mr Kellan will be succeeded as group CFO by Markos Davias, the current CFO of FNB. Prior to transferring to FNB in 2020, Mr Davias was CFO of RMB from 2015. Mr Davias’s tenure as CFO of the two largest franchises in the group make him the ideal candidate for group CFO. He has worked closely with Mr Kellan for over a decade, and this will ensure a smooth and efficient handover. 

Gideon Joubert, currently the CFO of the group’s broader Africa portfolio, will take over from Mr Davias as FNB CFO, he will be succeeded by Ms Taufeeqa Waja, currently the head of finance for the broader Africa portfolio. 

The group also announced that current chairman, Roger Jardine, will step down at FirstRand’s AGM on 30 November 2023 and the board has appointed Johan Burger as chairman effective 1 December 2023.

Mr Pullinger thanked Mr Jardine for his invaluable contribution as a director:

“Roger has provided strong stewardship of the board, including its reconstitution, the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and management succession.”

Mr Jardine commented that the FirstRand board believes the new management appointments create significant longevity in critical leadership roles and reflect the benefits of a structured, multi-year succession programme which has resulted in deep talent pools.

“The ability to promote from within ensures the transition of responsibilities is seamless and collaborative, and that the individuals moving into these new roles have had the necessary experience, tenure and track records of delivery. The board is also pleased to be able to appoint a well-qualified successor in Johan Burger,” said Jardine.

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