Sage’s firing of whistleblower Bianca Goodson: Here’s 7 unanswered questions.

Sygnia Group CEO Magda Wierzycka

JOHANNESBURG — Revelations by Sygnia boss Magda Wierzycka that Trillian whistleblower Bianca Goodson was effectively fired by Sage caused quite a stir earlier this month. To date, Sage hasn’t been caught up in the Gupta web in the same way that SAP, McKinsey, Software AG and KPMG SA have. But by firing Goodson; Sage has found itself roped into the saga. Here’s the background to what happened. A year after Bianca Goodson resigned from Trillian (in April 2016), she then joined Sage in May 2017 as a PreSales Analyst Director, according to her LinkedIn profile. Her job at Sage would not last more than six months as her LinkedIn profile indicates that she exited the company sometime in September 2017. Wierzycka told BizNews‘ editor and publisher Alec Hogg that Goodson is said to have told Sage that she would release her whistleblower statement on Trillian. Goodson even went so far as offering her resignation in kind if Sage received any damaging backlash. However, when Goodson decided to go ahead, Sage South Africa boss Pieter Bensch allegedly decided to process her exit from the company instead of protecting and retaining Goodson, according to Wierzycka. In turn, Wierzycka has offered Goodson a job. If true, it seems like a bizarre decision on the part of Bensch as retaining Bianca would probably have been a major boost for Sage’s public image. Instead, Sage is now faced with the perception that it doesn’t protect whistleblowers. I then decided to send the company seven questions regarding the Goodson matter – unfortunately I got a no comment response in return which I’ve published at the bottom of this post. I’ve also posted the snippet from Hogg’s interview with Wierzycka at the end of this post. Regardless of the challenges she has faced, Goodson’s whistleblower statement has proved to be one of the most comprehensive documents on how the Guptas’ state capture levers work in South Africa – you can also see her full statement by clicking here. – Gareth van Zyl 

By Gareth van Zyl

Here are the 7 questions that I sent to Sage on Friday, 13 October 2017:

  1. Why did Sage choose to fast-track Bianca’s exit from the company – does Sage believe there was a reputational risk in keeping Bianca, and if so why?
  2. By retaining Bianca, would that not have been a big plus for Sage’s image in the public eye? It would have communicated that Sage is committed to protecting whistleblowers and ethical businesspeople? Instead, Sage has now given the impression that it does not support ethical business practices. Also, the image now is that Sage is in the same boat as its competitor SAP when it comes to allowing unethical business practices in South Africa, especially in relation to the Guptas.
  3. Did Sage hire Bianca knowing that she was going to disclose a full statement about Trillian?
  4. For how long was Bianca employed at Sage and what was her exact role?

    Pictured: Pieter Bensch, executive vice president for Sage at the company's Johannesburg office. Bensch is accused of fast-tracking Goodson's exit from Sage.
    Pictured: Pieter Bensch, executive vice president for Sage, is accused of fast-tracking Goodson’s exit from Sage.
  5. Sygnia CEO Magda Wierzycka has threatened to cut any business ties with Sage – has this happened?
  6. Also, have any other businesses threatened to cut ties with Sage?
  7. Would Sage consider rehiring Bianca?
  8. Has Sage got current contracts with any Gupta-linked companies or with any state-owned businesses like Transnet, and is Sage willing to disclose these links if they exist?

Here is the response I received from Sage’s VP for Communications, Amy Lawson late on Monday 12 October 2017:

I’m afraid it really isn’t appropriate for us to comment on individuals, we have a duty of care to our colleagues and will always communicate with them privately – and we continue to do so.

So, I’m sorry, no further statement and nothing more to say for now.  Give me a call if you want to discuss.

Meanwhile, here is a snippet of the interview that Alec Hogg did with Sygnia boss Magda Wierzycka on October 3 2017 in which she mentions the situation regarding Goodson.

I was interested to see your Tweets this morning about the whistleblower from Trillian on McKinsey, Bianca Goodson. They were quite cryptic. What were you meaning?

Well, Bianca, who is a very honourable and brave woman, and she’s obviously one of the Trillian whistleblowers. She was the CEO of Trillian for a number of months before she resigned, once she realised what the company was all about. Subsequent to resigning from Trillian she joined Sage Pay, and she always disclosed to them that she is the Trillian whistleblower and obviously, last week she decided to go public with all the information and her direct line manager assured her that they had her back. But she is a highly honourable person so, she then emailed the CEO for the region and basically, said that, ‘if her disclosures in any way, would damage Sage reputation, she would volunteer to resign.’ It wasn’t a resignation but it was merely an offer. An honourable company would have come back and said, ‘Bianca, we have your back. We need whistleblowers in SA. We support your stance against corruption. You are an incredibly brave person.’ Instead of that he sent her an email back saying, ‘we accept your resignation.’

Wow, is this Ivan Epstein?

That is Pieter Bensch.

Ivan Epstein

Pieter Bensch? His boss has got to be Ivan Epstein, who is a South African, who will be horrified to hear this news. It really is a strange approach…. [UPDATE: I discovered after the interview that Ivan Epstein, the founder of Softline which was acquired by Sage in 2003, retired from the multinational in September 2016. I know well, and was surprised because from my knowledge of the man he would never have countenanced this – which he obviously did not. – AH]

I have never been so disgusted in my entire life. To the extent that when I found out, I obviously reached out to Bianca. I offered her a job and hopefully she’ll accept, but this isn’t a woman with enormous resources. This is a woman who is placing her life at risk. This is a woman who is doing it for SA and for all the right reasons and for a company to treat her this way is just breathtaking.

Yes, particularly a company which is in the business of providing integrity to accounting, which is what Sage is all about…

Exactly, it’s always all about accounting somehow so, I have already at Sygnia given instructions to review whether we use them as a supplier on anything and we’re terminating any contract that we might have with them. I want nothing to do with the company that behaves in this manner and this is… When we are living through times when we want to encourage whistleblowing, we need it. We need to have more people coming forward with evidence of corruption but they’re not going to do so, if the consequences of that is that they lose their livelihoods. It is absolutely absurd, and absolutely unacceptable. I have seen Sage is kind of tap dancing around this issue and misinformation that they’re trying to put out there and I know that it’s false and I am just absolutely disgusted and horrified.

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