Mark Barnes should expect a call. SAA needs a rare bird.

As Warren Buffett famously told us, only when tides recede do you notice those not wearing swimsuits. With an epic backwash sucking away liquidity at South African Airways, it’s now plain that acting CEO Zuks Ramasia is starkers. After apparently driving last Friday’s unsuccessful attempt to liquidate the airline, Ramasia was yesterday placed on “special leave”. Co-inciding with news that the airline had been put into business rescue. The (interim) Chief Financial Officer Deon Fredericks is the new acting CEO.

SAA is now, at least temporarily, safe from being liquidated – and with it the potential for removing evidence of former chair Dudu Myeni’s trail of plunder and destruction. Business rescue also focuses the minds of those charged with protecting the airline to find a way of transforming it into a national asset, a business which needlessly became a drain on taxpayers.

The starting point is appointing the right leader. Former CEO Vuyani Jarana, who resigned in June, is an option. But those who depart from high profile positions, even for the best of reasons, rarely return. And right now the skillset required for a new SAA CEO goes far beyond operational competence. It needs a rare animal indeed.

I’d be looking for someone with corporate banking experience to understand the intricacies of aircraft capital leases and the fuel hedging programme. One who also appreciates the culture of a State Owned Enterprise. But with the entrepreneurial flair to look at both sides of the income statement and strike global partnerships to help trade the airline out of trouble. Last I heard, former SA Post Office chief Mark Barnes hadn’t accepted a new job. He should expect a call.

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