SAA’s CEO race ‘a 2-horse affair’

2009-10-03 13:18

OYAMA Mabandla, a former senior executive of South African Airways (SAA) who was beaten to the CEO’s job by the newly ousted Khaya Ngqula, has re-emerged as one of the front-runners for the top job at the national carrier.

Mabandla, who had a stint as acting chief executive of SAA ­after the resignation of Andre Viljoen, is said to be favoured for the position by influential personalities in the ANC and in government.

SAA spokesperson Vimla ­Maistry says there is considerable interest in the position and that the process of appointing a new CEO is well under way. A decision would be made in due course, Maistry said.

However, those close to the process say the initial large number of applicants has been wittled down to just a handful, with only two or three candidates standing a real chance.

“It’s really a two-horse race between Mabandla and (SA Express CEO) Siza Mzimela, with (current SAA acting CEO) Chris Smyth the rank outsider,” said a source close enough to the process to be in the know.

A new SAA board installed this week will have as its key task the appointment of a chief executive ­officer.

Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan announced on Thursday that ANC bigwig and former SA Tourism CEO Cheryl Carolus will chair the board.

Others appointed to the board include JSE CEO Russell Loubser; Bonang Mohale, country chairman and vice-president of Shell SA; advocate of the High Court Lindi Nkosi-Thomas; HR professional Cyril Jantjies; Skills Dynamics CEO Dudu Myeni; and marketing professional Margie Whitehouse.

Whoever gets the nod for the top executive position will have to further grow SAA’s dominant position in the African ­airlines market.

An aviation analyst said that while all those being touted for the job had strong credentials and experience in the industry, “the board will need to be careful and appoint a person with excellent people skills, able to embrace those already on board and responsible for much of the good work already done”.

Although SAA is already in a strong position on African routes, competition is growing.

“There is growing competition on African routes and SAA has factored this into its strategy to strengthen operations on the continent. SAA will ensure that it takes advantage of new opportunities and will seek to move quickly into new markets and routes that can be sustained from a profit point of view.

“Innovative initiatives will be implemented to achieve this objective. Currently Africa is SAA’s most profitable market, and the airline is focused on maintaining its number one ­position on the continent,” said Smyth, the acting CEO.

The new incumbent will take over an airline that is out of the woods and has begun to show some profit. It will not be easy, as SAA’s big competitors on the continent are also strengthening their route networks.

Kenya Airways’ representative in SA, Glenn Lewington, this week announced new services starting this month. The new destinations include Malabo in Equatorial Guinea, Bangui in Central African Republic and Kisangani in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“This is in addition to our new Gaborone and Ndola services,” Lewington said.

He praised the current leadership of SAA for a job well done in terms of turning around the loss-making airline: “I have admiration for their work. Yes, we will be competing with them but it will be nothing aggressive.”

The flag carrier airline of Kenya is 80% privately held and in the 12?years since its privatisation it has not suffered a loss.

Competition includes Ethiopian Airlines, one of the fastest-growing carriers in Africa. It ­recently won the Airline of the Year 2009 Award at the African Business Awards organised by the London-based African Business Magazine and the Commonwealth Business Council.

Smyth said management’s intention was that SAA would not need funding from government in future, “although this depends on a number of factors including that the future strategy is implemented .. . and SAA does not encounter a dramatic fall in demand due to catastrophic external events”.

SAA recorded a R398-million profit in the year to March after three successive losses of close to R1 billion and receiving billions from government for its recapitalisation.


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