Mango CEO Nico Bezuidenhout on his plans for the airline


Nico Bezuidenhout, who returns to low-cost airline Mango as CEO on October 1, intends to start off by doing a proper stock take of the current state of the business, he told Fin24 on Wednesday.

He wants to see where the business has improved and where it has perhaps gone backwards and then he will make an informed decision – after engaging with people at Mango and at SAA - on the course of action to take going forward.

"The market constantly changes. So, that does not mean the way we started the airline would be 100% applicable in the current circumstances," says Bezuidenhout.

Changing market

"From an external perspective, the competitive landscape has changed. Some competitors have become stronger, technology is changing and, on top of that, SA has tougher economic circumstances to take into account."

At the same time, as much as Mango stands on own its own two feet regarding sustainability, Bezuidenhout is aware that, as a subsidiary of South African Airways (SAA), Mango is part of a bigger picture.
For the past few years Bezuidenhout has been CEO of UK-based company Fastjet. During his time at the low-cost airline he focused on its repositioning.

"Fastjet is currently the dominant carrier in Zimbabwe. I learnt a lot from the business and about African markets and my relationship with the company remains a good one," says Bezuidenhout.

He has been in aviation since about 2001, first working at South African Airways (SAA) before assuming the position of founding CEO at Mango.

Mango 'helped more people fly'

During his 10 years at the helm of Mango, Bezuidenhout was twice called upon to act as CEO of SAA before he took up the position of CEO at Fastjet. He is also on the advisory board of an aviation technology company in the US.

"Mango has always been close to my heart. It enabled more people to fly," says Bezuidenhout. He is happy with the large number of jobs the airline provides and points out that, at the time he left, Mango had the highest B-BBEE rating.

"Mango has always been non-racial, non-sexist and theft, corruption and fraud were never tolerated. Those are the golden rules I live by," says Bezuidenhout.

When Bezuidenhout's appointment was announced recently, Fin24 reported that the Black Management Forum (BMF) objected to a white male being appointed. It also raised the issue of Bezuidenhout's qualifications.

As in the past, Bezuidenhout said that both the boards of Mango as well as SAA had repeatedly indicated that at no time had they been misled about his qualifications.

'Dumbfounded' by BMF

"I am dumbfounded by the libellous statements made by the BMF president about my character. I did not draft the job specs for the Mango CEO position. I assume that job has been vacant for three years, so there has been ample opportunity to recruit someone (else)," says Bezuidenhout.

He adds that he does not understand why the BMF on the one hand objects to the appointment of a white male at Mango, while also releasing a statement earlier in June, urging black professionals not to apply for leadership positions at SA's state-owned entities on the basis that government interference at these companies was setting black leaders up for failure.

Asked about what he experienced while acting as CEO at SAA, Bezuidenhout says he is glad of the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture and he expects to be called to testify there as well in due course. However, he adds, some of the controversial deals already mentioned before the commission, took place after he left as acting SAA CEO.

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