Why Is Sasol’s Boss Stepping Down?

There was much speculation in August 2013 when former Sasol CFO Christine Ramon’s speedy departure was announced. Did she jump? Was she pushed? And if the latter, was it down the stairs?
And now the same sort of speculation has arisen with this week’s announcement that Sasol CEO David Constable will not be renewing his contract beyond its expiry in a year from now. The departure of the Canadian CEO will, on the positive side, give a good period in which to find a replacement. So will this allow Sasol to appease its critics and appoint its first black CEO? While most shareholders would, no doubt, welcome the job being allocated on merit, there are powerful and influential shareholders in Sasol such as the IDC, the PIC and the Government Employees Pension Fund who have a far greater political agenda, and who would no doubt encourage the energy giant to make a BEE appointment. Indeed, when our President Jacob Zuma and his team were recently advocating the creation of 100 new black industrialists in South Africa, they mentioned the way in which Sasol and other entities were fostered by the apartheid regime – to help transfer ownership of the economy from the English colonial bunch to a bunch of Afrikaners. If this analogy is to be extended, and there is a mightily strong parallel, then the top job at Sasol is the ideal home for a new black industrialist. He may even get free company petrol if he negotiates his contract wisely.
Constable is not leaving the company after he steps down from the CEO seat, but will act as a consultant. While a bit of handholding for any replacement, black or white, will be wise, this might be an indication that a black candidate might land the job even if he (she?) needs a bit of time and help to fill Constable’s size 11 shoes. (Actually, I don’t know his shoe size, but it helped me to round off the sentence with more than the usual consistency).
However, this might not be the case at all. A Sasol spokesman told Business Day that a “strong desire” from Constable’s family informed the Canadian executive’s decision to return to North America.
If so, it is worrying. Was it a matter of personal safety? Is it just a cultural issue? The top job at Sasol is extremely well paid, so they are clearly not leaving because the cash is running out.


Whatever the true reason for Constable’s decision to step down (if it was indeed his decision) it is a shame. I have attended some of his briefings, and have interviewed him, and while I suspect he might not be the easiest person to work for, he has had a clear vision for Sasol, and I doubt that most (private sector) shareholders will be keen to see him leave. I shall watch developments closely.

Tweet of the Day:
Steve (@WigCannon): I’ll bet the guy who invented socks couldn’t wait for feet to be invented.

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