Should CEO Succession be a Black AND White Issue?

It was notable that as Sasol’s outgoing CEO David Constable wound up his latest results presentation, the last slide referred to succession.

He must be a­­­­­­ hard worker, because his top job is to be taken over not by one man, but by two.  The incoming joint-CEOs Bongani Nqwababa (who is black) and Stephen Cornell (who is not black) were there to bid farewell to the man with two jobs as they prepare for one each.

In a phrase which belongs more in an employment contract than in a media briefing, Constable said his twin successors would be jointly and severally accountable.   Whatever that means.

Now it is about time that Sasol had a black CEO, partly because this is a new South Africa, and partly because it has had a stormy relationship with government – and black CEOs are perceived to be better at oiling the wheels in Pretoria than we pale-faces.

But why does any black CEO need an equal-in-status side-kick/partner-in-crime?   Don’t get me wrong.  There is no suggestion that either new Sasol boss will be first among equals, or that Bongani is not up to the job and needs a bit of hand-holding.

But this is South Africa, where racists lurk behind every bush and perceptions can sometimes be more important than reality.

There is a similar relationship up the Rosebank hill from Sasol HQ – at Standard Bank, where again there is a joint-CEO structure with (black) Sim Tshabalala being in charge alongside (white) Ben Kruger.

Now Sim has undoubted qualities – which help to explain his leading position in the current dialogue between the business community and President Zuma.

But might he not command even more respect if he were doing the CEO job all on his own?

Certainly, any company which has two equal-in-status, of-any-colour, joint-CEOs will be faced with a higher executive wage bill, as neither would wish to be seen to be paid any less than their predecessor or their boardroom equal.   And maybe there is indeed twice the value for twice the money?

However, returning to the issue of perceptions, and without any suggestion that either black joint-CEO is in any way under-qualified, it might have been better if these two giants of the business community, Sasol and Standard, had taken a slightly bolder step and had just appointed a stand-alone black CEO.

It would have saved a few rand, and given the racists less ammunition for their vile theories.

Tweet of the Day:

Mark Twain (@TheMarkTwain):  Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.   

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