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Mminele exit: Absa board faces serious questions

And why did he announce a ‘refreshed’ strategy just a month ago?
Daniel Mminele. Why did Absa completely lose control over the departure of the former SA Reserve Bank deputy governor? Image: Moneyweb

The manner in which Absa Group chief executive Daniel Mminele resigned on Tuesday shocked the market.

On Friday, Business Report hinted at a disagreement between the former CEO and the board. “Heated talks” last week failed to result in any agreement. Then on Tuesday morning, Business Live all but confirmed Mminele’s departure.

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The bank was forced to issue a statement at 9am, euphemistically titled Discussions with Group Chief Executive, which confirmed that: “Mminele and the Boards [of the Group and the Bank] are working on a suitable separation arrangement and a further announcement will be published shortly after midday.”

It was clear by then that Mminele’s working relationship with the board had deteriorated to such an extent that neither party could see a way forward.

But how did it get to this point less than 16 months into his tenure?

Speculation is rife that Absa Group chair Wendy Lucas-Bull and the board were unhappy with changes Mminele wanted to make to the group’s strategy.

Group’s statement

When announcing on Sens just before 1pm that he would step down, the group said it “has become clear to the parties that there is non-alignment on matters of strategy and culture transformation”. The inclusion of these last two words is telling.

Group FD Jason Quinn will take over as interim CEO with immediate effect, pending South African Reserve Bank approval.

But the problems predate all this – by quite some margin.

The issues started in February 2019 when the board was seemingly blindsided by then Group CEO Maria Ramos’s decision to “retire” at the end of that month.

Prescience

At that time, Moneyweb argued that the absence of a clear succession strategy was a failure of the board.

The problem the group found itself in, rather predictably, was that Ramos had “moulded the new Absa Group in her image”. The “rebrand, the strategy, and the executive team” were “all her choices (she’ll tell you there was broad consultation, which there was, but this is Maria’s Absa)”.

It was clear as day then that the new CEO would ‘inherit’ all of these choices.

“What if, for argument’s sake, the new CEO wanted someone else to run (read: turn around) the retail bank? Why on earth would an experienced executive take the toughest job in South African banking, only to be judged on a plan developed by their predecessor?!”

Read: Why doesn’t Absa have a successor to Ramos?

And so the bank then found itself with a convoluted ‘solution’ where non-executive director René van Wyk was asked to take over as interim CEO from March 2019 to January 2020.

This meant the group simply drifted along for a year, with Van Wyk unable and unwilling to make any major changes.

The board clearly wanted Mminele as CEO, despite a number of other credible candidates for the role. Evidence of this was that it was prepared to wait for his six-month cool-off period following his departure from the SA Reserve Bank. That he was the bank and therefore the board’s preferred candidate was evident from the various leaks towards the start of this “gardening leave”.

‘Considerable regret’

In a statement announcing his departure, Lucas-Bull references that: “The Board was very excited about Daniel’s appointment and the positive role he was going to play at Absa. It is a matter of considerable regret that we reached this position. The parting of ways merely reflects divergent professional views and approaches, and is on a ‘no fault’ basis.”

Mminele was up to the challenge of leading Absa Group, despite Hilton Tarrant arguing on Moneyweb that he faced an “unenviable task” in the role.

It remains a mystery just why Mnimele, in his mid-50s, took the job to begin with.

Experienced central bankers have many options open to them when moving on, almost all far easier and less stressful than running Absa.

This remains the toughest job in South African banking, made impossible by the fact that any taker inherits a strategy, path, group structure, executive team and brand set by Ramos ahead of her sudden exit.

Read:

A number of questions ought to be asked by shareholders:

  • Why did the chair and the board not accept any responsibility for the clear lack of succession planning following Ramos’s resignation?
  • Why did it take the crisis created by Ramos’s resignation for the board to refresh its Directors’ Affairs Committee? (Until 2019, one member had been on this committee for more than 10 years!)
  • Did the board and Mminele agree before his appointment that he would be stuck with what was effectively Ramos’s strategy from years prior?
  • Did Mminele willingly sign up to a position where he was (seemingly) not able to make fundamental shifts to the group’s strategy?
  • Why did Mminele announce a “refreshed” strategy – with four “enablers” and four “imperatives” – at the release of the bank’s annual results in March?
  • Were recent “heated” discussions centred around on this strategy again, even though this refreshed strategy was announced a month ago?
  • Given that Lucas-Bull’s term as chair ends on March 31, 2022, why does she seemingly still wield such outsized influence over the long-term direction of the group?
  • Given the demands of both roles, why has Lucas-Bull been allowed to join the Shoprite board as chair while still chair of the group?
  • Will Lucas-Bull be involved in the search for Mminele’s successor despite her stepping down early next year?
  • Why, more than a month since his passing, has Peter Matlare’s role as deputy CEO (in charge of regional/rest of Africa operations) not been filled, even temporarily?
  • Why did Absa completely lose control over Mminele’s exit?
  • If Jason Quinn is a suitable interim CEO candidate now, why was he not a suitable one in 2019 when Ramos resigned?

COMMENTS   24

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The whole succession problem was started when the former CEO left without building a deep succession team as she was so insecure due to her ability. (Absa management became revolving doors under her leadership-in the broadest possible sense of the term)

Further the chairperson neglected her responsibilities and never had a succession plan of substance in place. Wendy-pack your bags please!

The new CEO stood no chance and clearly the strategy line is more likely than not-at best- incorrect.

Capitec and FNB must be laughing at this mess.

@sam – Agree
Good set of questions MW team.
Add a Q – whats the golden handshake worth?
A question for the ex-CE – come clean and say what other job offers are lined up

It may be better to spend less time worrying about who’s right, and more time deciding what’s right.

Judging by how Absa is losing its customer base over the years, they should sack the whole upper level and start afresh. May the best person get the job.

Same with Old Mutual

Trevor Manuel and the Rothchilds are in Control of Old Mutual.

That bastion of non-racialism – the renowned Black Management Forum is reported to be demanding an explanation from the Absa board, whilst playing the racism card in a typical display of their traditional intimidation culture. All previously well connected ANC cadres appear at increasing risk of becoming like emperors that have lost their clothes.
Bring it on.

This is good. If you’re not going to be allowed to be CEO then move.

We should have taken note of Deputy CEO not being appointed as a hint.

The board must just go and fetch Maria since they like her and her strategies so much.

Perhaps he didn’t have the same connections in the ANC as what Maria had.

”The golden rule in banking seems to be that there are no golden rules”, and if you really want to know the value of money, go borrow some!

I’m still waiting for my first ”you qualify for” – start borrowing some Bitcoins from us correspondence from the big 5 – funny how long after the ”sordid topic of coin”!

As long as Absa says – ”Bank you very much” – I will bank with them – I have never banked with any other Bank in my life, as nothing else appealed to me – but, don’t borrow too much money and don’t use your credit card up to its limits!

I got tagged by our man Jan S Marais – when he famously said – ”Banking will never be the same again” – and it wasn’t! Absa also reminds me of the Nespresso ad – ”what else”?

Methinks Absa was already a sinking ship by the time Ramos jumped – and jumped she did!

I don’t follow absa details – is there an influential significant shareholder?

In the end Remgro unbundled its FNB RMB shares probably as a combination of (1) could not wield influence (2) did not like the hired help’s attitude.

Was good move – Remgro shareholders could decide to keep, add or dump those shares (I recently dumped due to reason 2 not 1)

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
There will always be a strategic planning deficit in light of a culture that bears such great inertia towards change. Mike Brown of Nedbank knows all too well how important culture is. The configuration of Nedbank’s organisational culture is what resuscitated Nedbank from the ruins. Absa needs an overhaul of its corporate level constituency base.

“The bamboo that bend is stronger than the oak that resists.” _Japanese Proverb

It sounds like Lucas Bull is one of the big problems here.For a long time i felt like she belonged in another era of banking,and is therefore well past her sell by date.Maria( with her hefty remuneration over a lengthy period of time) jumped ship and Bull should be taken to task over no succession planning.But again ,like her big mate Maria,were there to collect their paycheque.
Mnimele i suspect was a considerably better candidate than Maria but yet they have seen fit not to follow his wishes in respect of a much needed change in strategy.How does WLB hold chairperson of 2 corporates simultaneously?and all the while ABSA is oozing blood

I think I see this a lot in SA and made the comment to my partner today. The “hired help” executives do a great deal better financially out of the entities they are meant to be running than the investors. Good reason to go where there are better controls and ethics, even marginally.

The board must explain? Really? Plus I see the Black Management Forumrace(are these groupings not racist?) also want ABSA to explain? I wonder what the non-Black Management Forum has to say? Look, one possibility is that Mninele was not up to the task and if this is the case the shareholders, clients, and staff are better off if he leaves sooner rather than later.

This makes me wonder what the “underlings” are doing whilst these guys are going at it and it seems this has been going on for some time now. All this cannot be good for the shareholder and for will go on for some time in the future so it will be better to stay way for now.

Even with the ABSA Ceo resigning and the Money Market fund being discontinued ABSA shares perform better than Standard bank.

What is going on with Standard Bank?

What is wrong on with Standard Bank?

What is wrong with Standard Bank?

Is it heading for R100 a share?

Well absa were chommie with the previous regime and the only thing that changed is the party . this was confirmed when they appointed ramos who knows zero about banking but was a fasttrack to cadre business . most of the phishing i receive from “banks “ is absa . definitely a vrot culture there

I presume that “Africanacity” did not work for Mr Daniel Mminele(?)

Is that also the “cost” by SA corporations employing the politically connected elite ?(for deals, and to be seen in the correct light)

The cost of BEE? (…just have the right face/image at senior level, no matter the cost..)

In that case, the company auditors can write related operating losses off under “losses from venture projects in a pioneer country” 😉 Merely ordinary cost of business operations in SA, factored in…

Daniel was not a politically connected elite nor an expedient face. The problem sits with entrenched interests in the bank who refuse to have anyone impact the control that they currently have…look at the last few years…David Hodnett, Craig Bond, Stephen van Coller all pushed aside through a combination of Maria not wanting to cede any control and being enabled by the Rottweiler on a leash that is Arrie Rautenbach. Arrie, old boy, the architect of that strategy that is now being so rigorously defended, the same one who has ensured that his hand picked acolytes are the majority on the Exco. Don’t be fooled by Jason Quinn, his ex Retail Bank CFO being the interim CEO or Punki Modise, his ex Chief of Staff being the interim CFO. Arrie finally where he wants to be, the boards only choice to lead the organisation with his legion of loyal incompetents…

The group psyche at ABSA might be showing signs of fragmentation and polarity. We cannot underplay the ghost role of Maria which is still strongly present but most importantly, we cannot overlook the fact that culture(culture fit) has always been a factor at Mminele’s level. Whether he could not fit in the culture of ABSA or penetrate its group psyche, the fact remains that there are a lot of secondary processes bubbling beneath the surface at board level that will need a proper depth process…otherwise all primary processes and any progress made will be hampered or eroded by the “undiscussibles” festering in the secondary process of values and culture.

There’s no ghost role of Maria Ramos, she was a non-entity even when she was there. That’s not her strategy that is causing so much angst. The villain in the wings is still there, never left…rumor has it he hasn’t been in his office much these last weeks, more time spent in the Chairman’s office on 7th floor undermining the CEO who dares try and interfere with how he runs his Retail and Business Bank empire.

ABSA CEO resigns and share is up today 1.52%

Standard Bank directors get a very handsome amount of shares and share investors lose on the share price R118. The share is flat.

Maybe if the directors of Standard Bank resign the the investors will be better off too.

End of comments.

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