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Naspers upends century of tradition by naming black woman CEO

Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa appointed to new role of Naspers CEO, South Africa.

A little more than 100 years ago, Naspers was created by white South Africans to produce a Dutch-language newspaper. Now the continent’s biggest company, Naspers just named its first woman, and first black person, as chief executive officer.

Phuthi Mahanyele-Dabengwa’s appointment to head the South African unit doesn’t just buck the trend of white, male directors at Naspers. Only one black woman now runs a Top 40-listed company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and only seven men of colour do. The new Naspers unit won’t be traded, at least right away, and includes e-commerce, food delivery, newspapers and online media.

“Phuthi is qualified, and brings in some good experience, plus she brings some gender and racial equality into the mix,” said Ron Klipin, a senior analyst at Cratos Capital. “You need a person who can also take your South African portfolio forward and grow it, change the landscape even further.”

Mahanyele-Dabengwa, 48, has connections at the top: She’s been CEO of Shanduka, a black-owned investment holding company started by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. She’s also on the board of the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation. In addition, she’s held board positions at companies including mobile operator Vodacom Group, miner Gold Fields and airline company Comair.

“She is high-level and well connected,” said Paul Theron, founder and CEO of Johannesburg-based money manager Vestact. Her education includes an economics degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey and an MBA from De Montfort University in the UK.

Naspers is now a $108-billion company that invests mostly in technology around the world. Mahanyele-Dabengwa will need to be able to navigate political pressure as Naspers readies for a listing of its international internet assets in Amsterdam later this year, Theron said. That listing was delayed until September last month after an error sending details to shareholders meant a vote on the deal couldn’t go ahead.

Challenges ahead

Another challenge is the uncertainty around which South African assets will be incorporated under the remaining home-market listing. While Mahanyele-Dabengwa will lead the group’s day-to-day business and be responsible for tech and startup-focused projects Naspers Foundry and Naspers Labs, her role after the Amsterdam listing is less clear. The company hasn’t said whether she’ll also be involved with the Dutch entity, to be called Prosus NV.

Read: Naspers names its new global internet group Prosus

Mahanyele-Dabengwa has most recently been executive chairperson of Sigma Capital, a privately held investment group that focuses on black-empowerment deals, private equity and joint ventures across sectors including finance, real estate, technology and energy. She declined to be interviewed.

“She is very smart and she will adapt to the environment that she is being put into,” said Owen Nkomo, CEO of Inkunzi Wealth, who has worked with her recently on a number of projects. “She has worked closely with the current president, so in terms of access maybe to the right networks if that business does require access, I believe she will bring that into the company.”

Naspers’s flagship asset is its $134 billion investment in China’s Tencent, whose growth helped transform the South African company into a multi-billion rand behemoth that has the power to influence the JSE’s movement. The Prosus listing is intended in part to reduce the company’s dominance of Johannesburg’s stock exchange.

Nonetheless, South Africa remains a critical market for Naspers, which was founded in Stellenbosch, near Cape Town, in 1915. “It is our home country and our primary listing is on the JSE. It’s important to us to have an executive at the highest level dedicated to leading our interests in the country,” Naspers said.

Mahanyele-Dabengwa joins Mpumi Madisa, CEO-designate of Bidvest Group, as one of the tiny number of women leaders in South Africa’s private sector. It’s not the only country where inequality still thrives in the boardroom: Women led about 18.8% of US companies in 2014, up marginally from 17.6% in 2000, and the companies they ran tended to be newer and smaller, according to a recent analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis.

“It’s terrible because there are a lot of skilled women who can lead listed companies,” Nkomo said. “The industry needs to change, the sector needs to change, so I applaud the guys that hired Mahanyele-Dabengwa to run Naspers in South Africa.”

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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Well done Naspers. Its just sad that after 25 years “democracy” the country continues to “see colour”, which is not aliened to our Constitution.

Women (whatever colour) have been undermined for ever, let alone in the corporate world. When will the other corporates join Naspers?

Virtue signalling il supremo.

Naspers has never hesitated to stoop, to the bottom of the bar room spittoon, to fornicate freely and without the burden of principles – to the will of the politics of the day.

You have flu?

oh the every growing idiotic idealistic virtue signaling

and to the detriment of the purpose or functionality of the requirements of the job

Like when the car salesman tells you but it has a sunroof.. be sure the car is a is a dud..

Couldn’t care less what color or gender the CEO of a company is, just do a good job. This woman likely already has a lot of pressure on here just because of articles like this, they would have named her CEO because of her abilities and experience (I hope).

She seems a smart lady so will probably not last as this is an irrelevant job as is most of Naspers-the brains and money is just about all in Tencent. Tencent is innovative and run by seriously clever people-Naspers -more luck than skill-value added to Tencent by Naspers is very limited.

Typical, self hate South African talk…
Naspers helped Tencent to come to being. The once owned owned more than 30% of that company. The biggest shareholder in that company by fair. South African nogaa. Just be positive for once.

Naspers still owns 30 % odd…and has played no part in the success of Tencent.Koos sits on the board and that’s about it…Bob gets a fat bonus for its success that he plays no part in.

By the way I am a shareholder

Hmmm……remember the name Cynthia Carrol….she and the cANCer caused my division to be closed down and retrenched. Hope this time around the glaring klaxons in the media will be followed by a melodious tune of success.

Anglo Technical perhaps?

If so they are paying handsomely for that little exercise. They now use the likes of Fluor etc. and are taken to the cleaners.

Some stuff they are trying to do themselves and costs have at least doubled. I think they just stick it all onto the balance sheet.

I dumped them in 2005 at R 518-00 per share. Still not there yet.

You DUMPED THEM; your loss.

One company whose media business with publications (print and online) doesn’t seem to be struggling.

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