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He's pushing shareholder activism to new levels

By unknown | Jul 03, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Isaac Moledi

Isaac Moledi

Brian Molefe, chief executive of the powerful Public Investment Corporation (PIC), which manages more than R700billion in state pensions, is a man people love to hate.

Love or hate him, Molefe, a political activist since 1985, is a packet of dynamite.

Born in GaRankuwa, Pretoria, Molefe worked for First National Bank in 1994 and 1995 as a trainee foreign exchange dealer.

He also worked for the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the Limpopo premier's office, where he was in charge of strategic planning.

He joined what was then called the finance department in 1997 as a director of intergovernmental relations and later became chief director of asset management.

Besides the financial and economic management experience that Molefe has, he also boasts impeccable educational qualifications. These include a Bachelor of Commerce and Master of Business Leadership from Unisa's Business School.

He also holds a postgraduate diploma in economics from the University of London.

He also did the Advanced Management Programme at Harvard Business School last year.

Until June 2003, Molefe was the deputy director-general responsible for asset and liability management at the national treasury.

His boardroom battles with white executives, especially at industrial giant Barloworld, have earned him a number of enemies.

Former DA leader Tony Leon once described him as "bullying".

Leon even accused Molefe of using the PIC's huge asset base and cash flows to change the composition of the boards of directors of companies.

But Molefe dismisses all these allegations, accusing his detractors of not having experienced apartheid first-hand.

His tenacity has helped him achieve numerous boardroom successes.

His latest achievement - the second in six months at Barloworld - is last week's resignation of a Barloworld director, Trevor Munday.

In January, former Barloworld chairman Warren Clewlow was forced to withdraw from being re-elected after Molefe slammed him for giving an undertaking that he would stand down the previous year.

Molefe, whose PIC owns 17percent of Barloworld, also raised concerns that the company has no black executive directors.

Molefe has never hid his displeasure over Barloworld's appointment of Munday as deputy to new chairman Dumisani Ntsebeza.

After Ntsebeza's appointment was announced, Barloworld said it was creating a deputy's position to be filled by Munday.

Molefe immediately criticised Munday's appointment as "racist and patronising", because, as he explained, "it would appear that the company believes that the first black person to become chairman in its 105-year history needs a white deputy to look over his shoulder".

Backed by more than R700billion worth of assets managed by the PIC on behalf of state pension funds, the largest of which is the government's Employees Pension Fund, Molefe has been consistent in affirming that the PIC would pressurise Barloworld for Mundy's resignation.

He told Sowetan in an interview few days before Munday's resignation that Munday's appointment was racist and unacceptable.

At the time he vowed he would not rest until the issue had been resolved.

When Barloworld announced Munday as Ntsebeza's deputy, the company said the position had been created because of the amount of work required to implement the number of planned strategic actions.

The company also said Ntsebeza needed a deputy because of his lack of corporate experience. This, Molefe is quick to add, is despite the fact that Ntsebeza has been a Barloworld non-executive director since 1999.

This, Molefe said, is the position the PIC refused to accept.

This, he says, is racist and further evidence of the business sector's resistance to change.

He believes that Barloworld's behaviour lends itself all too readily to that interpretation, that those who appointed Ntsebeza didn't have enough confidence in him to do the job properly.

"In truth, if I was Ntsebeza, I would find the action not only downright offensive but also bordering on bad faith."

In Ntsebeza's case, a committee was set up to search for the chairman of Barloworld, Molefe says. This was not the case when Munday was appointed, Molefe adds.

"Why undergo a rigorous process for black Ntsebeza and non at all for white Munday," says Molefe, describing the appointment as shocking corporate governance.

To appoint someone to such a position without consulting the person he or she will be working with is wrong.

"It's vital that the two appointees should have a good relationship," said Molefe.

He vowed to continue the boardroom battles not only with Barloworld, but with all the companies that the PIC has a stake in.

Initially, one of Molefe's options to resolve the Barloworld fiasco was to call a special shareholders meeting where a motion of no confidence in certain members of the board would be passed.

Mike Levett, who chaired the committee that interviewed Ntsebeza, was the PIC's next target.

"Mike's [Levett] status as an independent director on the company's board is questionable," said Molefe.

He stressed that Levett's status would be one of the corporate governance-related issues to be discussed at Barloworld's next yearly general meeting.

But it is as head of the PIC, though, that Molefe is making waves - using his powerful position to push shareholder activism to new levels.

The fact that some white executives call him all sorts of names, does not concern him "because I have a fiduciary responsibility to do".

As an empowerment mover-and-shaker whose qualifications and ambitions are in no doubt, he has shaken the foundations of some extremely powerful companies, the majority of them listed on the JSE Securities Exchange.

According to him, the PIC now controls about 10percent of the JSE's market capitalisation and at least 20percent of the South African bond market.

This means that of the 40 top shares on the JSE, the PIC controls about 10percent of equity of each share on average.

This translates into more than R300billion worth of investments under his control - empowering him to aggressively pursue black economic empowerment and sound corporate governance objectives in these companies.

Besides the Barloworld fiasco, two deals attest to his growing assertiveness: his decision to buy a 15percent stake in telecommunications giant, Telkom, on behalf of a number of BEE groupings; and his push to have a black woman appointed to the board of energy group, Sasol.

Though he faced criticism on both issues, Molefe says he is unperturbed in his drive "to effect change in companies that are slow to transform".

Some of the PIC's JSE holdings are managed by the country's large fund managers.

Molefe has been using the power that comes with awarding future portfolio allocations to ensure that fund managers go along with him.

"We need people on company boards who are agents of change. They should spearhead sound corporate governance practices within these companies," Molefe said.

To him, the less than satisfactory track record by these companies can and should no longer be allowed to continue or be defended.


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