The current crisis at Eskom has a number of governance lessons for South Africa, one of which is the vital importance of proper succession planning for key senior positions, says Parmi Natesan, CEO of the Institute of Directors in South Africa (IoDSA).
“The imminent departure of both the CEO and COO of Eskom in the next few months, with no obvious successors being communicated, raises concerns,” she says. “Now is really not the time for the two top positions—and many other senior management ones—to be vacant.
In fact, Ms Natesan continues, the Eskom Statement on 14 December 2022 makes it clear that Mr De Ruyter’s agreement to stay on beyond the required 30-day notice period is welcome because there seems to be no planned successor for his position. The statement quotes the board chair as follows: “Mr De Ruyter has agreed to stay for an additional period beyond the stipulated 30-days’ notice to ensure continuity while we urgently embark on a search for his successor”.
It remains to be seen whether there are plans in place for a succession to the COO, Jan Oberholzer, who is due to retire in April—a month after Mr De Ruyter leaves—and it is also unclear as to whether he will remain available to hand-over to a successor when one is appointed.
King IV specifically states that the board should satisfy itself that there is succession planning for the CEO and other executive positions in place to provide continuity of executive leadership. Succession planning should be reviewed periodically and should provide for both succession in emergency situations and succession over the longer term. This should include the identification, mentorship and development of future candidates.
The IoDSA has repeatedly said that the way the CEOs of key state-owned enterprises have been appointed were not in line with good governance as outlined in King IV. Too often, the powerful single shareholder bypasses the board in making the appointment. This leads to problems because the CEO is seen as a representative of the shareholder, and thus sometimes does not feel accountable to the board. Skewed reporting lines set the board and executive management up for conflict, with bad results for the organisation.
“Finding someone capable to fill the CEO position at Eskom is going to be a big task. The responsible minister and the board must do their best by following the guidelines in King IV when making the appointment to ensure good governance,” she concludes. “Good governance is the foundation of good organisational performance—and the converse is also true.”
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