The resignation of CEO Dr Shrey Viranna from SA’s second-biggest private hospital group by market value, Life Healthcare comes as a surprise as he was in the role for only two years.

The company said on Friday that Viranna is “stepping down after almost two years at the helm with immediate effect” and is emigrating to Australia with his family.

CFO Pieter van der Westhuizen has been appointed acting CEO, but will also retain his current position.

Viranna, who joined the group in November 2017, and officially became CEO in February 2018, managed to improve profitability at Life Healthcare’s businesses. He was tasked with expanding the wellness group abroad so that its revenue was equally split between SA and its international portfolio by 2022.

The group runs acute care hospitals in SA and Botswana. It also provides specialised healthcare facilities that offer both inpatient and outpatient services, such as acute rehabilitation, mental healthcare, renal dialysis and oncology.

Its offshore investments include UK-based Alliance Medical, which primarily offers diagnostic and molecular imaging services across Europe and the UK; and Poland-based ScanMed, which offers private healthcare and medical services across 23 cities.

Life’s offshore operations account for about a quarter of its revenue. In its latest financial results for the year to September, group revenue rose 9.3% to R25.7bn with Southern African revenue of R18.5bn and international revenue of R6.9bn.

Chair Mustaq Brey said Viranna  helped position Life’s investments and had put in place a strong management team in a short period of time. “Shrey ... during his tenure, has displayed impeccable leadership, together with strong industry insight and stakeholder interaction. Shrey has put in place an experienced and capable executive management team, which, together with the business management teams, remains committed to the strategy of delivering a robust, sustainable long- term business.” 

Viranna said his exit was driven by personal reasons.

“I have been privileged to lead the company for the past two years. Together with the encouragement of the board and the unwavering support of the executive management team, we have taken critical steps to transform the business, making decisions to ensure the group’s sustainability, and long-term success.”

He said his “departure is a difficult but very personal decision, and I leave the company with great sadness. I thank the staff and our doctors for their hard work and dedication and wish Life Healthcare every success.”

Life restructured its offshore businesses under Viranna's management. In June, the group concluded the sale of its stake in Indian hospital group Max Healthcare Institute for R3.7bn, the disposal of which resulted in an after-tax loss of R406m, because of the mark-to-market loss on the foreign exchange contracts, taken out to protect the proceeds.

The group is considering an exit from its Polish business ScanMed so it can focus on Alliance Medical abroad. ScanMed has been hit hard by government-imposed tariff cuts. Life would retain a footprint in Poland through Alliance Medical.

In 2019, Life Healthcare’s share price fell 6.63%, compared with an 8.38% decline in the JSE’s healthcare index.

With Karl Gernetzky