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Naspers chair Koos Bekker. Picture: HALDEN KROG/BLOOMBERG
Naspers chair Koos Bekker. Picture: HALDEN KROG/BLOOMBERG

Naspers chair Koos Bekker has moved to allay fears that the sudden resignation of the group’s mainstay CEO, Bob van Dijk, points to a falling out between him and the board, saying the appointment of an interim CEO is meant to avoid him becoming a lame duck boss once a decision to part ways was arrived at.

On Monday, Naspers and its international unit, Prosus, announced the exit of Van Dijk, who leads the two companies, with immediate effect. Ervin Tu, the chief investment officer, takes over on an interim basis.

News of Van Dijk’s resignation sent the group’s shares 2% lower.

During an investor call on Monday, Bekker said the average tenure for a CEO of Van Dijk’s stature is about seven years. The Dutchman was nearing a decade atop the Cape Town group.

Also a former group CEO, Bekker said the move is “a mutual and amicable decision” and the board and Van Dijk agreed that it is time for a fresh perspective.

Van Dijk “has been in charge for a full decade. In discussions between him and the board, we felt now is the good time for a handover. When you decide on a transition, it’s best to execute that immediately,” Bekker said.

“The moment you announce that there will be a transition and there will be a search [for a new CEO] that will take a few months, the incumbent simply loses all power. That is how companies work.”

Van Dijk has been at the helm of the technology investment group for almost 10 years, having been appointed as CEO of Naspers in April 2014 and becoming CEO of Prosus when it was listed on Amsterdam’s Euronext in 2019.

He will stay on as an adviser to the group for 12 months.

Van Dijk leaves a mixed legacy, according to market players who say concrete plans on unlocking value from the group’s multibillion-dollar structure only came later on in his tenure.

Credit is due for executing a plan that will see the group’s non-Tencent businesses becoming profitable in the first half of the 2025 financial year, but missteps have been made and much cash burnt.

“While the success of his tenure will likely be the subject of much debate, I believe consensus will be readily forthcoming on the point that a more definitive strategy around unlocking value in the group was crystallised only later in his tenure,” said Alec Abraham, senior equity analyst at Sasfin.

Peter Takaendesa, head of equities at Mergence Investment Managers, echoed that sentiment. “I think the truth is somewhere in between as Bob was executing on the strategy he had agreed on with the board focused on growing the contribution of the non-Tencent portfolio to Prosus.

“Unfortunately it has taken a very long [time], burning cash and the global interest rate cycle has turned against the kind of expansion they have been on over the past years. They now need to focus more on unlocking value from existing operations instead of growth at all costs.”

Van Dijk will be remembered for a number of major developments, including the shaving down of the group’s structure to just internet businesses. This included the unbundling and listing of MultiChoice in 2019.

He attempted two failed large transactions, the first of which involved UK food delivery business JustEat for $8bn, where Prosus was outbid by rival’s all-share offer. It also put in a $9bn cash offer for eBay’s classifieds business a few months ago, but the US company chose to merge with Norway’s Adevinta instead.

In 2022, the group called off a $4.7bn deal to acquire Indian digital payments provider BillDesk, which would have cemented its place as one of the world’s largest fintech players through its PayU unit.

He also led the establishment of Prosus as part of a continuing effort to address its size on the JSE and shrink the gap between its market cap and underlying businesses.

The group’s call with investors appears to have put many uncertainties about the leadership change to rest.

“The chair put everything in context very well during the investor call and the refined strategic focus of the group appears to make sense in the context of global developments,” Takaendesa said.

As the search begins for a permanent replacement, Tu is seen by some as a natural successor, given his role in helping to craft the group’s current strategy.

During the investor call, Bekker stressed that the former Goldman Sachs and SoftBank executive holds all the powers and authority of a CEO during this interim period and may propose any corporate actions and strategies to the board.

“Given his experience in prior roles at SoftBank and the contribution he is reported to have made since joining
Prosus in 2021, Ervin is likely to be a strong contender in the search for a permanent CEO,” Abraham said.

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