Osman Arbee. Picture: ROBERT BOTHA
Osman Arbee. Picture: ROBERT BOTHA

Imperial Holdings has acted quickly in appointing former group chief financial officer Osman Arbee as CEO after the exit of Mark Lamberti.

The sprawling international transport, logistics and automotive group has annual turnover of about R120bn, making it a big hitter on the JSE.

Lamberti, on taking up executive leadership of the group in March 2014, quickly stamped his authority on the increasingly multinational group. He stripped out noncore businesses and set in motion a plan that split it into two main operating divisions — Imperial Logistics and Motus, the automotive cluster — with separate boards and CEOs.

Arbee is also CEO of Motus, a role in which he will continue. Motus is a distributor and retailer of vehicles and related products and services in southern Africa and overseas, including the UK and Australia.

Marius Swanepoel stays at the helm of Imperial Logistics, which is involved in transportation, warehousing, distribution and international freight management — much of this in Africa and Europe. It operates across consumer goods, manufacturing, mining, chemicals, energy, healthcare, automotive, machinery and equipment, and agriculture.

For now, Lamberti is lying low after becoming embroiled in a highly publicised controversy with a former woman staff member, Adila Chowan. A court found Lamberti had impaired Chowan’s dignity after he had referred to her as "an employment equity candidate".

Lamberti recently urged business leaders in SA to redress the past "with sensitivity and humility", while apologising to Imperial staff for the difficulties they had gone through in this regard.

Imperial’s board says Lamberti has served the company with distinction in ably leading a multifaceted portfolio, organisational and management restructuring.

A key objective of this was to accelerate executive development and transformation to align Imperial’s employee and leadership profile with the demographics of SA.

"Mark Lamberti cannot take media interviews as the [court] case is not settled yet. Imperial has nothing further to add to the [public] announcement," Esha Mansingh, the group’s investor relations manager says.

Many analysts state they expect it to be "business as usual" for Imperial, which is in the midst of a possible unbundling of the Motus division from the group. This will leave Imperial Logistics as a JSE-listed transport, warehousing and distribution management company.

A decision to list Motus will be taken by June 2018, the company says.

Both the logistics business and Motus have been operating separately for some time, so the analysts doubt Lamberti’s exit will have much of an effect from an operational perspective. They agree that restructuring at Imperial undertaken under Lamberti has largely been completed — other than for the actual spin-off of Motus.

Indeed, Imperial had announced last week the proposed unbundling was at an advanced stage.

"Mark Lamberti’s work was essentially done already apart from the final group decision around unbundling," Mark Hodgson, an analyst at Avior Capital Markets, says.

Imperial’s board "and remaining key executive management" will now drive this process, he says.

"Mark Lamberti’s resignation makes this unbundling process all that more likely."

Damon Buss, an analyst at Electus Fund Managers, concurs: "The majority of the initiatives Mark Lamberti set out to achieve when he became CEO … have been completed, which has unlocked a significant amount of value for [Imperial] shareholders.

"The key outstanding initiative being the spin-off of Motus, which we assume is largely complete, given the board has committed to making its final decision in June 2018."

Buss says Imperial is being run as two separate businesses, both operationally and strategically. Each unit has its own executive committee and board. Arbee is the most likely person to drive the unbundling of Motus, given that he is the CEO of the division, he says.

Cratos Capital portfolio manager Ron Klipin says Lamberti has done the right thing for shareholders by leaving the group.

"He is really a strategic thinker and he is in a class of his own. Osman [Arbee] is a worthy successor having been in the group for a long time, and I believe he will be able to bed the strategy down," Klipin says.

Momentum Securities says Imperial might see further upside over the short-term with a potential share price target of R260 and R287, thereafter.

It traded at about R245 on Friday, having traded around R165 a share in April 2017.

allixm@bdfm.co.za