Sanlam’s Dawie to the rescue at Alexander Forbes
As a significant shareholder we could not tolerate further value destruction, says African Rainbow Capital’s co-CEO
Andrew Darfoor’s dismissal as CEO of Alexander Forbes was brutal by the clubby standards of SA corporates. Equally unusual is the speed with which his successor has been appointed.
Dawie de Villiers, the head of Sanlam Employee Benefits, takes over on November 1.
He won’t be forced to take gardening leave, as the health of Forbes is critical for Sanlam, whose strategic BEE partner, African Rainbow Capital (ARC), also happens to own 18% of Forbes. De Villiers also happened to work for Johan van Zyl, who left Sanlam to start ARC a few years ago.
Van Zyl denies that De Villiers has been parachuted in. "We put our views to the board, but how they interpret them is their call. But you can see that as a significant shareholder we could not tolerate further value destruction."
It is sometimes argued that chief executives do not need to specialise and should be able to move between sectors. Alexander Forbes tried this for the second time two years ago when it appointed Darfoor as its new head. He had run Old Mutual’s business in Bermuda as well as Sun Life’s international wealth management operation, but employee-benefits experience was sorely lacking. As a Ghanaian who had spent most of his life in the UK, even pleading guilty to supporting Chelsea, he did not have contacts in the local corporate world, or even many in Ghana.
Darfoor’s predecessor, Edward Kieswetter, also had no employee-benefits experience, but at least he had contacts in the state sector as he was a top manager at the SA Revenue Service. Results were mediocre nonetheless.
In an interview with the FM, Darfoor says he was mandated to carry out the Alexander Forbes Ambition 2022 five-year plan. "We reported tangible progress against the strategy. We achieved expense efficiency targets two years ahead of target and improved revenue and dividends. There was top-line growth in employee benefits, health, insurance and investments."
Darfoor has approached the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration about his dismissal.