SIKONATHI MANTSHANTSHA: The most useless CEO ever?
Free to read from Financial Mail's archives. Many an observer, including yours truly, took his low profile to project the image of 'Mr Clean'
First published in October 2017.
Eskom ‘rotates’ Johnny Dladla out of acting CE post. In a bid for stability, chairman Zethembe Khoza says in an internal memo, Dladla returns to his previous role and IT chief Sean Maritz takes the hot seat
On June 22 Johnny Dladla was thrust into the national spotlight when he was appointed the seventh CEO of Eskom since March 2014. His temporary appointment carried much hope, as he was not well known outside the utility despite 22 years of service.
Certainly Dladla had no media profile. This could be considered a good thing — it suggested he had managed to avoid publicity. Many an observer, including yours truly, took Dladla’s low profile to project the image of "Mr Clean". Optimistic as that prognosis was, it turned out to be an unnecessarily hurried and inaccurate conclusion, much to my regret. "Mr Useless" seems a more appropriate title, considering Dladla’s almost four-month tenure at Eskom’s helm.
Any amateur strategist will tell you there is always low-hanging fruit for a new leader to harvest to generate goodwill. Given the mess at Eskom, there was a lot of low-hanging fruit for the taking. With the allegations — and mountains of evidence — of corruption, starting from the lowest management levels and rising to the very top, Dladla could have come in and begun a thorough spring clean.
The numerous investigations into fraud and corruption by Eskom had unearthed evidence that could be used not only to get rid of some of the rotten apples there, but also to secure criminal convictions. There were also the high-profile cases of malfeasance, including the billions dished out to management consultancies McKinsey and Trillian by managers who fall within Dladla’s area of authority.
There is always low-hanging fruit for a new leader to harvest to generate goodwill. Given the mess at Eskom, there was a lot for the taking
Dladla came in a month after generation division chief Matshela Koko was placed on special leave and then suspended for irregularly dishing out hundreds of millions to Impulse International, a company in which his step-daughter owned a significant minority shareholding. No shortage of prosecutable evidence.
What did Dladla do? He came in and buried his head, hoping the problems would go away without the leader having to lift a finger.
In fact, not only did Dladla look the other way — he was also the biggest obstacle to those colleagues who felt any sense of duty to clean up the utility.
Windows of opportunity
When Dladla fell sick and took a week off in August, he was temporarily replaced by Ayanda Noah, the executive responsible for customer services. She swiftly put two senior managers on suspension. The third official, Prish Govender, avoided his suspension letter by calling in sick, sources say. Govender, Charles Kalima and Edwin Mabelane were the senior managers who gave effect to the grand McKinsey/Trillian grab.
As soon as board chairman Zethembe Khoza read about the suspensions in the media, he seems to have instructed Dladla to rescind them, though both he and Dladla deny this. Pressure was then piled on Noah and HR director Elsie Pule to lift the suspensions.
An August bereavement in Dladla’s family provided another window of opportunity for the utility to do the right thing. Measures to suspend the three were put in place while he was off work. That plan was stillborn.
Instead of doing his job, Dladla has blown hot and cold excuses about why he won’t proceed with Koko’s disciplinary action, which has cost more than R1m before the first hearing takes place. He’s made the same tired excuses for not acting against the three managers.
Those who work with him say Dladla has been at the beck and call of chairman Khoza and their political boss, public enterprises minister Lynne Brown. Corruption has flourished at Eskom under their watch.
Perhaps being a spineless yes-man is how Dladla has survived 22 years at the utility. Either way, it has turned him into the most useless CEO I have observed there in 13 years.