Eskom’s search for a new CEO could be long and hard

State power company Eskom, which last week confirmed the resignation of its CEO André de Ruyter, could be in for a long search to find his replacement, experts say.

De Ruyter joined Eskom in December 2019 and will remain its CEO until the end of March next year. Until then, its board will be on the hunt for the next CEO, in a recruitment process that looks set to face several challenges, including the timing of De Ruyter’s resignation and Eskom’s reputation.

Dr John Wentzel, chief executive of listed recruitment giant Adcorp, says one of the challenges presented by the timing of De Ruyter’s resignation is that it coincides with the holiday season, when many headhunting firms are closed.

“The second thing Eskom is struggling with, unfortunately, is the reputation it has [developed] over the past decade,” Wentzel says.

Eskom has had 10 CEOs in the past 10 years, including current board chairman Mpho Makwana, Phakamani Hadebe, Sean Maritz and Jabu Mabuza.

Its high turnover of executives has darkened the entity and is disappointing for potential CEOs.

Eskom is also struggling to attract critical skills in engineering and power generation.

Public services must “put the house in order”

Eskom is uncertain about its future, Wentzel says, “so it may take longer to identify candidates, and that will only delay the process.”

“I think they’re going to have a challenge, because of what’s happened, in terms of finding candidates who are putting their hand up, unless of course the state has some candidates in mind.”

He adds that Eskom’s struggles to attract and retain qualified candidates is not a hopeless situation; he just needs to “put the house in order”.

“Eskom was always a great company to work for and it can be a great company to work for again,” says Wentzel.

“But what [it] What really needs to be done now is to bring stability to their leadership … you need to bring certainty to decision-making.”

Appointments to executive positions in state-owned entities can typically take up to three months, excluding any notice period the elected candidate may have to serve.

READ ALSO: André de Ruyter investigated for ‘irregularity’ at Eskom

The board appoints a procurement company, a mandate is issued and then the preferred candidate is presented for approval by the relevant minister.

under scrutiny

As well as looking for a candidate who has a deep knowledge of the energy sector and Eskom itself, the entity has the added challenge of getting someone comfortable enough to operate in a highly politicized environment.

De Ruyter has faced many detractors in his three years at the helm of Eskom, including the Black Business Council, the National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) and the general public.

A week before handing in his resignation, Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe launched an attack on Eskom – effectively its chief executive – saying the power company was trying to topple the government without ending the discharge.

Mantashe said Eskom was “actively agitating for the overthrow of the state” with the ongoing implementation of load shedding.

ALSO READ: ‘Eskom requires a fixer’: Mantashe denies accusing De Ruyter of trying to topple the government

De Ruyter later cited a lack of support as the main reason for his decision to part ways with Eskom.

Watch: Highlights from De Ruyter’s time in office

poisoned chalice

EE Business Intelligence managing director Chris Yelland says the right candidates at Moneyweb may see the Eskom CEO position as a poisoned chalice, given the expectations surrounding the role, such as stabilizing its finances and operations, which have been critical for many years.

“We can’t expect a miracle savior to solve all our problems. We shouldn’t have undue expectations of a savior coming from the new CEO,” says Yelland.

He believes it could take six months or more to find a replacement, saying people with the right kind of credibility would have a long list of conditions.

“They will want cast-iron guarantees that they can implement what they need, regardless of political populism and the constraints that have been seen in the past.”

READ ALSO: De Ruyter must do SA a favor and go to the CCMA

De Ruyter will leave Eskom on March 31 next year.

Eskom’s chief operating officer, Jan Oberholzer, will retire in April.

And acting generation group executive Rhulani Mathebula resigned last month.

These three exits leave Eskom with an unaffordable leadership vacuum.

This article originally appeared on Moneyweb and has been republished with permission. Read the original article here.

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