EULOGISING outgoing CEO Cynthia Carroll's tenure at Anglo American [JSE:AGL]
is de rigueur; this article argues that the debate centres on the wrong issue.
Consensus surrounding her departure revolves around the bottom line impact that wasn't, and missing the ride on the resource bandwagon which Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton managed to catch, with Anglo shares shedding 25% over the past five years versus Rio and BHP growing 40% and 115% respectively.
The court of public opinion seems to assert that she had a combination of bad luck and bad timing.
Interestingly, the same court is adamant that a South African CEO is the solution because as folk wisdom maintains, the country of issue on a passport is a strong predictor of managerial competency in multinational mining houses.
This is the noise surrounding the topic; exploring the latent signal exposes a far more intriguing storyline.
The journey begins by picking on PIC, followed by Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu.
Public Investment Corporation (PIC), the behemoth pension fund which owns 7% of Anglo, made some telling comments in the aftermath of Carroll's resignation.
Wading through the fedspeak, the first issue exposed is PIC's call for "South African corporates contributing more in the developmental space".
This seems like an innocuous statement befitting a reclusive pension fund. Its relevance becomes clear only when combined with the next soundbite, which elucidates what it is referring to by "contributing more".
On the matter, PIC opines: "How much more is a function of what their balance sheet is able to manage".
In case this nuance didn't cause a tremor, step back and digest the unintentional communiqué; after digestion it translates as follows:
Carroll's failure was that she didn't deliver enough on social issues, and how much is enough? Well, as much as the company could afford.
In short, Anglo exists to serve the government's agenda - not shareholders - and this message comes from Anglo's largest SA shareholder, the PIC.
Now enter Shabangu with her ministerial insight: "With her [Carroll's] departure comes a new opportunity for someone else whom we hope will be a local person who will continue to contribute to transformation of our industry and who will have our interest as a country at heart."
Anglo employs over 100 000 people in SA directly, with indirect beneficiaries well into the millions.
They are the largest private sector employer in the nation and the minerals minister, who can't even get miners to show up for work, has the audacity to criticise Anglo for not having the interests of the country at heart.
The pièce de résistance was when Shabangu said: "She [Carroll] has been with Anglo for five years already and needed a new challenge."
There must be some soiled irony in the minerals minister criticising a corporate CEO for incompetence - and then recommending she set her sights on a new challenge.
That level of intellectual honesty applied to the Union Buildings menagerie would indeed be much cause for applause, but unfortunately government though not mute on outbound corporate critique is deaf and dumb on inbound traffic.
At the risk of educating government fund managers and ministers alike, clarification is worthwhile: the private sector is not a piggy bank for government to break in the event that it can't do its job.
Unlike ministers, CEOs are actually qualified to do their jobs and if they fail, they jump or are pushed, another stark contrast with political appointees.
Furthermore, the best person for the job doesn't fly with a specific passport or have a specific skin colour. In case the bastardised results of affirmative action aren't clear enough, reverse racism isn't a particularly effective recruitment strategy.
In the interest of not further lowering the self-esteem of our elected civil servants, it is worth focusing on what they can do with their powers:
- If they wish to transform industry, reform choking labour policies.
- If they wish to contribute to the country, educate the youth.
- If they wish to have the country's interests at heart, avoid suffocating the private sector with socialist demands.
Whether Carroll was aware or not of her dual expectations is unclear; her yet to be penned biography will no doubt shed light on the matter.
However, what is abundantly clear is that whoever next assumes the Anglo mantle will commence with a flashing animated PowerPoint slide entitled "South African diversification" strategy.
This SAD strategy will most likely result in the spinning off of the bulk of Anglo's SA assets, leaving them to vacillate under the vicissitudes of the local mining sector pummelled tirelessly by ignorant populist leaders owing their stations to everything save merit.
After unloading its SA assets, Anglo will then proceed to deploy these resources in countries where they don't have to be social workers and can get on with being mining companies.
*Fin24 user Jarred Myers doubles as a columnist.