The key battleground in WP saga
As boardroom battles go, Western Province Professional Rugby (Pty) Ltd produced a ‘made for Hollywood’ script.
The events of the last few months produced plots, sub-plots, stand-offs, dramatic exits, even suggestions of underhanded tactics and perfidy.
Or as Western Province Rugby Football Union President, and WPPR board member, Zelt Marais suggested: There were ‘treasonous acts’.
Then there is the main ingredient of any good drama: CONFLICT.
The next big battleground – or act/scene – in this drama is the appointment of a Chief Executive Officer to the board of the company, WPPR (Pty) Ltd.
To understand the importance of this position, it is worth having a quick recap of the theatrics of the last few months.
The boardroom battles started much earlier, but really escalated in June, when Kevin Kiewitz walked away from the union in protest over their handling of negotiations with Investec.
Last month two independent directors of the board, Johan van der Merwe and Andre van der Veen, were told their services were no longer required. Their terms of office came to an end and at the board AGM it was decided not to extend their terms.
Van der Merwe was replaced as Chairman of the board of WPPR (Pty) Ltd by political firebrand Ebrahim Rasool.
This past week Raymond van Niekerk handed in his resignation, ostensibly because he has had enough of the boardroom politics. He indicated that the unwillingness of WPRFU too offer Van der Merwe and Van der Veen new terms was key to the decision.
As for the sub-plots. There was the decision to walk away from negotiations with Investec – resulting in the need to repay ZAR112-million in loans to Remgro and Investec – signing a Newlands development deal with the Flyt group and getting a new loan from Dream World, while starting negotiations with an American consortium, MVM Holdings, as a possible equity partner.
The consequences of the skirmishes are that there are now three vacancies on the board of WPPR.
There is a need to find two new independent directors and a CEO.
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The current board consists of Ebrahim Rasool (Chairman), Hennie Heymans (sponsor’s representative), Suzanne Stevens (independent, even though she is employed by one of the union’s key sponsors), Makkie Issacs, Zelt Marais, Peter Jooste, Spencer King, Moeneeb Levy and Junaid Moerat.
The position of CEO, since the resignation of Paul Zacks back in January, has been filled by an interim management committee – consisting of Kiewitz, Van Niekerk, Van der Veen and Marais.
The mass exodus has left the union President, Marais, as the sole remaining member of that interim committee.
Perhaps the current quagmire the WPPR finds itself in, can be traced back to Zack’s departure.
It is clear from recent events that the interim committee was not a congenial and serene environment.
Given that Rasool’s appointment as Chairman has already created a perception – misguidedly or congruously as it may be – that it is becoming an ANC takeover, it is vital the appointment of the CEO must send a message that this is still about rugby.
In a statement this week, the office of the President indicated what kind of people they want on the board: ‘Somebody who has integrity, a love and passion for the game of rugby, who would not walk away when things are not going his way in the boardroom, somebody who is prepared to use well-informed arguments to win his battles in the boardroom and not in the media, and lastly somebody who has the interest of the shareholder [read WPRFU] at heart and not only that of an investor.’
However, it should be the rugby moxie as much as his business acumen that drives the decision when they appoint a new CEO.
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Not many names have of possible candidates have been bandied about.
In fact, only one person, Moerat, is known to have formally put his hand up.
In the absence of any formal rivals (alternative candidates), it is worth at least assessing the proficiency and qualities of Moerat.
At 36 he may seem a bit young, or should we say ‘inexperienced’.
However, there is a trend of younger, energetic CEOs in South Africa that understand and can navigate the complexities of the digital and modern sports business.
This is evident with the appointments of Edgar Rathbone (Bulls) and Eduard Coetzee (Sharks).
He also fulfils one of the key requirements.
Moerat is truly a rugby man, coming from the well-known Moerat family in Paarl – including current Stormers lock Salmaan Moerat and his cousin Ebrahim Moerat, the latter a former SA Under-21 prop.
Like his cousins, Junaid Moerat was also schooled at Paarl Boys’ High School (or Hoër Jongenskool Paarl).
Having served on the WPRFU executive committee and board of the company for the past two years, he will be familiar with the exigencies and flashpoints of the union and its professional arm, WPPR.
As for his business acumen, he has a proven track record in the online and digital space. Moerat’s qualifications include a psychology degree from the University of Cape Town, as well as certificates from renowned institutions like Harvard and MIT.
He is also part of the team that is negotiating with the City of Cape Town about the move away from Newlands to the stadium in Greenpoint and how the new commercial model with be structured.
His name is in the hat and depending on which other candidates are added, he may well be the ‘rugby man’ needed to take the attention away from the other boardroom dramas and right the listing ship that is WPPR.
There is absolutely no doubt appointing the right CEO will play a critical role in the future of the union.