There can’t be many people who would become finance director of MTN in search of a quieter life. It’s not exactly like going to Sardinia to pick grapes. Who knows what the cellphone colossus will face next, following its huge Nigerian fine?
Yet Ralph Mupita hopes it will be a walk in the park compared with running Old Mutual Emerging Markets (Omem). Old Mutual group CEO Bruce Hemphill is pushing the troops hard; after all, he has a £10m bonus on the line. I suspect Mupita wasn’t given such a tempting prize. And he must have decided that he would get more money at MTN for doing less work. MTN is a far simpler business than Old Mutual, after all — just maintaining a few masts and selling handsets and airtime. And as he is not an accountant, presumably he will have to leave all those pesky profit-and-loss calculations to someone else.
I don’t envy the time Mupita will have to spend cringing through all those cheesy MTN ads. I wonder if he really thought seriously about swapping Hemphill for the new MTN boss Rob Shuter. It will be out of a not particularly hot frying pan into a roaring fire.
I have had some robust disagreements with Hemphill, but I always find him impeccably polite and even kind. But I hear the words "ego" and "Shuter" often appear in the same sentence.
He was certainly a sore loser when he didn’t get the Nedbank job. But who can say that anyone even came close to Mike Brown in that race?
Mupita has had plenty of practice dealing with executive egos and I am sure he takes them in his stride.
Moving to MTN means avoiding the next two years at Old Mutual — Mupita would have looked forward to getting Omem listed in its own right and then unbundling the majority of the stake in Nedbank. Of course he would have had to consider the future of Omem’s rather ramshackle international portfolio, which has too many subscale businesses. He would have been under pressure from potential investors to focus on the high return on capital businesses, almost all of them in SA. Somebody will have to take on this burden.
I think the managed separation of the group does not go far enough. Investors should be able to buy a pure Old Mutual SA business, and the rest of emerging markets should form a separate company, with a head office in Nairobi or Lagos. Let it operate without the security of a large, profitable SA business and the cross-subsidies and cheaper finance that go with it. Old Mutual SA would then be able to unlock serious capital to return to shareholders.
At the very least it always seemed absurd to me that the head of SA reports to the head of emerging markets; it should be the other way round.
There’s lots of talk about who is going to take over from Mupita. There are always the fantasy football candidates, such as Sanlam’s Ian Kirk or Mark Tucker from AIA, or even Brian Molefe from Eskom (complete with No More Tears shampoo). But, realistically, Old Mutual SA boss Dave Macready has to be on the short list. He has spent a big chunk of his career at Nedbank but is not just a banker; he has strong experience in bancassurance, wealth management and credit life too.
I am sure Hemphill would love to get his old colleague, Thabo Dloti, from Liberty. Outside the fantasy candidates he is the best equipped to do the job.
But he is rightly proud of his job rebuilding Liberty, and why abandon that halfway through? Especially for what promises to be a very tough couple of years at Big Green.