End of an era. New beginnings. Old Mutual Malawi used these taglines to describe the change of guard at its helm following the retirement of good ol’ Chris Kapanga as group chief executive officer (CEO) and the coming in of Edith Jiya effective March 1 this year.
To Chris, as he prefers to be addressed by all and sundry, I wish him a deserved happy retirement. He has left an indelible mark in the insurance industry in Malawi and beyond. In March 2015, Chris was seconded to West Africa where he set up Old Mutual Ghana as group CEO for two years before his voluntary retirement.
To his credit, Chris led the Old Mutual Malawi team to win the Best Business Plan Execution Award for 2014 for the first time ever. He repeated the feat with Old Mutual Ghana in 2016, becoming the first CEO to win the award in two different countries in the Old Mutual Africa Group.
Edith, on the other hand, has ascended to the post of Old Mutual Malawi group CEO after acting in the position since March 2015 when Chris was away on a tour of duty in Ghana. Congratulations!
Heading a corporate entity of Old Mutual Malawi’s magnitude is no mean achievement. Edith faces the challenge of sustaining the gains achieved by the group over the years by providing leadership.
The transition at Old Mutual Malawi, which is listed on the Malawi Stock Exchange (MSE), comes barely a year after similar major changes at two other listed conglomerates-Nico Holdings Limited and Press Corporation Limited (PCL).
PCL saw its group CEO Matthews Chikaonda (PhD), who served from early 2000s, retiring as did chartered insurer Felix Mlusu as Nico Holdings managing director (MD). Both men retired on December 31 2016.
In the two transitions, my attention has been been drawn to the manner in which the two corporations managed their leadership transition.
In its announcement in 2015 about Mlusu’s impending departure after 41 years of service, Nico Holdings said Vizenge Kumwenda, a chartered insurer and chartered accountant, hitherto deputy MD, would take over from Mlusu. From January 1 2016, Mlusu was handing over to Kumwenda till December 31 when he took a bow.
PCL assigned the hot seat to then National Bank of Malawi (NBM) CEO George Partridge who emerged successful after interviews. He reported for duties at the holding company of his bank in October 2016 and had three months handover process with Chikaonda.
What is coming out from the transitions is that Old Mutual and Nico Holdings seemed to have had an internalised succession plan whereas PCL opened its top seat to all and sundry.
Old Mutual and Nico Holdings transition models sent a message of stability and continuity to stakeholders, including shareholders and business partners. On the other hand, whereas the PCL arrangement of opening the top job in the group to all and sundry is equally good, it exposes a lack of planning in a big corporation.
Experiences elsewhere have shown that whereas boards of directors hired external CEOs, most of the boards also did not retain the same business executives at the end of their contracts. Here William Peres of Nike and Revlon’s Jeff Nugent come to mind.
It is argued that “insiders” are familiar with the organisational culture and the people, but tend to develop cold feet to implement radical changes while “outsiders” bring with them new ideas, but are sometimes also limited by their lack of understanding of the particular industry, company or its culture.
Transition paths taken by three of our big corporations should provide lessons to business management students and businesses in general. Either has advantages and disadvantages.
Farewell Chris, welcome Edith to the fold! n