Altech's Venter attacks newspaper over report - TechCentral

Altech’s Venter attacks newspaper over report

Craig Venter

Altech CEO Craig Venter has taken umbrage at a report in the Sunday Times that questioned his leadership style and that implied it may be time for him to step down from the JSE-listed technology group.

The article, published in the Business Times section of the newspaper on 29 January, said: “Venter’s credibility has been dealt a bad knock by the embarrassingly premature departure of his highly rated chief operating officer, Jeffrey Hedberg, a mere six months after starting the job.”

Hedberg, a former CEO at Cell C, was hired last year to take over as Altech’s group chief operating officer. Sources close to Altech tell TechCentral that Hedberg resigned because he was promised the CEO job and it became apparent Venter was not going to relinquish the role any time soon.

Venter says the Sunday Times article makes “certain allegations about my management style, my judgment and my integrity”. He claims the newspaper did not give him an opportunity to respond to the claims made in the article.

The Altech CEO has now distributed the full text of a letter he sent to the Sunday Times. He says the newspaper published only a shortened version that provided “an extremely selective response to the article”. Venter claims he was not “adequately afforded the right to reply to the extraordinary claims” made in the original article.

In the letter, addressed to Business Times editor Marcia Klein, Venter says the article is “fraught with inaccuracies and innuendos” and is a “gross misrepresentation of the facts”.

Questions have been raised about Venter’s management style following a string of high-level resignations at Altech in the past 18 months. Senior executives who have left include chief operating officer Andy Baker, telecommunications head James Rutherfoord and chief technology officer Ashraff Paruk, with insiders telling TechCentral many of those who quit clashed with Venter.

Venter denies his management style is the problem, telling the Financial Mail recently he is able to hold onto executives and pointing to the examples of financial director Peter Curle and Arrow Altech Distribution MD Philip du Preez, who have been with the group for more than a decade.

In his letter to the Sunday Times, Venter says he has the “utmost respect” for Hedberg and that the two parted “amicably”. “Any inference otherwise is wrong and, quite frankly, borders on being defamatory,” he writes.

The letter goes on to talk about how Venter built Altech over the past 15 years and questions whether analysts are concerned about his leadership of the group, as inferred in the Sunday Times article. “If the investment community was really concerned or doubted my leadership, or the Altech Group as a whole, then why is the Altech share price strong and stable at R52? Furthermore, why is the p:e multiple at a relatively high 12 times?”

Read the full text of Venter’s extraordinary letter here (PDF file).  — Staff reporter, TechCentral

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