Telkom’s chief financial officer, Peter Nelson, appears to have quit his job in part because of frustrations with the way the telecommunications group is being led by its board of directors.
Telkom surprised the markets on Tuesday afternoon when it announced that Nelson had tendered his resignation just days after CEO Reuben September left the group.
TechCentral has since learnt that Nelson resigned last Friday already, the same day Telkom announced September was leaving the group four months before his contract was due to expire.
The board has appointed former Cell C CEO Jeffrey Hedberg as acting CEO while it searches for a full-time successor.
The fixed-line operator has lost a wealth of talent in recent months, including September, well-respected strategy chief Naas Fourie, and Telkom International MD Thami Msimango.
News of Nelson’s shock resignation sent Telkom’s share price plunging 3,4% in just 30 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, signifying growing disquiet among investors.
Hedberg’s appointment as acting CEO may prompt speculation that Nelson quit because the board overlooked him to lead the group, even if only in an acting capacity.
Nelson had previously indicated to TechCentral that he would be interested in the top job if it were offered to him.
But Nelson tells TechCentral that he’s leaving because he’s had enough of trying to deal with the problems afflicting the group. The disastrous Nigerian operation, Multi-Links, which continues to haemorrhage, is a particular area of frustration for him.
“It’s been a really difficult year at Telkom,” he says. “I’ve just got so much energy and I need to move on.”
He says he doesn’t want to be drawn into commenting on battles between senior management and the board of directors. However, it’s become clear to Telkom watchers that board chairman Jeff Molobela is proving to be a divisive force in the organisation.
The board elected not to renew September’s contract after he clashed with Molobela.
Telkom insiders say the chairman, who was appointed by government, has been behaving like an executive director, despite being a nonexecutive appointee. Under his chairmanship, senior Telkom insiders worry that the group may be sailing into a full-blown management crisis.
Senior sources say Molobela, who has previously declined requests from TechCentral to be interviewed about the allegations against him, regularly interferes in operational management issues despite this being outside of his mandate as a nonexecutive director.
Nelson concedes that the “dynamics of the board are challenging”. “I think they will be resolved in due course, but if you’re in the middle of that it takes its toll.”
Says Nelson: “At the end of the day, I just find that if we as an executive, and myself as an individual, if we can’t convey our views successfully [to the board], then [we]must also be prepared to step back. We can’t have extended differences of opinion.”
Though he hasn’t decided what he’ll do next, Nelson says he has received a number of offers in recent months. “I now intend to pursue some of those.”
He says he intends to serve out his full, three-month notice period with Telkom, which ends on 9 October. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral