High drama appears to be unfolding at wireless broadband operator iBurst. Company CEO Jannie van Zyl may be on his way out, possibly by as early as next week, following an apparent fall-out between management and shareholders.
A plan by Vodacom to sell its 24,9% stake in iBurst parent Wireless Business Solutions (WBS) Holdings lies at the heart of the fall-out, TechCentral has learnt from several separate sources.
Vodacom Group CEO Pieter Uys indicated this week that the JSE-listed cellphone group plans to sell its stake in WBS so that it is eligible to bid for new radio frequency spectrum that will be awarded soon by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa).
Icasa is expected to make the spectrum available in the next few months, possibly through an auction process, but has warned that any company already holding frequency in those bands may not participate in the process.
Uys told TechCentral on Monday that its stake in WBS would be offered first to other WBS shareholders. These are the Brett Levy Consortium (a business led by Blue Label Telecoms co-CEO Brett Levy) and Richtrau, which is controlled by well-known businessman Thami Mtshali.
However, TechCentral has ascertained that relations between Van Zyl and one or more of the other shareholders have broken down. And, according to one source, tensions are likely to come to an explosive head within the next week.
Levy tells TechCentral that he is in discussions with Van Zyl about the iBurst CEO’s future. The talks revolve around what long-term role Van Zyl sees himself playing in iBurst, Levy says.
Levy says Van Zyl has done a “good job” of turning around iBurst’s fortunes in the year since he was appointed as CEO. However, he emphasises that Van Zyl was brought in with the mandate of leading a turnaround at the business, which he has now done.
Van Zyl, an ex-consultant to Vodacom who took over from Alan Knott-Craig (the son of the former Vodacom boss of the same name), declines to comment on the apparent ructions, instead referring TechCentral to Mtshali, who chairs the WBS Holdings board.
Mtshali, who has been appointed as acting iBurst CEO while Van Zyl has been on leave for the past week, could not be reached for comment. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral