After a week of high drama at Avusa and amid market speculation about his departure, it comes as no surprise that a SENS announcement now confirms that Prakash Desai has resigned. By MANDY DE WAAL.
The writing was on the wall at Avusa last week following a combative shareholders’ AGM which saw board member’s heads roll and after which the media company’s own newspapers reported that CEO Prakash Desai would be next.
Resolute to the end, Desai penned a staff memo saying he was still at the helm of the company that owns Sunday Times, but not before cashing in 153,948 share-based incentives at a total value of just over R3.69 million.
Avusa was tight-lipped about the resignation, and a spokesman at the company said that the media house had no further comment, save for the SENS announcement put out by the Avusa board.
“The Avusa Board wishes to announce that Prakash Desai will be stepping down as Group Chief Executive Officer and director on Monday, 3 October 2011,” the announcement read, before doing what most aggrieved boards do when they eject a CEO that is no longer in favour. After the war that unseats a leader there’s the obligatory compliments and fond farewells.
“Prakash Desai is presently the longest serving director on the Avusa Board. Prakash has served, at the highest performance standard, as Group Chief Executive Officer for the past 5 years and has been with the Group in senior positions over the past 13 years. The Board wishes to express its gratitude to Mr Desai for his years of leadership. Prakash Desai has tabled, that he will be taking up a new career challenge, after five years as CEO in Media and Entertainment.”
Desai will be replaced by Michael Robertson who will take up the position of acting CEO from Monday, 3 October. The statement said that Desai would work with Robertson during the month of October to ensure a smooth transition.
It is likely Desai was able to negotiate highly favourable terms for his departure, given that he was said to have a fixed-term contract with Avusa to the end of March 2013. A member of Avusa’s executive committee, Robertson was the head of the company’s Media Division, and worked in the newspaper sector for many years. A former editor of the Sunday Times, Robertson has also spent time at Business Day and the now defunct The Daily Mail.
During the past week, market and investor sentiment revealed that Desai’s undoing at Avusa was largely due to the UHC/Retail Solutions acquisition which he drove to completion despite being contested by stakeholders Mvelaphanda. Market analysts shared the view of Avusa shareholders, Coronation, who felt aggrieved about the UHC deal and the way it had been put together. The feeling was that the acquisition hadn’t been well integrated, was over-priced and exposed Avusa to unnecessary risk. DM
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