NATIONAL NEWS - The public explanation for the sudden “retirement” of Tiger Brands CEO Lawrence Mac Dougall on 31 January – announced two days earlier – just does not water. The board claims that “having reached the company’s mandatory retirement age of 63”, he had “decided” to retire.
But, as the excellent Rob Rose writes, Tiger chairman Khotso Mokhele’s platitudes cannot be taken seriously. Speaking to the Financial Mail, Mokhele asserts that “MacDougall was ‘fluid about when he wanted to leave’”.
“The retirement policy of the company is triggered the year you turn 63, so this has been in the making from the time he joined. Lawrence knew he was never going to be the long-term CEO,” he told the FM. This is downright disingenuous.
Upon appointment in 2016, then-chairman André Parker said the “board is confident that under the leadership of Lawrence Mac Dougall, the new management team will effect the requisite turnaround that will position the group to successfully compete in its markets”.
He noted that the executive search was a “rigorous five-month process” and highlighted Mac Dougall’s “over 25 years’ FMCG experience across Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia.”
“Lawrence brings sound commercial and strategic acumen, a proven ability to lead extensive growth and turnaround strategies and the leadership skills to develop strong integrated teams that deliver sustainable performance”.
In November 2019 – just months ago – Mac Dougall himself wrote in the group’s annual report “I believe that the strength of our heritage brands, the diversity of our product portfolio across a range of income groups, our long-standing distribution networks and customer relationships, and our strong balance sheet, will enable us to absorb potential future headwinds. I am also confident that we have the right strategy in place to respond to these difficult and dynamic market conditions and ensure our long-term growth”.
At the group’s results presentation in November, he gave no indication that he was about to retire. Instead, he reportedly answered criticism from one shareholder thus: “Whether I’m the right person or not is something the board needs to deliberate. Please feel free to give them a call.”
And, at no point in the past four years has Tiger indicated that Mac Dougall’s appointment would only be until he reached retirement age. If this was the plan “all along” as intimated by Mokhele, surely it would’ve been disclosed?
Mac Dougall has been credited with “steering” Tiger through the damaging listeriosis crisis in 2018. Quite whether this should’ve been allowed to happen at all while he led the company is another question altogether. Executives have fallen on their swords for far less (even at Tiger!).
He will also be credited – as he should be – for clearing up former CEO Peter Matlare’s failed African expansion strategy. Almost everything has been sold or closed and the costly distractions are no more.
But the numbers across Mac Dougall’s four years at Tiger Brands are hardly good.
A three-year comparison (end-FY 2016 to end-FY 2019) is useful as Mac Dougall would’ve been able to do precious little to influence matters between his first day on the job (10 May) and the end of its financial year, 30 September 2016.
Revenue is down 5% (aside from the Africa asset sales, volumes in its home market are depressed). And while operating profit (excluding the shuttered/sold African operations) is up 17% over three years, headline earnings per share have nearly halved to just R13.22. Dividends are under pressure too.
Mac Dougall’s tenure, then, was something of a classic “restructuring” exercise: sell or shut under-performing divisions, implement a (bland) new strategy (Tiger’s is premised on four pillars: “Drive growth, Be efficient, Great people, Sustainable future”) and reduce staff numbers (down 1700, or 15%).
Instantly, certain operating metrics will start looking better. Revenue per employee is up 10%. But margin pressures persist and operating profit per employee is down 36% over the same period.