Eskom needs boss with skills, clout

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IOL BR Brian DamesLA Independent Newspapers. As Brian Dames vacates the hot seat as chief executive of Eskom, stakeholders say the electricity utility needs a replacement who is not only a manager, but can speak truth to power. Photo: Jason Boud.

Finding an able replacement for Brian Dames as Eskom’s chief executive could prove to be a tough ask for the government as stakeholders say the state-owned power utility needs more than just another manager now.

Someone who could turn Eskom around, who is more economically aware and connected and who would be able to forge ahead and challenge the government if need be is the sort of person analysts and economists want in the hot seat.

“We are looking for more than just a business manager – a person who operates at the highest level of government, at the highest level of the economy, who can speak to the cabinet,” Chris Yelland, an electricity analyst from EE Publishers, said yesterday in an interview with Business Report.

He said because Eskom was a serious part of the economy and had proven numerous times that it did not have the powers to restructure itself, the utility required “heavyweights not managers”.

There had been speculation that Transnet chief executive Brian Molefe was the strongest contender to lead the power utility, given his success in continuing to turn Transnet around into an entity that Parliament described as “the jewel of the state-owned companies” last year. Furthermore, earlier last year when the initial speculation about Dames’ departure surfaced, the name of Dan Marokane, the commercial director of Eskom, came up as a possible contender from within the firm. But Yelland said that the top job at Eskom needed more than Molefe’s golden touch or anyone whose knowledge of the electricity and energy sector was limited to Eskom.

“We need a leader who can lead the massive change in the electricity sector… That is not going to happen by pulling a great manager from Transnet, SAA or SA Breweries,” he said.

Azar Jammine, the chief economist at Econometrix, said that the skills required from an Eskom leader were more intricate than those needed at Transnet.

“You need someone far more technically astute at Eskom, someone who knows a lot about electricity and distribution,” he said. But Jammine still said that there was a very good chance that Eskom would find Dames’ replacement internally as the utility had “a depth of skills within the company”.

To others, finding a person who would push Eskom’s mega projects towards completion was more important than who the candidates were or what credentials they had.

“Eskom holds the key to unlock growth in South Africa. It’s not the only key but it is the major one, the important one given that we have all these important projects – Medupi, Kusile – delayed,” Nicky Weimar, a senior economist at Nedbank, said yesterday.

“It is therefore critical to get a good, sound leader who acknowledges how important they are.”

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