Shoprite’s board receives a feminine touch

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BR Anna Mokgokong 532 INLSA Community Investment Holdings chairwoman Anna Mokgokong is the first woman appointed to Shoprites board. Photo: Dumisani Sibeko.

Shoprite, the sponsor of the Woman of the Year competition, has announced the appointment of its first female director. Anna Mokgokong, who has a medical degree, is the co-founder and executive chairwoman of Community Investment Holdings and was South African Business Woman of the Year in 1999.

She will be the first female director to be appointed since Shoprite was founded in 1979. The appointment, which is effective immediately, will see Mokgokong take her place alongside 13 male directors on the Shoprite board.

After last year’s annual general meeting, which was held in October, chairman Christo Wiese told Business Report that he intended announcing the names of two female directors “within months”.

However, yesterday Wiese said that while there were other female candidates being considered, a second appointment was not planned for the near term. He added that there were female directors at the operational level.

Last October Wiese said that he had hoped to have the two appointments finalised in time to announce them formally at last year’s annual general meeting but was unable to because a few outstanding issues had still to be completed.

He would not reveal the identity of the two women but did say: “They are very good candidates.”

Yesterday Wiese said that Shoprite was in the process of “restructuring the board” and that some directors would soon be retiring. Mokgokong’s is the third appointment recently announced by the company.

Ahead of yesterday’s announcement, Shoprite was one of just 27 JSE-listed companies not to have a female director. The majority of the company’s customers and its workers are female. This is in contrast to the mining sector where women play a large role, not only in the boardroom but also at executive management level.

The comparatively slow pace of transformation at board level in the retail sector is attributed to the absence of government pressure on a sector that does not depend on government-allocated licences.

In the case of Shoprite, it does appear that the Government Employees Pension Fund, which is the second-largest shareholder with a 13.63 percent holding, has not exerted any effective influence over the board.

Analysts say that as long as Shoprite is able to pump out strong earnings growth, it is unlikely that shareholders will try to influence the direction of the key management players.

One corporate governance expert remarked: “In March the company had an R8 billion rights issue, which effectively rode roughshod over existing shareholders, but nobody created a fuss. For as long as they outperform the competition the executive directors will be able to do what they want.”

The appointment of one female director places Shoprite on a par with The Spar Group, which has only one female director, Phumla Mnganga, who was appointed in 2006.

In terms of the number of female directors the leader by far in the food retail sector is Woolworths, which has four women on the board, of whom three are independent non-executive directors.

There are three women on the board of Pick n Pay Stores, two of whom are non-executive directors while Suzanne Ackerman-Berman is an executive director. Wendy Ackerman is one of six non-executive directors at Pick n Pay Holdings.

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