Outgoing chief urges SAA to fly higher without her

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Dear Colleagues. Winds (maybe wings) of change; I have always promised that you would be the first to know of any major news or developments within the organisation; so here goes.

It is with a mix of sadness, relief and a measure of pride that I announce my resignation from the airline today [yesterday].

This is not a random move. I have given this decision careful thought and feel that now is the best time to relinquish my position as your chief executive and allow somebody else to pilot the company into the future.

I leave with some sadness because I have enjoyed being a member of the SAA family for almost three years – and will therefore miss the company and all of you.

I have a sense of relief because steering this mega national asset is, to state the obvious, a very demanding and daunting task even under the best of times. And I leave with some satisfaction and pride because we have, together, given this task our all and scored many notable achievements despite the challenging environment.

Yes, we should all be proud of the job we have done together over these last three years as we sought to fulfil SAA’s dual mandate: to be a strategic national asset supporting developmental state policy, as well as being a viable and respected commercial entity – which we are.

But as many of you know, there has not always been a uniform understanding and appreciation of this mandate from stakeholders, which bred a myriad of challenges – as if the operating environment was not daunting enough without this unnecessary discourse and misinformation.

Despite all these challenges, we were together able to achieve many key goals during my tenure.

First, we were, together with the board, able to develop much-needed new strategies for the group, which were translated into the 2011 to 2015 corporate plan and the 10-year fleet and network plan, which was the first comprehensive fleet plan for the airline since 2003.

These strategies were submitted to the Department of Public Enterprises and the Treasury – and took a holistic view of the group, including how to grow the business and how to ensure that SAA always focuses on its dual mandate.

Second, we put into place the project management office, which plays a central role in ensuring that group strategies make the critical leap from idea to implementation.

Similarly, and among many other key decisions that have put the airline in good stead, SAA has entrenched environmental, social and governance commitments. And, it has improved its broad-based black economic empowerment scores in nearly all categories, including procurement from small and medium-sized businesses, and those owned by women.

The finalisation of a substantial number of antitrust matters and material litigation not only reduced our contingent liability, but also directed us to building internal capacity to a level where external costs are reduced and the majority of our work is now serviced in-house.

Needless to say, much more remains to be done, including improving network efficiency further, building on the strength of Johannesburg as an international hub, and focusing even more on the African market – an area of great potential where SAA exercises a competitive advantage.

To this end, we have duly conducted an extensive assessment of our route networks and profitability. This has seen unprofitable routes being set aside and seven new African routes being introduced over the past 12 months alone – namely Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo, Bujumbura in Burundi, Cotonou in Benin, Kigali in Rwanda and Ndola in Zambia.

We have also successfully established additional frequencies and new routes into Brazil, China and India, in line with South Africa’s strategic outlook and expanded links within the Brics grouping.

With regards to our most important assets, our staff, we paid careful attention to effectively work with the trade unions. Under this programme, strikes and confrontations have been avoided and a more transparent, progressive remuneration structure has been effected. This has seen us making very significant steps towards a collaborative approach between management and labour, as reflected during the most recent round of wage negotiations.

With a much happier working environment, improving customer service has become a strategic priority for our company. Indeed, a new customer service training programme has been introduced for all SAA employees, including the top management. This has seen us continue to score good marks with our customers.

Colleagues, these are just a few of the many things we have achieved together.

I would like to thank you most sincerely for working well with me during my tenure. It is little wonder that together we very often punched above our weight.

It is also stating the obvious to say that, although I came into this position with significant executive experience as well as a good grasp of commercial aviation, I alone could not have achieved these milestones.

Similarly, I owe a debt of gratitude to the outgoing board, of which I was a member, for their wise counsel and unwavering support. To that end, I understood and identified with the sentiments that some of them expressed towards the end of their mission.

However, as an executive director I felt that it was my obligation to the staff and the company that I remain behind until our forthcoming annual general meeting where a new board was to be appointed and the going concern issues resolved.

Now that both items have been resolved, I believe that it is only appropriate that I step aside to allow the new board to start on a clean state.

As a pioneering black female fortunate enough to have been trusted with some of the top jobs in the local aviation industry, including this one of being the chief executive of the national airline, I have always given these jobs my best shot, endeavouring always to lead and work with passion and integrity.

Remain strong for there is only one way for SAA – up!

I remain available to the organisation in ensuring a proper handover plan, but I will be directed by the newly appointed chairperson in this regard.

Always,

Siza

This is an edited version of the resignation letter sent by SAA chief executive Siza Mzimela to staff.


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