ArcelorMittal SA says it's made "important progress" on the implementation of safeguards on some products. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi/ANA
JOHANNESBURG - Hendrick “Kobus” Verster, 51, the former chief executive of JSE-listed construction firm Aveng, was yesterday named as the new boss at Africa’s biggest steel producer, ArcelorMittal South Africa (Amsa).

Verster is scheduled to join Amsa on January 2 as chief executive designate “to ensure a smooth handover”.

He will officially assume the position of chief executive and executive director with effect from February 1, the company said yesterday.

Verster will replace Wim de Klerk, who announced in October that he would retire in January, barely two years into his tenure.

The loss-making steel producer had appointed De Klerk as chief executive and an executive director to the board on September 1, 2016.

De Klerk was the financial director of Exxaro Resources before joining Amsa, which operates steel plants in the Vaal Triangle, Newcastle and Saldanha Bay.

An analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity said yesterday that Verster was one of the few people who had the skill set needed for Amsa, adding he believed its problems were not insurmountable.

“Amsa’s problems are, in fact, easy to solve. For Amsa to succeed, it needs to have a functional relationship with the Department of Trade and Industry, Eskom and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa,” the analyst said. “The problem is leadership. You need to have good temperament to manage these complex issues.”

He said Amsa needed to be actively involved in tariff protection over and above other challenges.

“Fundamentally, Amsa needs to play a role in protecting South Africa’s steel industry,” the analyst said.

In October, the Vander- bijlpark-headquartered Amsa said it had made important progress on the implementation of safeguards on some products to support the sustainability of the domestic industry. However, even with the safeguards, problems at Amsa continued.

“Challenges remain, and we will commence with a search to appoint a new chief executive who can continue to implement our strategy and structurally improve the performance of the business,” said Amsa chairperson Mpho Makwana.

Verster is not new to Amsa. He was its chief financial officer between February 2006 and August 2010.

Makwana yesterday described Verster as a candidate with knowledge of and experience in the steel industry.

“In Kobus we believe we have found such a candidate, who will also provide much-needed continuity with our strategic turnaround programme.

“The board is confident that he is well qualified and has the requisite experience and understanding of the steel industry to fulfil the role of chief executive effectively.”

Amsa is a subsidiary of the ArcelorMittal group, a Luxembourg-based multinational steel-manufacturing corporation.

ArceloMittal group chairperson and chief executive Lakshmi Mittal said: “We look forward to having Kobus on board. As someone we have worked with previously, we believe he will sustain the momentum of leading our important strategic investment in Africa, restoring the company back to profitability and sustainable performance.”

Amsa posted a headline loss of R1.161billion in the first half of this year and has been vulnerable to the strengthening of the rand.

Amsa shares rose 3.78percent on the JSE yesterday to close at R4.67.