The Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known in the English-speaking world as Horace, might have been summing up today’s Cell C when he wrote that “the mountains will be in labour, and will give birth to a ridiculous mouse”.
By selecting an insider associated with what is termed a ‘Vodacom Cabal’ in the corridors of the company, as the acting CEO, Cell C board led by Kuben Pillay made their company look ridiculous.
To make matters worse even workers at Cell C mock their executives as “Vodacom Cabal’ on social media. They claim the cabal is derailing the growth of their beloved mobile phone company.
Douglas Craigie Stevenson, the acting boss of Cell C, boasts 22 years’ experience in the telecommunications industry. He was poached by Cell C in 2017 from Telekom Networks Malawi, where he served as CEO for two years.
He had a two-year stint as managing director of Vodacom Business Africa and financial director at Vodacom Mozambique and occupied other executive roles at Vodacom.
His appointment seems to be best for keeping the status quo at Cell C, which seems to be what the company’s board loves.
That alone is enough for Cell C board to believe he is a right man in an acting capacity to steer the company forward.
Yet the board is oblivious to the fact that its decisions are failing the company and its various stakeholders, especially investors, workers and customers.
The first is that Stevenson has been part and parcel of an executive team, which was led by Jose Dos Santos, that has dismally failed to turnaround ailing Cell C.
Instead, the company executives are accused of many things by #SAVECELLC and #CellCKwenzenjani group on social media, such as dishing out contracts to family members. Even, S&P rating agency downgraded Cell C’s rating profile, placing it deeper into ‘junk’ status.
Dos Santos resigned as CEO of the company on 1 March 2019 but kept as an “adviser offering strategic advice to the chairman of the Cell C board [Pillay]”.
Dos Santos – a former Vodacom Mozambique CEO – officially replaced Alan Knott-Craig, an ex-Vodacom boss, at Cell C in 2014 after he suffered a stroke.
After failing to prove his mettle for about four years as the boss of Cell C, one wonders why Pillay has deemed it fit that Do Santos is the best consultant to advise him.
That said, rumours in the corridors at Cell C headquarters in Waterfall have been swelling and suggests that the bosses of Blue Label Telecoms, a 45% shareholder in Cell C, enabled Stevenson to run the company as early as last May. When the company’s chief financial officer Tyrone Soondarje resigned in last May, Dos Santos was stripped of his powers as CEO, according to insiders.
“The Levy brothers [co-CEOs of Blue Label Telecoms] were fed up with Dos Santos,” says an insider.
Stevenson was chosen only because he is part of a “Vodacom Cabal” that has been running Cell C since the arrival of Alan Knott-Craig as the boss of the operator in April 1, 2012. He’s deemed a good pair of hands to keep the secrets of the “Vodacom Cabal” and move the company forward while the Levy brothers are seeking a lasting solution.
The so-called “Vodacom Cabal”, which is believed to be running the company to their benefit, is believed to be made of the following executives: Dos Santos [advisor to the chairman and ex-CEO], Stevenson [Acting CEO], Junaid Munshi [chief commercial], Robert Pasley (chief of strategy], and Dana Bakker [chief technical officer], and others.
But the “Vodacom Cabal” seems to be in trouble now, according to insiders at Cell C.
If what insiders are saying is to be believed, cracks are starting to happen within the cabal.
Insiders informed TechFinancials that acting CEO Stevenson and strategic advisor to chairman Pillay, Dos Santos are at loggerheads.
“The two are always at each other’s throats,” insiders at Cell C said. “The two have personal issues that are so deep. Dos Santos and his other loyal executives such as Mackinnon always ridicules Stevenson.”
The insiders added: “The differences between Dos Santos and Stevenson are toxic for the stability of the company. It’s worse as the chief of legal, Mackinnon refuses to take instructions from Stevenson. This has led to Cell C not nipping in the bud the issues raised by the union [Information Communications Telecommunications Union], which is affiliated to SAFTU.”
Their [Dos Santos and Stevenson] alleged squabbles are so petty that we cannot detail them on this platform as they belong to tabloid platforms.
“In politics, this is what is defined as ruling from the grave,” another insider said. “Dos Santos still calls the shot at Cell C and Stevenson doesn’t have support but is carving up his own cabal by paying special bonuses to certain top executives. He is no different from Dos Santos but using his old tactics that have worked for the past four years.”
I wonder whether the Levy brothers if rumours are true about them favouring Stevenson as a caretaker CEO are pleased with the turn of events at Cell C.
It seems Dos Santos has managed to get the grip of the company by controlling the board, while Stevenson is out in the cold with no board support. Allegedly, he is doling up cash to top executives to convince them to come to his corner.
Yet in truth, the status quo will benefit the “Vodacom Cabal” and its leader Dos Santos, who continues to call the shots at Cell C as a defacto chairman of the company.
Sell Sea is in trouble.
The spelling is not a mistake, Cell C is navigating uncharted sea waters and will only be saved by being sold to a shareholder with big pockets, which will get rid of the “Vodacom Cabal”.