FirstRand Names Vilakazi as Lender’s First Female CEO

FirstRand Ltd. named Mary Vilakazi as the first black female chief executive officer of Africa’s biggest lender by market value.

(Bloomberg) — FirstRand Ltd. named Mary Vilakazi as the first black female chief executive officer of Africa’s biggest lender by market value.

Vilakazi, the South Africa-based lender’s chief operating officer, will take over from Alan Pullinger, 57, effective April 1, FirstRand said in a statement on Wednesday. Pullinger’s career at the bank has spanned 26 years and he became group CEO in early 2018.

Vilakazi will be the only female CEO among South Africa’s top six banks. The nation’s companies have been under pressure to appoint more Black and female executives. Currently, none of the heads of the 10 largest local companies by market value are women, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

“A big piece is to ensure that we keep bringing in new people, young people, fresh ideas, growing in the different markets,” Vilakazi said in an interview following the announcement. “I would want to leave a FirstRand that has even stronger customer franchises than we have, even stronger brands.”

FirstRand dropped 1.6% in Johannesburg, the worst performer on the nation’s bank index. 

Vilakazi, 47, joined FirstRand as group COO in 2018, and has been driving the bank’s diversification strategies in insurance and investment management. She’s also been providing strategic oversight for regulatory and enterprise risk management activities across the group.

Chairman Roger Jardine will also step down and be replaced by Johan Burger at the start of December. At the same time, the head of FirstRand’s biggest unit — First National Bank’s CEO Jacques Celliers — will become head of the group’s fintech strategy.

“We think the fresh perspective the new management team could provide will likely be helpful,” Citigroup Inc. analyst Simon Nellis said in a note. “The changes to the board illustrate the deep bench that exists within the FirstRand group and the effective succession planning that has taken place given no external appointments were made to these key portfolios.”

FirstRand Chief Financial Officer Harry Kellan will take over as CEO at FNB effective April 1. Markos Davias, FNB’s chief financial officer, will become FirstRand’s CFO, while Gideon Joubert, becomes FNB’s CFO.

While most of the “changes are internal, the change in focus of the entire C-suite in one go is unsettling,” said Charles Russell, an analyst at SBG Securities Pty Ltd. “An offsetting factor is that only Alan Pullinger will be leaving the group, so handover could still be a smooth process.”

(Adds analyst comments. Earlier versions correct analyst’s company name in the last paragraph and headline to clarify that Vilakazi is first black female CEO.)

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