Willard Zireva, a long-time executive and larger-than-life figure at the retail giant
OK Zim new CE Alex Siyavora will need very big feet to fit into his predecessor, Willard Zireva’s shoes.
By Chris Muronzi
Zireva, a long-time executive and larger-than-life figure at the retail giant, stepped down at the end of March, the same time the company closes its financial year.
He had been CE since 2001 when the company went public. Before his appointment to that position, Zireva had been a key executive in the group since 1984.
And he left in style too. With earnings per share up by as much as 766% in the full year to March 2017 (FY17) and all major profit indicators on the up, Zireva could not have chosen a better time to retire.
Humbly, Zireva refuses to take credit for the solid FY17 numbers.
“It’s not really my results alone,” he says after the analysts briefing. “It’s team work.”
Sitting through the OK Zim briefing without Zireva in the hot seat magnified his departure and absence.
It was a bit poignant as he sat in the crowd with asset managers and investment analysts as his successor made the presentation, his forte for decades.
While trying to explain why he did not take up a board seat at OK, where he holds a significant equity stake, he unwittingly gives useful insights into his imposing role at the organisation.
“I decided not to take a board seat immediately to allow for a smooth transition to my successor,” he says.
“My presence on the board would have diverted attention to me. I wouldn’t want a situation where as a former CE questions are directed to you instead of your successor. That would have been a bit unfair.”
Although Zireva thinks he is doing Siyavora good by letting him take control and know he is in charge, he is still overseeing the transition from the terraces after being engaged as a consultant for the group for a year.
“I may consider a seat on the board after a year or two,” he says.
Zireva discounts his new role as a consultant. “I get called here and there. It’s nothing major,” he explains.
Ok posted a strong set of numbers that the group decided to pay Zireva’s outstanding and retirement benefits.
Asked how much he got from the group, he says the figure will be in the annual report due soon.
“It’s not a lot,” Zireva says.
“But we had such a good year, the group decided to pay reorganisation costs, which covers my outstanding benefits.”
Siyavora also refuses to comment on the figure. “It’s going to be in the annual report,” he says.
“It’s under a million. Wait for the annual report.”
But the big question will be whether Siyavora will continue delivering value for shareholders going forward like his predecessor. Siyavora, a CA and former FD in Zireva’s time, has begun his tenure on a firm footing, in spite of an underperforming economy.
Under Zireva’s watch, OK grew from being just a retailer to a financial services provider and investor in financial services. The group has partnered Kawena on the money transfer side and once owned equity in the now defunct Century Bank.
The partnership has proven vital as Zimbabwe struggles with depleted nostro balances. This has helped the company on its imports. Again, the company has its outgoing CE to thank for it.
Siyavora says the OK stock has a lot of upside and is currently underpriced although it is trading at 5% of price-to-book value.
“It is trading at a discount definitely. I think it should be trading around 9-10 US cents per share,” he says. “ I have not actually calculated the P/E ratios, but it’s a counter with lot of upside.”
Zireva also concurs. “OK has a lot of upside,” he adds.
Other companies with consistent dividend policies such as BAT are trading at a premium to the book value. But BAT is arguably the most profitable company on the ZSE, judging by its operating profit margins.
OK share price on Wednesday was trading at US6,74 cents, up 2,1% from the previous trade. On quarter-to-date basis, OK is up 10%. On year-to-date basis the counter is down 5%. – ZimInd