Koos Bekker, the South African billionaire who transformed Naspers Ltd. from a print publisher into the biggest emerging-market media company, will step down as chief executive officer after 17 years.
Bekker, 61, will spend a year traveling and researching future growth opportunities for the company and will take over from Ton Vosloo as chairman in April 2015, Cape Town-based Naspers said in a statement today. Bob van Dijk, Naspers’s head of e-commerce, will succeed Bekker as CEO on April 1.
Bekker became head of Naspers in 1997 and began investing in technology and media companies around the world, including China’s Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Russia’s Mail.ru Group Ltd. The company’s market value rose to 530 billion rand ($48 billion). Known as Africa’s Rupert Murdoch, Bekker has a net worth of $1.7 billion, owns a 1.1 percent stake in Naspers and has almost 12 million exercisable options in the group, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Koos is a pioneer,” Zunaid Bulbulia, CEO of the South African unit of MTN Group Ltd., which Bekker was a founding director of in 1991, said in an interview today. “He saw the technology curve coming years before anyone else and started preparing his business for the coming wave. That foresight brought huge rewards.”
Van Dijk, 41, who holds an MBA from Insead in France, previously ran U.S. Internet auction operator EBay Inc.’s operations in Germany and was chief operating officer of the classifieds unit at Oslo-based media company Schibsted ASA, Naspers said.
“In view of our strong development focus on e-commerce, the board believes that Bob has the skills to lead us into the next phase of our growth,” Vosloo said in the statement.
Naspers generated 50.2 billion rand in revenue in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2013, 60 percent of which came from pay television. More than 6.7 million households from South Africa to Nigeria paid to watch content on Naspers’ broadcaster, Supersport, including soccer’s English Premier League and Formula 1 car races.
The change in leadership comes after the company said it would invest 7 billion rand in the 12 months through March this year, up 63 percent from 4.3 billion rand a year earlier, at the expense of profit. The company is seeking to expand its digital TV-network in east and west Africa, subsidize set-top boxes and advertise its online classified venture, Bekker said in a Nov. 26 interview.
Under Naspers, Bekker bought half of Shenzhen, China-based Tencent, now the country’s biggest Internet company, for $32 million in 2001. The stake was diluted to 34 percent after Tencent’s 2004 listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange and the introduction of a share incentive plan, and represents about 80 percent of Naspers value. Tencent is now worth about 1,082 billion Hong Kong dollars ($139.5 billion).
Van Dijk was appointed in August last year to run Naspers’s e-commerce operations in Central and Eastern Europe. He lives in the Netherlands with his wife and two daughters, according to the statement.
“Bob is unknown in South Africa but has a track record in Europe,” Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of technology research and consulting company World Wide Worx, said today in an e-mailed response to questions. “The very brief time he had with the company before this appointment suggest he was headhunted for the specific purpose of succeeding Koos.”
Naspers shares have gained 16 percent this year, compared with a 2.6 percent gain on the FTSE/JSE Africa All Share Index.
“Koos is a visionary and a South African business icon,” Vodacom Group Ltd. CEO Shameel Joosub said in a statement to Bloomberg News. “What he’s achieved in transforming the essence of Naspers and also growing the business on the global stage is simply phenomenal.”