Koos Bekker, the South African billionaire who’s stepping down as chief executive officer of Naspers Ltd., said his successor will need to prioritize the company’s e-commerce business to pursue further growth.
Bekker, who transformed Cape Town-based Naspers from a print publisher into the world’s biggest emerging-market media company, will be replaced by the firm’s recently-appointed head of e-commerce Bob van Dijk. Bekker, 61, is taking a yearlong sabbatical to travel and research future growth opportunities before taking over as chairman.
“The main requirement for the Naspers CEO at this point of our evolution is to manage our e-commerce businesses,” Bekker said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Bob is one of the most senior e-commerce execs in Europe.”
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 has risen to 530 billion rand ($48 billion), making it Africa’s largest company by that measure. One rand invested in the company’s shares in October 1997, when Bekker became CEO, would be worth 24 rand now, according to Naspers.
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. Naspers shares gained 1.5 percent to 1,290 rand as of the market close in Johannesburg, extending its gain this year to 18 percent.
“He saw the technology curve coming years before anyone else and started preparing his business for the coming wave,” Zunaid Bulbulia, CEO of the South African unit of Johannesburg-based wireless operator MTN Group Ltd., said in an e-mailed response to questions. “That foresight brought huge rewards.”
Bekker was a founding director of MTN, now Africa’s largest mobile phone company, in 1991.
Bekker said Van Dijk will be trusted to run Naspers by longer-serving executives at the group. The 41-year-old joined the company in August last year to run its e-commerce operations in Central and Eastern Europe.
“Bob is well accepted by our senior folk and has great people management skills,” Bekker said.
Van Dijk’s previous jobs include head of the German unit of U.S. Internet auction operator EBay Inc. and chief operating officer of the classifieds business at Oslo-based media company Schibsted ASA.
“His areas of expertise are e-commerce marketplaces, online classified and e-payments,” Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of technology research and consulting company World Wide Worx, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “All key areas of potential growth and challenge for Naspers.”
Van Dijk will reside in the Netherlands and expects to travel to the company’s Cape Town head office once or twice a month, Johannesburg-based Beeld newspaper of Naspers’s Media24-unit reported today, citing van Dijk. Van Dijk wasn’t able to confirm whether he will be paid solely in shares, as was the case with Bekker, Beeld said.
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. 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.
Bekker, who with his wife, Karen, owns Babylonstoren, a farm, winery and luxury hotel about 37 miles (60 kilometers) northeast of Cape Town, plans to travel to places such as San Francisco and Seoul during his year off, according to a Feb. 22 statement. He’ll take over from Ton Vosloo as chairman in April 2015.
“What he’s achieved in transforming the essence of Naspers and also growing the business on the global stage is simply phenomenal,” Shameel Joosub, CEO of Johannesburg-based mobile phone company Vodacom Group Ltd., said in an e-mailed response to questions.