Sim Tshabalala became the first black person to lead Africa’s largest bank without sharing power when his co-CEO stood down from South Africa’s Standard Bank on Tuesday.
Tshabalala, a 49-year old company veteran who describes himself as “a Zulu boy from Soweto”, joins only a handful of black executives at the helm of one of the country’s top-40 blue-chip companies.
He is the second black person to run one of the top five South African banks after Sizwe Nxasana took the reins for five years in 2009 at rival FirstRand in a sector often criticized by politicians for a lack of diversity more than two decades after the end of apartheid.
Tshabalala, a lawyer, was appointed alongside Ben Kruger in 2013 to sharpen the company’s Africa focus and clean up a costly blunder by then chief executive Jacko Maree to try to turn Standard Bank into a major emerging markets lender.
“The board is satisfied that the structure, which was necessary in 2013, has met and in many respects exceeded expectations,” Standard Bank Chairman Thulani Gcabashe said in a statement.
“Good momentum has been achieved in the implementation of the group’s refreshed strategy.”
In their joint 4 1/2-year tenure, Standard Bank has added branches across Africa while selling assets in Russia, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Argentina under a revamped strategy that scaled back its ambitions outside the continent.
Kruger will stay on as an executive director, and will report to Tshabalala, Standard Bank said.
Black executives’ lobby group, Black Management Forum (BMF), welcomed Tshabalala’s appointment, saying it showed Standard Bank had respect for black talent.
“The BMF trusts that this announcement will mark an end to the joint CEO appointments phenomena that we have come to see,” the group said.
BMF generally criticizes the appointment of two bosses, saying it is often done when “the most deserving candidate is a black person.” It also says it stifles accountability and adds costs to a company payroll.
Synthetics fuels giant Sasol is another high profile company with two bosses. The company is led by Bongani Nqwababa and Stephen Cornell.