Former Absa CEO Maria Ramos pays tribute to deputy CEO Peter Matlare, who died from Covid-19 complications.
“We are ready to hit the road M, we will do all nine countries and 10 banks, we will get it done in the two weeks, that’s all we have,” Peter Matlare told me in early 2018.
We had reached an important milestone in Absa’s separation from Barclays Plc. Peter and the Rest of Africa team (now Africa Regional Operations, or ARO) were about to embark on a critical trip to share the progress we had made with the boards and regulators across the continent.
In 2016, Barclays Plc had taken the decision to reduce its shareholding in Barclays Africa (now Absa Group). The operational impact of that decision was felt most acutely in the Rest of Africa operations. Peter had joined the board of Barclays Africa in 2011 as an independent nonexecutive director.
He brought to the board extensive knowledge and experience as a senior executive and, importantly for us, he understood the complexity and opportunities of doing business in multiple countries across Africa. One of the best decisions I made as CEO was to convince him to join the executive team in August 2016.
By the time he joined Absa as deputy CEO, he had successfully turned the SABC around, achieving solid profits while fulfilling its important public mandate. He earned the support of executives, staff, the board and regulators. His impact on the lives and careers of people working at the SABC at the time is poignantly evidenced in the outpouring of messages on social media platforms.
If turning the SABC around wasn’t a big enough test of his leadership skills, his seven years at Tiger Brands would be. Reading the annual reports of the company now, the challenges were huge and the environment unrelentingly competitive, with a tough economic landscape in many markets.
Many CEOs and boards have lost money and made poor decisions on investments across the continent and globally. Most, however, do not have to be reminded of it as often as Peter was of the Dangote Flour Mills write-off.
I believe the extent to which this one disappointment in his career was constantly put on the table was not unconnected to the race and gender biases that pervade our society. As a result, it is now forgotten how his steady and thoughtful leadership navigated Tiger Brands out of a debilitating price-fixing scandal.
Even after he left, Peter continued to care about the company and its people and was proud when something good was reported. He was concerned for the welfare of all involved during the listeriosis crisis.
This depth of experience, compassion and resilience made it a no-brainer to bring him into our executive team. He understood the pressure of delivery and what it felt like to disappoint, but to get up and try again as we had to do on our own journey.
We needed that as much as we needed his infectious optimism about the prospects and opportunities for SA and the continent. Notwithstanding, his experience and realism meant he always reminded us to understand the risks and focus on execution. As a result, he did not compromise on excellence and set a blistering pace for himself and his team.
The trip I referred to earlier stands out for me because it was the first time that the new Absa brand and visual identity was to be shared with the boards of our banks, six months before it would go public.
Every step before and after that date was extraordinarily important, for we dared not fail. He made sure the work was done when it needed to be done, to a high standard of quality. He was erudite, widely read and always frustrated me by reading The Economist before I did!
He took great pride in the Absa Africa financial markets index, which gives investors into the continent vital information about its capital markets.
Peter ranks among the best our country has produced. His extraordinary contribution to corporate SA deserves to be richly acknowledged and celebrated. He stood out among the very best executives I have worked with. I feel enormously privileged to have worked with him.
He was sustained and nurtured by a deep love for his family, who were his source of energy and inspiration. To me, he was a trusted colleague and counsellor. To Trevor and me, he was a dear and cherished friend and his loss has been unbearable. Our hearts go out to his wife Nomvula, their daughters and extended family.
We will miss him dearly.
The article first appeared in the Financial Mail.