Imperial CEO Lamberti Quits After Insulting Female Colleague

(Bloomberg) -- Imperial Holdings Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Mark Lamberti quit the South African automotive and logistics company after a court found him guilty of insulting a former employee.

Lamberti, a veteran of the South African business community, apologized earlier this month for referring to Adila Chowan, an Asian woman, as a “female employment-equity” appointment in front of fellow managers in 2015. He quit the board of state utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. three days after being targeted by what he described as a “social-media frenzy,” and resigned his membership of Business Leadership South Africa on Monday.

Imperial CEO Lamberti Quits After Insulting Female Colleague

While the High Court in Pretoria didn’t find Lamberti guilty of racial or gender discrimination, the CEO resigned to protect the Imperial from bad publicity emanating from the case, the company said in a statement Wednesday. The board also pledged to address deficiencies in Imperial’s broader gender and race relations culture that were highlighted in the judgment, it said.

The CEO’s resignation comes as South Africa struggles to recover from the legacy of discrimination against the majority black population under apartheid, which ended in 1994, with most senior executive positions still held by white men.

Planned Separation

Osman Arbee, Imperial’s chief financial officer from 2013 to 2017 and the current CEO of the vehicles division, will replace Lamberti on May 1. He’ll be responsible for completing a planned split of the company into separate autos and logistics companies, with a final decision to be made by the end of June. If the move goes ahead, he will return to his present role as CEO of what will be a newly listed company focused on car rental and sales in sub-Saharan Africa.

Imperial shares fell 1.2 percent to 233.87 rand as of 10:21 a.m. in Johannesburg, valuing the company at 47 billion rand ($3.9 billion). The stock has gained almost 40 percent since Lamberti joined in March, 2014. He previously founded and led retailer Massmart Holdings Ltd. before selling a majority stake to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in 2011.

Lamberti was appointed as an Eskom board member by President Cyril Ramaphosa earlier this year as part of an initiative to clean up a company that was subject to allegations of corruption and mismanagement under predecessor Jacob Zuma. Ramaphosa has pledged to fight graft in South Africa, particularly at state-owned companies.

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