Absa CEO Ramos to Retire After Steering Barclays Split

(Bloomberg) -- Absa Group Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Maria Ramos will step down after overseeing the split from Barclays Plc, an alliance blamed for the loss of retail market share at South Africa’s third-largest bank.

The stock rallied the most among its Johannesburg-based peers on Tuesday in the wake of her pending exit. Absa, once the nation’s largest mortgage lender, fell behind after Britain’s Barclays acquired control in 2005. Now that the U.K. bank has sold down its stake, Absa is planning to grow faster than rivals to close the gap.

“For a long time she was doing what Barclays wanted to,” Harry Botha, a banking analyst at Avior Capital Markets in Cape Town, said by phone. “She presided over Absa while Barclays destroyed the retail franchise.”

Absa CEO Ramos to Retire After Steering Barclays Split

Ramos, who will turn 60 in February, led the lender for 10 years, and will be replaced as interim CEO by René van Wyk from March 1, the company said in a statement on Tuesday. With the separation from Barclays on track “and our new strategy as a standalone financial institution in place, Maria feels that this is the right time to retire.”

Ramos’ retirement and the lender’s succession planning was put on hold when Barclays announced plans to cut its holdings in 2016, to retain focus on the separation, Chairwoman Wendy Lucas-Bull said by phone.

“We purposely took the issue of succession off the table because there was such a big piece of work that had to be concentrated on that we didn’t want any distraction to the executive,” she said. “That, in any organization, causes undue disruption and a lack of focus in terms of what’s really got to be done on the ground.”

Ramos’ successor should be announced by the time Absa publishes its first-half earnings in about six months from now, Lucas-Bull said, with the person expected to take office in the new financial year.

When asked at an interview in Davos last week on whether she plans to retire, Ramos said: “I made a commitment and when I do something I do it completely and totally and when the time comes to do something else I will think about that.”

Absa CEO Ramos to Retire After Steering Barclays Split

The CEO -- who helped draw up South Africa’s constitution and served as a director-general at the Ministry of Finance under the late President Nelson Mandela -- led Absa through a number of milestones, the lender said. That included guiding the bank through the financial crisis and acquisition of eight of Barclays African units for 18.3 billion rand ($1.3 billion) in 2013, the largest African purchase yet by a South African bank.

Ramos in March brought in new management and restructured the retail and business banking unit -- which accounts for more than half of earnings and deposits and 60 percent of loans. Since Barclays sold its controlling stake down to below 16 percent, Absa has also rebooted its image and revamped its other management teams. It’s appointed a new corporate and investment banking head, and expressed the willingness to take on more risk.

The groundwork laid in the past year by Ramos removed uncertainty around Absa’s future and made the CEO post more attractive to potential successors, Lucas-Bull said. Van Wyk, a non-executive director of Absa, was previously the Registrar of Banks and has 19 years experience with another of the country’s big four banks.

The shares climbed as much as 3.9 percent to 182.39 rand, the highest since May 2018, before paring gains to trade 2.5 percent up at 180.02 rand as of 1:50 p.m. in Johannesburg. The stock has jumped 11 percent this year, outperforming the six-member FTSE/JSE Africa Banks Index.

“They seem to be on the right path with the strategy,” said Avior’s Botha. “But they still need to execute.”

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