Nyasulu To Chair Sasol
Javier Espinoza, 09.08.08, 1:20 PM ET
LONDON - Sasol, the South African energy firm, elected a black chairwoman to lead the company's board, a notable at a company that had once been seen as dragging its feet on empowering historically disadvantaged victims of decades of racial segregation.
Hixonia Nyasulu, 54, is the founder of a women-controlled investment vehicle called Ayavuna Women's Investments. She is the first woman and the first black person to chair Sasol, which makes fuel from coal
"Although there is continuity, she will make a positive impact in a business where it is relatively unusual to have a woman in charge. Her appointment better reflects the make up of a new South Africa," Jonathan Kennedy-Good, an analyst with Deutsche Securities, told Forbes.com. "She represents a very stable leadership within the company as she has been with them for some time," he said.
In March, Sasol moved to make its shares more widely available to black investors. (See "Sasol's $3.2 Billion Racial Justice Call.") That followed changes at the company in the wake of a 2003 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that identified empowerment of black people as potentially having an "adverse impact" on Sasol's business and finances. Late last year, the company changed its articles of incorporation from the Afrikaans language to English, ostensibly to make them more accessible to an international investor base but having the effect of removing a link to South Africa's apartheid era.
Sasol (nyse: SSL - news - people ) also posted a 50.0% jump in annual earnings for the year through June 30 on Monday, to 38.09 rand ($4.80) per share, on the back of higher oil prices and a favorable exchange rate. The company said operating profit rose 32.0%, to 34.0 billion rand ($4.2 billion), and declared a final dividend of 9.35 South African rand ($1.19), a 58.0% rise from last year.
Shares of Sasol rose 2.8%, or 1,060 South African rand ($134.42), to 38,360 South African rand ($4,871.83), in afternoon trading in Johannesburg. Although the company's earnings were slightly shy of estimates, it guided 2009 estimates to a big gain from the current year, according to TradeTheNews.com.
Until recently, Nyasulu was a member of the Banking Enquiry Panel, appointed by the South African Competition Commission to investigate charges in the retail banking sector, access to the National Payment System and competition in the sector. She has served on the boards of several South African companies since 1992 and she is also a member of the board of international companies. She is currently a director of Anglo-Dutch consumer products firm Unilever. She is also part of the JPMorgan South Africa advisory board.
Pat Davies, Sasol's chief executive, told Forbes.com her experience at both local and international companies makes her a good bet for Sasol. "She is a powerful leader with a valuable contribution as she sits on a number of boards with a widespread experience in many industries," Davies said in a phone interview from Johannesburg.
Davies replaced Pieter Cox as Sasol's CEO in 2005 and accelerated the company's inclusion of blacks. Cox became the chairman at that time and announced his retirement on Monday, paving the way for Nyasulu's appointment.