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Shoprite investor seeks to curb Wiese power with director

  • Staff Writer: Janice Kew

A Shoprite Holdings Ltd. shareholder nominated a veteran retail executive to the board of Africa’s biggest grocer in an attempt to reduce the influence of Chairman Christo Wiese -- part of a wider investor pushback against the former billionaire.

Wiese, 78, has been chairman of the Cape Town-based company for almost three decades and has more voting rights than any other shareholder. He is standing for re-election as non-executive director at the supermarket giant’s annual general meeting next week.

All Weather Capital nominated former Pepkor Ltd. head Jan le Roux, 69, as a director, a move that will be voted on at Shoprite’s annual general meeting on Monday. Wiese is the former owner of Pepkor and developed the company into a pan-African clothing retailer before agreeing to sell to Steinhoff Holdings International NV in 2014.

“We need some forces on the board that will balance Wiese’s influence,” Shane Watkins, chief investment officer at All Weather, said by phone.

Le Roux’s nomination has not followed “usual procedure” and will be raised at the Nov. 4 meeting, Wiese said by phone. “It’s the first time in Shoprite history a nomination has been sprung this way.”

Reducing Influence

Business Day earlier reported that the proposal may not comply with rules set by Johannesburg’s stock exchange.

Steinhoff’s near collapse eroded Wiese’s standing as one of South Africa’s richest people, and his net worth now stands at $744 million, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Shoprite moved to reduce Wiese’s influence earlier this year with the chairman’s support, but was forced to scrap the plan after investors objected to the likely 3.3 billion-rand ($219 million) cost to the company in compensation. The grocer has also faced shareholder opposition to its levels of executive pay, holding extra meetings to discuss the policy.

The shares have slumped 29% this year, the worst performer on the FTSE/JSE Food & Drug Retailers Index.

Le Roux has also given All Weather a “firm undertaking to champion” black economic empowerment at Shoprite, Watkins said, referring to South Africa’s policy to address inequities stemming from apartheid.

The Public Investment Corp. -- a shareholder that has objected to Shoprite’s pay policy -- didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. All Weather holds 3.2 million shares, equivalent to about 0.5% of the stock.