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Bezuidenhout: They knew I had no degree

Acting South African Airways (SAA) chief executive Nico Bezuidenhout has said SAA, Mango staff and Mango’s board have always known that he did not have a degree, SABC radio reported on Tuesday.

“I do not believe the fact I did not have a academic qualification when appointed at Mango in 2006 has had any effect,” Bezuidenhout was quoted as saying by the state broadcaster. 

“My staff, the shareholder [SAA], my board, everybody that I’m involved with, has always known that I do not have a degree and have always given me support. 

“What does take away from support and respect for me and my credibility is false accusations about me lying or manipulating information.” 

Earlier on Tuesday, SAA’s board said in a statement that it stood by its appointment of Bezuidenhout as acting chief executive officer.

“The board of South African Airways (SAA) stands by its decision to appoint Mr Nico Bezuidenhout as acting chief executive officer based on his proven experience, capability and track record,” it said in a statement. 

“In the opinion of the board, the tertiary studies that Mr Bezuidenhout has completed, although incomplete, provides sufficient grounding while his performance track record certainly exceed that of a number of previous, and highly qualified, airline CEOs.”

The board said while it was not proposing to compare Bezuidenhout to other people, history was “littered with examples of extremely successful individuals who did not complete their tertiary degrees”.

It mentioned Michael Dell, chief executive of Dell Computers, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic, industrialist Henry Ford, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, Larry Ellison, co-founder of computer technology company Oracle, and Ray Kroc, credited with expanding McDonald’s from a small restaurant.

The Sunday Times reported on Sunday that Bezuidenhout was the latest in a series of high-profile executives and politicians who had been exposed for overstating their qualifications. 

SAA admitted this week that its 2011 and 2012 annual reports were wrong to state that Bezuidenhout had a BCom in transport economics and industrial psychology as well as an MBA.

Claims of misrepresentation untrue
On Tuesday, the airline said Bezuidenhout was head-hunted on behalf of SAA by Heidrick and Struggles to head-up E-Commerce operations at SAA in 2001. 

“His CV on record at Heidrick and Struggles and at SAA HR at the time, from this first interaction, never claimed tertiary qualifications,” the board said.

“His credentials were verified in accordance to standard SAA practices at the time, both by SAA as well as the Executive Search firm … Any claim that Mr Bezuidenhout misrepresented his qualifications is blatantly untrue.” 

The SAA board said the incorrect information printed in the 2011 and 2012 annual reports were corrected at the earliest opportunity – in the 2013 annual report.

The error was never published elsewhere and other public documents indicated that Bezuidenhout never claimed qualifications that he did not have nor attempted to mislead anyone, the board said. 

SAA said Bezuidenhout’s proven track record and subsequent appointment as acting chief executive was in the best interest of the business. 

On Monday, Mango said Bezuidenhout at no time misrepresented his qualifications to the Mango Airlines board. “It was disheartening to note media coverage this weekend, as a consequence of an error by Mango’s shareholder, SAA,” Mango chairman Rashid Wally said in a statement. 

“As Mango board member and later as chairperson, I confirm that the academic narrative contained in Mr Bezuidenhout’s CV, as presented to the board prior to Mango’s launch in 2006, was factually correct and accurate.”

Bezuidenhout had led Mango for eight years since its inception, with both the vision and the integrity that was incumbent of a chief executive. 

“Under his leadership the business has performed beyond expectations in a challenging and highly competitive market,” Wally said. 

“Under his leadership the airline showed solid growth coupled with commercial sustainability that saw record profits in the past financial year.” – Sapa

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