After leading Absa for a decade, Maria Ramos announced on Tuesday that she would retire at the end of February.
Ranked number 93 on Forbes’ list of most powerful women, Ramos took the reins of the bank in 2009, during the financial crisis. While at the helm of Absa, she led the acquisition of eight banks by then parent company Barclays’s in 2013, and later the “sell-down and separation” from Barclays, according to a statement released on Tuesday. Under her tenureship, Absa adopted a new strategy as a “standalone financial institution”.
Ramos has always said she never intended to stay at Absa too long. “My earlier intentions to step down were curtailed by Barclays PLC’s 2016 decision to sell down their controlling stake, a unique set of circumstances that required continuity. So with my coming 60th birthday I have made the decision to leave the position open for a new chief executive to lead the Group on the next leg of its exciting journey,” she said in a statement on Tuesday.
She told Bloomberg during the Davos World Economic Forum last week that she keeps her promises: “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.”
Ramos has had a prestigious career. Before taking on the chief executive position at Absa she served as the chief executive of state-owned rail, pipeline and ports agency Transnet from 2004 to 2009.
Born in Lisbon, Portugal, on February 22 1959, Ramos moved to South Africa as a child and completed her tertiary students at the University of the Witwatersrand where she was awarded a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1987. She earned her Masters from the University of London in 1992.
To pay for her studies, Ramos lobbied for and won a men-only scholarship offered by Barclays in 1983. She would go on to teach economics in the early 1990s and serve the ANC’s department of economic planning as an economist.
Between 1996 and 2003 she was the director-general of the department of finance. She married then finance minister Trevor Manuel in 2008. Manuel served as the finance minister from 1996 to 2009.
However, some analysts believe that Ramos won’t be in retirement for too long.
In his Business Insider column, Bruce Whitfield said Ramos’s plans to retire without a full-time successor in place is a sign that she has been offered another position, perhaps in government. According to Whitfield, “Ramos is ideally suited for a big fix-it job in government.”
She could be placed in a position in government in one of the Cabinet portfolios, if President Cyril Ramaphosa rearranges his cabinet in February. Or she could head to the South African Reserve Bank. Mark Kingon is currently the acting Sars commissioner whose contract was extended for a third time in December. However, Kingon has expressed his interest in continuing to serve as the head of Sars, if Ramaphosa wished it, he told Fin24 in October.
Absa’s interim chief
With Ramos stepping down at the end of February, non-executive Absa board member René van Wyk will step in from March 1 as the interim chief executive.
Van Wyk’s previous positions include Registrar of Banks at the South African Reserve Bank, executive director of risk for Nedcor Investment Bank and chief executive of Imperial Bank.
Absa group chair Wendy Lucas-Bill says Ramos will leave Absa with the bank’s “major priorities on track”.
“Absa is a different business to the one Maria joined in 2009. Instead of a South African bank it is now a pan-African financial services provider with a footprint in ten countries across Africa,” said Lucas-Bull.