Primedia CEO Essack leaves following internal battles

Primedia has parted ways with its group chief executive, Omar Essack, following speculation that he had been at loggerheads with the broadcasting giant’s board. 

Essack, who had been “on a leave of absence” for two weeks amid reports that he had fallen out with the company’s board, had been at the helm of Primedia for almost two years. 

An internal communique to staff members by the board chairperson, Phumzile Langeni, confirmed that Essack would leave Primedia, the owners of popular radio stations such as 702 and CapeTalk, at the end of April.

“Regretfully, after three years of service at Primedia, and 30 years in the media industry, Omar has decided that the time is right for him to move on after two decades in corporate leadership roles. Going forward he will be focused on writing, training and consulting projects and on emerging opportunities at the confluence of media and technology,” said Langeni in the memorandum to staff.

Earlier in the week Langeni, who had already stepped in as the acting CEO, told the Mail & Guardian that Essack had been on a “leave of absence”.

“Subsequent to consultation with Primedia’s board, and with their support, our CEO Omar Essack has taken a personal leave of absence. As chairman, with the support of our executive team, I am on standby as required during this period,” said Langeni.

New managerial structure

In the internal memo to staff Langeni said: “As chairman, I will play a hands-on role over the coming months to support the exco as we make this leadership transition. Going forward, as we settle into the new managerial structure, we will be reviewing our leadership requirements with a view to ensure we continue to deliver on our strategic objectives.”

The M&G has however learnt that Essack had already been absent for two weeks, and his leave was then further extended for an unspecified period. 

Essack, who has been at the helm of the company since April 2018, had denied that he was at loggerheads with the board. He also rejected reports that he had been suspended, referring further questions to the chairperson. “That is not true … I was not suspended at all. Maybe you must speak to my chairman with any concern about this,” he told the M&G.

Several conflicting reports have emerged from Primedia in recent days about Essack’s future.  

Earlier in the week, chief business officer for the company, Geraint Crwys-Williams, declined to answer direct questions from the M&G that sought clarity from Primedia about whether Essack was placed on suspension and whether he had been frogmarched from the premises. “Omar remains on personal leave,” said Crwys-Williams at the time. 

Essack took over as chief executive of Primedia from Roger Jardine in April 2018. According to insiders at Primedia, Essack has been put under extreme pressure since taking over because the board wants positive financials as the company is currently struggling. But there are also allegations of major issues at the broadcasting group. One of the issues that has been raised is that of staff morale, with seniors being unhappy with the working conditions at the company.    

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is an Open Society Fellow in Investigative Reporting at Wits University. Currently spending six months with the Mail and Guardian in the Investigations desk. He started journalism with Independent Media’s vernacular publication, I’solezwe LesiXhosa in East London. He has freelanced for publications such as GroundUp and Workers World Media.
Thanduxolo Jika
Thanduxolo Jika

Thanduxolo Jika is an investigative Journalist and Co-Author of We are going to kill each other today:The Marikana Story. The Messiah of Abantu.

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