THE odds have always been heavily stacked against Ketso Gordhan since his resignation as CE of PPC. If the former executive of the cement maker ever believed he would be able to return to the boardroom and rock the corporate boat, he has now been proven wrong.

A month after he donned his shareholder activist hat and demanded the company’s shareholders choose between him and the board, Gordhan is still out in the wilderness, with not much to show for his efforts.

Last week the company advertised his job. And the silence of the shareholders he’s been canvassing to reinstate him has really been deafeningly loud.

“I don’t know what is happening — it’s up to the shareholders,” Gordhan told Business Day after seeing the advertisement. “I have explained that we need to change the board and bring me back as CE.”

That’s what happens when you ask people to choose between you and the next person. There’s always a chance that you might not like their decision.

Gordhan wanted to fire one of his colleagues, whom we shall assume to be Tryphosa Ramano, PPC’s chief financial officer. But, like him, Ramano had been appointed by the board and reports to the board, which in turn holds the right to fire and hire whoever they choose at executive level.

Gordhan resigned when the board declined to rubber-stamp his decision. But he soon changed his mind and that same board refused to allow him to retract his resignation. So he asked major shareholders to choose him over the board, after declaring that he’d lost confidence in the board members and couldn’t continue working with them.

A month after he donned his shareholder activist hat and demanded the company’s shareholders choose between him and the board, Gordhan is still out in the wilderness, with not much to show for his efforts.

At least one major shareholder has been upfront and public about the whole thing. “The board appoints the CE; he can’t be bigger than the company,” says Daniel Matjila, the chief investment officer of the Public Investment Corp, an 11% shareholder. “Why must we [shareholders] get involved in [such] matters?”The thing about SA investors is that they have always been comfortable sitting on the fence if profits are forthcoming. Like many investors elsewhere, it’s always going to take a lot more than just personality clashes to force them out of that comfort zone.

It matters little how good the individual is, or how principled that person is when leading a company. It’s profit or the highway for investors.

Gordhan has not helped his case. He has strategically fumbled by not stating a clear case, backed up with facts, to reinforce his allegations against PPC’s board members, including Ramano.

He’s only vaguely accused them of “actions [that] put PPC’s strategy execution, including potential shareholder value, at risk”.

As if he wasn’t facing a mountain to overcome in the first place in his ill-fated quest to oust the board, such brave but vague claims are strategically never going to cut it where you want to vigorously shake the tree.

To the uninformed observer, without any tangible facts, Gordhan’s antics seem merely to be those of a man with an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

But in fact his ill-fated adventure was a noble attempt at dragging investors from the top of that comfortable fence, that place to which they always retreat when important decisions are called for.

So far, a month into his resignation, he hasn’t managed to find any shareholder who owns at least 9% of the company’s stock to back him in calling a special meeting of PPC investors. With the help of such a shareholder, and with his own 1.4% holding, he could have a chance to state his case in front of fellow shareholders.

“We don’t even think that meeting would be appropriate,” says Matjila, who has given Gordhan an audience.

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