July 3, 2020 / 12:11 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Old Mutual makes acting CEO permanent, a year after sacking predecessor

* Williamson has been acting CEO since May 2019

* His permanent appointment sees shares rise

* Seen as competent Old Mutual veteran (Adds shareholder comment, details)

By Emma Rumney

JOHANNESBURG, July 3 (Reuters) - Old Mutual said on Friday acting CEO Iain Williamson had been made permanent, ending a year of uncertainty over who will lead one of South Africa’s biggest insurers.

Williamson has held the interim position since May 2019, when then-CEO Peter Moyo was suspended and subsequently sacked in a dispute over a conflict of interest.

Since then, he has had to contend with a court battle with Moyo and the coronavirus crisis, both of which have hurt the insurer’s bid to remake itself, improve performance and assuage some frustrated investors.

“His steady hand, strategic mind, and authentic leadership style has been both refreshing and truly welcomed,” Chairman Trevor Manuel said of Williamson, an actuary by profession and Old Mutual veteran of almost three decades.

The decision clears up the last big question following the saga with Moyo, a difficult period for the 175-year-old insurer whose share price - and reputation - was dealt a hefty blow throughout.

It endured a series of losses early on in litigation bought by its former boss, including a block on seeking his replacement. These have been overturned, but Moyo still plans to pursue a case seeking permanent reinstatement or damages.

Williamson will now be tasked with reviving Old Mutual’s performance more broadly. The company has seen profits slide since it re-listed in Johannesburg in June 2018.

Some investors thought an external candidate would be better able to reset the dial. But Jacques Plaut, portfolio manager at Allan Gray, Old Mutual’s No.2 shareholder, was pleased with the choice.

“(Williamson) knows the business very well and he speaks sense,” he said. “There are definitely some things to fix there, and part of me thinks maybe it needs an outsider to do it, but not necessarily.”

Old Mutual shares climbed off earlier lows on the news, but were still 1.33% down at 1300 GMT. (Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by Promit Mukherjee and Mark Potter)

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