Tue. Feb 25th, 2020

Maria Ramos: The qualifications and scandals of the woman asked to save Eskom

maria ramos absa ceo rene van wyk nedbankAs Eskom was sent into another tailspin this week, it’s now reported that ex-Absa CEO Maria Ramos has been asked to take charge of the utility’s unbundling.

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The former CEO of Absa only retired earlier this year. But it looks as if Maria Ramos will have to answer the call of duty for her country once more. The Portuguese-born financial expert is set to swap the banks for an ailing SOE, as the Sunday Times report Eskom have asked her to be their Chief Reorganisation Officer (CRO).

The job isn’t exactly one last hurrah for Ramos, either. Her remit would be to oversee Eskom’s finances, contracts, and maintenance of facilities. As Cyril Ramaphosa revealed in February, the power utility will also be split into three units: Generation, transmission and distribution.

The president has set up a task-team to handle the recovery, but it needs someone to take charge of the mammoth turnaround required. That’s why Ramos has apparently been approached, as her CV is nothing short of dazzling. But there may be a blemish or two to be wary of.

Who is Maria Ramos?

Education and degrees

She went to work for Barclays as a clerk shortly after matriculating in 1977. It’s reported she fought a sexist “men-only” policy to secure her place on their scholarship scheme.

Ramos then obtained an Institute of Bankers’ Diploma (CAIB) in 1983, before scoring two bachelor degrees from the University of Witwatersrand in both economics and commerce. She then got her Master’s from the University of London in 1992, after studying the science of economics.

Work experience relevant to Eskom

Maria Ramos has been elbow-deep in the SOE chaos before. When she came in as the Group Chief Executive of Transnet Limited from 2003 – 2008, the businesswoman is largely credited with helping to get the rail organisation back on track. She had a similarly impressive seven-year stint as the Director-General of the Treasury beforehand.

Maria Ramos’ most recent job

She has spent the last 10 years as the Chief Executive Officer of Absa Group Limited. Ramos secured a rather notable accolade during her time at the helm when she was named CNBC Africa Woman Leader of the Year (2011).

In an era where qualifications fall under strict scrutiny, Ramos’ resume seems to fit the bill. The task ahead of her is thankless, and success is far from guaranteed. Nonetheless, this could be the type of sensible, pragmatic appointment Eskom have needed after years of chaos. Or at least, that’s one way of looking at it…

Any criticisms?

She’s been accused of “manipulating the rand” during her decade at Absa, and was forced to apologise in 2017 for her part in “currency-fixing”. Maria Ramos is also blamed for selling-off MTN and the V&A Waterfront for much less than their true value. She may have the qualifications and the experience, but her copybook isn’t immaculate.

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