South African Airways' parent company Transnet has appointed a New York-based recruitment agency to headhunt senior managerial staff as part of the airline's restructuring process.

Zukile Nomvete, the Transnet executive director responsible for SAA, says emphatically that his own job is not in doubt. He makes no mention of SAA chief executive officer Mike Myburgh's future, saying only that several senior executives' jobs could 'be on the line'. However a source in the recruitment industry confirmed that a 'search' was on for an SAA 'chief executive'.

Minister Stella Sicgau is considering a master plan under which each Transnet division, including SAA, will have its own board chaired by an executive from the private sector in preparation for full or partial privatisation.

A decision over what percentage stake would be sold has yet to be made. Airline sources, however, say between 30 and 35 per cent is scheduled to go to a foreign partner by 31 October 1998. Employees will get 5 to 1O per cent with the balance of the 49 per cent going to the National Empowerment Fund. The state is expected to retain its controlling interest for up to five years.

The delay could be a deliberate effort to give Myburgh's cost-cutting 'Operation Clean-Up' a chance to turn around the R323 million ($67 million) loss for the financial year to March 1997, and push up the asking price. Since July the exercise has saved some R105 million, equating to R210 million on an annualised basis. British Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa are among potential bidders.

Roger Makings

Source: Airline Business