IN THE era where corporate reputation stands for much, it is amazing to see people whose role it is to safeguard shareholder value behave as if the world is not watching them and that nothing they do can bring harm to corporate reputation.
Seen from the outside, one could be forgiven for suspecting that the anger between old comrades and buddies – Marcel Golding and Johnny Copelyn – has gone so bad that they are prepared to exchange punches in public at the expense of the brand they’ve worked so hard to build over the last two decades and the stakeholders they’ve come to rally around it.

The behaviour of these two “comrades”, who swopped their berets for the boardroom, is similar to that of an old couple after years of sharing a bed and linen. They know each other’s secrets, strengths and weaknesses, and would need very little effort to destroy each other’s reputation if they kept going at the rate we’ve seen recently.

The problem with this behavior is that they are not the only ones to be hurt by their brinkmanship. HCI has many loyal employees, shareholders and suppliers who are also caught in this board- and bedroom cross-fire. The list of admirers has also grown over the years; their loyalty is also at stake. Even the share price took a knock at one stage.

The other immediate casualties are board member and ANC veteran Barbara Hogan and eNews executive and partner to Golding, Bronwyn Keene-Young. Hogan publicly jumped ship as soon as her dress got muddied; more will certainly follow.

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On the one hand, Copelyn has taken to using lengthy internal emails to give his side of the story, defending the company against Golding’s accusations of political influence in news bulletins. On the other hand, Golding tried to use the courts to save his job and, after struggling, went on to fall on his own sword – citing constructive dismissal as an excuse.

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The boardroom shenanigans mean that HCI finds itself exposed to the watchful eyes of analysts, media, shareholders and the general public. Their views, like in any public divorce, are divided.

But someone has to start behaving like an adult and do the right thing to protect the HCI brand and those of its subsidiaries, Tsogo Sun, eNCA and YFM. They have to reassure key stakeholders that the company is in safe hands and that this storm will soon pass. No brand can survive a protracted public spat in its leadership ranks without a huge price being paid in the form of market confidence.

The question is, can Johnny Copelyn do the right thing and assure HCI’s stakeholders that adequate leadership remains in the business to steer it back into still waters? I think he can, and moving swiftly to appoint Kevin Govender to act in Golding’s resigned position will help to restore some of the market confidence and public sentiment.

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However Copelyn will have to find a way to engage his old friend and comrade, Golding, more constructively in order to ensure that the final divorce is as amicable as possible. He also needs to assure observers that HCI values the independence of the press.

*Written for*