Naspers’ Bekker steps down as company shifts ecommerce strategy

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Naspers CEO Koos Bekker is stepping down, the emerging markets media and internet giant today revealed.

In an official press release posted to the company’s website, Naspers says that Bekker will step down from the Naspers board for a year before taking over from Ton Vosloo as chairman in 2015.

Bekker, who is largely responsible for turning Naspers from an exclusively print and broadcast player into an emerging markets internet powerhouse, will be replaced by Bob van Dijk.

Currently Naspers’ most senior ecommerce head, his appointment reflects the increasingly important role ecommerce is playing at the company.

Van Dijk, who is 41, previously headed up eBay Germany, that group’s biggest market outside the US, and was COO of Schibsted’s Classifieds.

“In view of our strong development focus on ecommerce, the board believes that Bob has the skills to lead us into the next phase of our growth,” said Ton Vosloo, Naspers chair.

On Friday, the company confirmed that it was dramatically restructuring its ecommerce operations in South Africa to focus its resources on Kalahari.

Bekker has effectively been with Naspers since 1985, when he helped launch MNet — South Africa’s first pay TV channel. He took over from Vosloo as CEO of the company in 1997. In the 2000s he lead two of the company’s most successful investments into Chinese internet giant Tencent and Russia’s Mail.ru.

Those investments are a large part of the reason Naspers has grown from a company with a market capitalisation of R5.6-billion to one with a market cap of R500-billion (US$45-billion). It also claims to be the largest media group outside the US and China, larger than any in Europe.

According to the company, Bekker will also retain his seat on the Tencent board but will spend most of his time traveling and “research where the group’s next spurt of growth may come from, once ecommerce has reached maturity”.

“It’s been fun,” Bekker says of his time at the Naspers helm. “I couldn’t have wished for a more interesting life. Now I hope to travel to places like Seoul and San Francisco where the future is being manufactured, and see if there are new technologies we should be trying out.”

Bekker has not drawn a salary from Naspers for some time now, taking all his payment in the form of Naspers shares. The solid performance of the company under his direction means that the value of Naspers’ shares has grown exponentially and that Bekker is now a billionaire.

The fact that the company made the announcement on a Saturday does however suggest that it may have been trying to avoid as much negative market sentiment as possible.

Van Dijk, who currently lives in the Netherlands, takes over from Bekker on 1 April. “Naspers is a great company and I’m honoured to lead an excellent team,” he says.

“We are also proud of the resonance our growth has in the South African economy, via the thousands of people we employ directly and the tens of thousands in the broader ecosystems of our businesses. We particularly enjoyed the new products and services our people invented”, said Vosloo.

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