Steinhoff musical chairs: Why is Ben la Grange, R50m-a-year CA at heart of scandal, still in the game?

Ben la Grange
Ben la Grange.

EDINBURGH — Ben la Grange is one of the best paid retail bosses in South Africa. The Chartered Accountant was paid R50m in 2017 for serving as Chief Executive Officer of Steinhoff Africa Retail (Star). To put that figure into perspective, Mr Price CEO Stuart Bird reportedly earned just over R15m last year, Pick n Pay’s Richard Brasher took home about R25m and Shoprite boss Pieter Engelbrecht received a salary of R32m. In December, La Grange stepped down from the Star role to concentrate on his other day job: chief financial officer of parent group Steinhoff. Now, he has moved away from that position, too – apparently to concentrate on efforts to rescue the company he should have been watching over in the first place. The Twittersphere is abuzz with questions about why Steinhoff is playing musical chairs and clinging to a man who should be answering tough questions about allegations of fraud instead of papering over the cracks. – Jackie Cameron

By Vernon Wessels

(Bloomberg) — Steinhoff International Holdings NV, the South Africa-based retail giant consumed by an accounting scandal, said some of its business units need “significant near-term liquidity” as its chief financial officer stepped down to focus on rescue efforts.

CFO Ben la Grange will be replaced by Philip Dieperink, finance chief for the company’s U.K. subsidiary, the owner of France’s Conforama and Mattress Firm in the U.S. said Thursday. La Grange will also work on completing the 2017 financial statements, while Steinhoff said it is seeking a chief restructuring officer to help rearrange its debt.

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The company remains “committed to work with its lenders and other finance providers in finding solutions and to return liquidity to the group in order to stabilize the affected underlying operations,” Steinhoff said in a statement. It said it has “achieved some degree of stabilization in its operating businesses.”

A Steinhoff International Holdings NV logo sits on display outside the company’s offices in Stellenbosch, South Africa, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016. Acquisitions including Pepkor Holdings Pty Ltd. and French furniture chain Conforama France SA have transformed Steinhoff International Holdings NV, which employs 90,000 people and has more than 6,500 stores in 30 countries from the U.K. to Australia. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The company’s Pepkor Europe unit has received a 180 million-pound ($244 million) loan facility to replace planned investment from Steinhoff, according to a statement from Pepkor’s Poundland unit in the U.K.

Steinhoff shares lost most of their value in the days following the Dec. 5 announcement of an investigation into its finances and the resignation of its chief executive officer. The stock rose 25 percent in Frankfurt on Thursday, extending a six-day rally.

The retailer said on Tuesday that its 2017 results will be accompanied by a restatement of its 2016 financial statements as well as the 2015 earnings of Steinhoff International Holdings Pty Ltd., the former Johannesburg-listed entity for the group. Steinhoff moved its primary stock listing to Frankfurt in 2015. The restatements won’t affect its Steinhoff Services Ltd. business, which has bonds listed in Johannesburg.

Moody’s Investor Services last week downgraded the company’s credit by three notches, its second multi-step cut since the scandal and taking the Steinhoff deeper into junk. The ratings provider kept Steinhoff on review for further downgrades, saying the company may face challenges in being able to repay or refinance debt maturing this year.

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Bloomberg profile: Ben la Grange

Mr. Andries Benjamin la Grange, also known as Ben, BComm (Law), BComm(Hons), CA served as the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Steinhoff Africa Retail Limited since July 1, 2017 until December 1, 2017.

Mr. la Grange joined Steinhoff in 2003 as Manager of the Corporate Tax Division. He served as the Group Chief Financial Officer of Steinhoff International Holdings N.V. since March 5, 2013 and also served as its Chief Financial Officer of Southern Hemisphere.

Mr. la Grange has been a Member of Management Board at Steinhoff International Holdings N.V. since November 30, 2015. He served as an Executive Officer and Non Executive Director of KAP International Holdings Limited. Mr. la Grange spent two and a half years in their international and corporate division before joining Steinhoff International. He has been a Non-Executive Director at JD Group Limited since June 15, 2012. He has been a Director of Mattress Firm Holding Corp. since September 16, 2016. He was Non Executive Director of Steinhoff Africa Retail Limited since July 1, 2017 until December 1, 2017. Mr. la Grange served as a Non-Executive Director of KAP Industrial Holdings Limited since April 25, 2012 until October 1, 2017.

Mr. la Grange completed his articles with PricewaterhouseCoopers. Mr. la Grange served as an Executive Director of Steinhoff International Holdings N.V. since March 5, 2013.

Source: Bloomberg

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