JOHANNESBURG – The struggling SAA board this week entrusted Les Matuson to rescue it out of the turbulence it had been stuck in since 2011.
Matuson was appointed as the SAA business rescue practitioner with a backup of a further R4 billion from the fiscus.
His job would entail returning the struggling to solvency or to maximise value for its creditors.
Matuson is no stranger to turning loss-making businesses into viable entities.
He comes with 35 years of experience in business rescue and is the founder of Matuson and Associates whose turning around of furniture retailer Ellerine Furnishers exceeded expectations.
The Ellerine Furnishers business rescue process was the largest business rescue to date based on the public interest score of the company, the Matuson and Associates said in its website.
Ellerine Furnishers was a subsidiary of African Bank Investments Limited (Abil) and its brands included household and appliances brands Beares, Dial-a-Bed, Ellerines, Furniture City, Geen & Richards and Wetherlys.
The company which employed 8 000 people hit tough times when in 2010 Abil’s credit and financial services component was sold to African Bank, resulting in a negative impact on profitability.
Failed African Bank in July 2014 said it wanted to sell Ellerine Furniture and subsequently Ellerine Furniture filing for business rescue.
In the business rescue, Matuson was able to sell Dial-a-Bed to Coricraft, and 62 of the Beares stores to the Lewis Group.
He was also able to sell business agreements that had been concluded with the Lewis Group for the retail operations in Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland. Around 2000 jobs were saved through the sale of several divisions, and the dividend paid to creditors exceeded the ‘best case’ dividend that creditors would have received in liquidation.
Hans Klopper of BDO Business Restructuring said the SAA rescue process could take months if not years and a relatively small amount of SAA’s assets could be recoverable.
"If there aren’t willing patrons prepared to book flights then the bottom falls out of the whole business," Klopper said.
SAA employs around nearly 5000 people, while the wider SAA Group, including maintenance and catering units, employs around 10,000.
The airline, which has not made a profit since 2011 and has received more than R20bn of government bailouts over the past three years, said it would publish a new provisional flight schedule soon.
Matuson managed the business rescue proceedings of Evraz Highveld South Africa’s second-largest steelmaker after ArcelorMittal South Africa. Evraz which was the country’s only producer of heavy structural steel products and only one of five such companies in the world went into business rescue in 2015 amid increasing costs of input materials and high fixed cost base driven by high maintenance and labour costs.
He was also responsible for rescuing Gupta linked Optimum Coal Mine which supplied coal to Eskom’. Optimum went into business rescue in August 2015.
Matuson and Associates said had been able to manage competing priorities of stakeholders in challenging times.
In its website, Matuson and Associates describe itself as an are execution-oriented and implementation-focused, delivering measurable results. “We take pride in our track record of navigating companies through the toughest of time”.