July 1, 2011, David Edward Constable slipped into the giant-size shoes of Pat Davies, erstwhile chief executive officer of Sasol Limited who, as at his stepping down, in June 2011, was not only South Africa’s third-highest paid CEO but also knew the organisation inside out after joining thirty years earlier and had played a crucial role in its emergence as one of Africa’s strongest companies.
Listed both on the South African and New York stock exchange markets, Suid Afrikaanse Steenkool en Olie (or in English, South African Coal and Oil) has been involved in mining, energy, chemicals and synfuels for decades.
Separating itself from other petrochemical companies by basing its business primarily on CTL (coal-to-liquid) and GTL (gas-to-liquid) technology, which convert coal and natural gas respectively into liquid fuels, Sasol’s early days were in South Africa, where its original CTL plant was commissioned at Sasolburg in 1955.
Apart from the GTL and CTL businesses, Sasol also has a widely diversified chemical business. A number of chemicals, such as solvents, co-monomers, ethylene, propylene and Fischer Tropsch waxes, are extracted from the FT processes; while ammonia and associated downstream fertilisers and explosives are also produced. There is equally a global polymers business, which produces polymers in South Africa and has joint venture interests in cracker and polymer ventures in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the USA.
Before taking up the reins at Sasol, David Constable had served as group president of Project Operations at Fluor Corporation between 2009 and 2011, supervising the company’s business interests in China. He also served as group president of Power at Fluor from October 2005 to March 2009, and was responsible for its activities in the global fossil-fueled generation industry. Before then, he had been senior vice president of sales for Energy & Chemicals of Fluor from 2003 to 2005; and president of Operations & Maintenance and Telecommunications business line from 2000 to 2003.
Almost a year on, he has succeeded in extinguishing any doubts that accompanied his appointment, as is usually the case with the change of hand after a successful predecessor draws the curtain.
His first set of financial results during his time at the helm of the company is already impressive, and it is unlikely if anyone would have asked for more – a 81 percent jump in the headline earnings and 84 percent in the dividend. Yet Constable is unrelenting. He believes the record can be surpassed by the end of the current financial year, which is only some two weeks away.
“… every indication is that we should be able to have a strong second half,” he says. “From my vantage point looking at volumes and what the oil prices might do and the rand exchange rate and everything looking good on the operation side, I think we have a good chance of doing very well on the full year dividend.”
According to Constable, the secret of the success is strong operational performance. “Yeah, certainly the rand oil price has contributed,” he says, “but I also must say that we’ve had a strong operational performance …. Sasol is a ship going in a good direction.”