SMOKE & MIRRORS


When I signed the Trillian offer, I felt that I was selling my soul because I had just made a decision which financially put me in a worse position than my status quo and I had just walked away from my dream career because I believed in the opportunity that had not shown its full hand. I thought that I was taking a huge leap of faith; surely that demonstrates by belief in the opportunity? I was the CEO of a start-up consulting company working with McKinsey for Eskom!


I was determined to do everything that I could to make it work, successful and prove Clive wrong. I wanted to prove to myself that my skills could transfer industries. It was refreshing to get out of mining and try something different.


I told myself that if my efforts weren’t good enough, at least everyone would know how much I tried. I had to have another chat with Peter – I couldn’t support our family to the same extent as I once did. At Anglo I mostly worked nine to five, there were exceptions, but mostly I could be relied upon to sort things out with the family and the house... I knew that this was going to change. I knew that I would have to work long hours, effectively be on call and if I truly wanted to blow the lights out in three months, Trillian Management Consulting had to be my primary focus. I resigned myself to the designation of ‘general cook, cleaner and bottle-washer’ for Trillian.


Peter agreed to support me. We agreed that he would take over some of my responsibilities in the house and accepted that I needed a certain amount of flexibility in terms of time and focus. I felt blessed and truly supported at the time.


I hadn’t taken any leave during 2015 so that we could have a family break at the end of the year. With my resignation from Anglo I took my leave so that I would get a good break and start at Trillian on 1 January 2016 sans family plans. This allowed me to have the month of December 2015 off.


Although Clive’s words were burnt into my head he reminded me regardless. He expected me to prove that I had skin in the game. As soon as I verbally agreed to the employment offer, I started with meetings for Trillian whilst holding down my Anglo job. November and December of 2015 were hell! I had Trillian meetings scheduled in between my Anglo meetings. I got home and finished off my Anglo work, just to start my Trillian work. I hardly spent time with my daughter and barely spoke to Peter about what he was going through. When we did speak, I wasn’t focused. Eventually around the 18th December I had a week’s break. Between November and December, I appointed a COO, Ben, and this helped. I had someone who I could talk to and bounce ideas off.


2015 ended with optimism. I was excited about making a difference in South Africa, working with McKinsey and starting something from a half pregnant state.


The meetings with McKinsey started in November of 2015 and gathered momentum very quickly. By the 18th December 2015 I was meeting someone from either McKinsey, EGateway, Cutting Edge or Integrated Capital every day. The objective of the meetings was mostly planning human capital for the various workstreams planned for Eskom.


When Ben and I reconvened in January 2016, we started planning for the first three months of 2016. We were based in a back room at the Integrated Capital offices. We detailed the strategy of strengthening the relationships with McKinsey, having structures in place for when the team from Regiments would transfer, we established a cashflow forecasting, tracking and management tool and an IP development strategy. It was a lot of work to do! We delegated work between us and got moving! We agreed that I would lead the relationships with McKinsey, work on the human capital development framework, compile the business process framework, critical policies and procedures, oversee the recruitment process and stay extremely close to MSA compliance. Ben was going to focus on IP development, operational execution and delivery and corporate culture.


Once done, we got going. We reached out to people in our networks to start recruiting and simply got things going. When Clive and the ICM guys started the year, there was a whole lot more put on our plates. Ben took over the remodelling of what would become Trillian’s permanent offices and for some reason, he was asked to mentor the COO of Trillian Financial Advisory.


In hindsight, it was so naive of me to plan work for those three months; had I not planned anything my days would be full anyway and it turns our that that our plans were not the objective for the company.


Following many meetings with the McKinsey team it became clear that they were streaks ahead of Ben and I. They were involved in the negotiations of the MSA and lead the definition of the scope of work for the program from early 2015. The program was referred to at the "Top Engineers Program" or the "Eskom Turnaround Program". It considered four main workstreams or value packages:

  1. Primary Energy;

  2. Generation;

  3. Claims; and

  4. Procurement.

In addition there was the Project Management Office (“ PMO”) workstream that managed the overall program.


TMC was playing catch up to understand the respective scopes or work and delivery approaches that were already in execution.


I found myself conflicted because Clive had told me that the intention was for TMC to learn from McKinsey and eventually take over delivery i.e. McKinsey would start the delivery of the program, TMC would learn via the supplier development agreement and eventually would lead the delivery so that at the end of the three years, TMC would be standalone and able to do this work in other companies and SoEs. This implied that in 18 months (June 2017), TMC and McKinsey would have a 50% representation of human capital across all the work that was been done. Ben and I had to build a company fast!


The conflict arose when I brought up the supplier development program with the McKinsey leadership team in one of our numerous meetings. It was clear that they had no intention of getting TMC resources fully skilled up and enabled to run with the program. At the time, the logic of their approach made sense to me i.e the more they owned the delivery, the more they had right to claim the benefit. After all, how could TMC get paid for not doing anything?


At this point Clive had shared McKinsey’s forecast of the anticipated cashflow: R10bn in three years split roughly 50-50 between TMC McKinsey.


In my mind, TMC had to start working quickly and we were only going to get significant resources in March 2016 when the Regiments staff transferred. Ben and I felt that we were very much on the back foot. A position that we don’t like, so we started pushing for visibility into the human capital requirements from McKinsey so that we could fill it as soon as possible.


The smoke and mirrors first became apparent to me in December 2015 when I met the McKinsey team for the Generation workstream. They showed me the human capital organogram and there were no TMC resources represented. I questioned this and they were shocked – why was I trying to interfere? After escalating the concern to the McKinsey Directors, the team came back to me and said that they were happy to accept our support in providing experts on the team. They were referring to EGateway.


I was introduced to EGateway by Clive. EGateway was a specialist consulting company based in India and Dubai offering expert consulting services to coal fired power stations. Clive said that our “Boss’ had an interest in this company and that we would subcontract them. I questioned this because I had not even been given the opportunity to see if these skills existed in SA! Clive replied; "how do you expect to deliver if we don’t have people?"

I pushed back on McKinsey saying how could a start-up management consulting company grow on the basis of experts that are not even South African? The only way that TMC could grow organically was if we started with a basis of generic roles and skills and only from that, start building teams of specialists. Besides, McKinsey weren’t even using local resources – the bulk of the generation team was from international McKinsey branches. The writing was forming on the wall – what I thought I was getting into was in fact smoke and mirrors.


I wouldn’t accept it!


Ben and I planned to make a difference in this country and we were fully committed to building this business. So, I did what I know best – I fought back!


The planned approach from the generation team was echoed in the remaining workstreams. The organograms for all the teams, except procurement, were filled with McKinsey resources and had no room for TMC resources. TMC was represented on the Procurement workstream by yet another preferred subcontractor of our ‘Boss’, namely Cutting Edge commerce.


By the time I joined TMC they were already doing work at Eskom and had a well established presence there. They had a relationship with the McKinsey team long before I joined. I was introduced to the directors of Cutting Edge in December 2015. One of the Directors was Santosh Choubey who would email me from a Sahara email address. Clearly there was an association with the Guptas…I thought?


The Eskom program had weekly leadership meetings which I was invited to attend. The second of these meetings was scheduled on the 25th January 2016 from 17h00 – 21h00. I attended this meeting with TCP CFO Tebogo Leballo. The agenda was influenced to accommodate a discussion around my concerns on resourcing and TMC’s inclusion on delivery of the work. When the meeting started, I noticed that my agenda item was tabled as the last point. By 20h45 and after the two McKinsey Directors had left, I was given the ‘floor’. I brought up my concern about resourcing and directly questioned McKinsey’s intent to assist in building TMC in becoming a standalone company. It was in this meeting that the McKinsey Principle pushed back and asked why do I care? We were going to get our money regardless of whether we do the work or not, he said.


This outburst stunned me! I wondered; how could we be getting paid if we don’t have resources doing the work to earn the revenue? In addition, I was furious because it was very clear to me that McKinsey had no intention of developing us as a company.


At about 7am the next morning I received a phone call from Vikas Sagar (McKinsey Director) clarifying their commitment towards developing me. Vikas planned to build my business profile and get me to travel oversees to learn from the very best that McKinsey had to offer, blah blah fish-paste…


Vikas did not realise that I travelled extensively in my early career. I had a three-year old daughter that I already wasn’t seeing much of, so why on earth would I want to travel more? Besides, I didn’t care about building myself – when I left Anglo my career stood on its own merits and I didn’t need nor was I after any additional recognition. In order to successfully build this business I had to not think about myself. I had to sacrifice myself to make it successful.


Was Vikas smoking something really cheap to think that his offer was appealing to me? Sarcastically I thought; Oh no, it can’t be that because all the people that I had met so far were self-absorbed. They spoke and I listened. Why would Vikas know that he was offering me something that in fact repulsed me?


I was courteous to Vikas and thanked him for the consideration but pushed back on the supplier development agreement. I demanded that TMC put people on the various workstreams and that we agree to a development program for TMC human capital. Vikas said that I should put my ideas on paper and we would discuss further. At the same time, I escalated the issue to Clive. This is when I compiled a note for Salim entitled “Partnership Update”. I presented the note below to Salim, Clive, Marc and Stanley at Salim’s office in Melrose Arch.



The first steering committee meeting for the program was held at megawatt park on the 9th February 2016 when Anoj Singh abruptly ended the meeting less than an hour in, because there was no reflection of the supplier development agreement in the proposed plan to progress the program.


I did not escalate my concern to Anoj. Only to Clive, Salim and Vikas. It’s unlikely that Vikas would have had a separate discussion with Anoj to end the meeting, so I deduced that my escalation to Salim worked.


Simultaneously to the Eskom and McKinsey issues, Clive was hard at work getting TMC new work. TMC was fortunate to have "contacts" in CoGTA via Mohammed Bobat. CoGTA apparently needed help executing the Back to Basics program before the next national election. Clive called to tell me that our boss had found an international consulting company that we will work with – Oliver Wyman (“OW”) Dubai. I met two directors from OW on Eric’s instruction on the 11th January 2016 at the Regiments offices in Sandton. We spent part of the day preparing presentations for meetings scheduled for the next day. Eric had arranged a series of meetings and that same evening we had dinner with Gary Pita, CFO of Transnet to discuss opportunities within Transnet. The next morning we met with Anoj Singh, CFO of Eskom and later that day we met with Minister Van Rooyen.


Following what I call the Oliver Wyman roadshow, work towards exploiting these opportunities in Transnet, Eskom and CoGTA began with vigour. The OW directors arranged regular catch-up calls and were sending through a barrage of draft proposals. The communication channels with these directors was confusing. There were times when they would call me to let me know the latest developments that took place in meetings held in Dubai. For example, there was a meeting at some point with Salim, where the OW directors were told that the opportunities at Transnet would no longer be explored so they stopped harassing me to arrange meetings with Gary Pita. Likewise, the proposal for the Nuclear Energy feasibility study simply disappeared following the first draft submission. I was never informed about these Dubai meetings nor was I ever in attendance. If it wasn’t for the OW directors telling me these developments, I would never have known.


This made me question my position – why was I getting partial information about things that I had to execute?


I would go to bed at night realising that things were weird, but I never really had time to process it because there was always so much going on. I kept telling myself that I would deal / figure it out soon, but it seems that the time never arrived. Instead, my gut was increasingly growing uncomfortable on the basis that it was becoming clear to me that there was a lot that I didn’t know and I probably should. I didn’t even know what the right questions were to ask and who would I pose the question to anyway?


In the first two months of 2016 my relationships with Mosilo Mothepu and Tebogo Leballo grew. We got along well and had aligned views on how we intended to setup the company. Towards the end of February 2016 Tebogo mentioned that he was concerned about the fact that the Eskom MSA wasn’t signed and further, there appeared to be cracks in the TMC - McKinsey relationship that could threaten the partnership. I questioned how we could afford salaries. If the MSA wasn’t signed, there was no money coming in. At some point, this was going to be a huge issue. Tebogo was worried too but was focused more on the Regiments divorce negotiations. I spoke to Clive about this, to try and get an idea if it was a risk that I should plan for. He said that I shouldn’t worry because "if McKinsey didn’t toe the line, they would be replaced by another global consulting company". This statement validated that the relationship with Eskom was in fact in favour of Trillian and not McKinsey.


On Saturday 20th February Peter and I had planned a ‘staycation’. We arranged for our Daughter to overnight at her aunt’s and Peter and I were going to simply take a break. Peter was in the bathroom and I was in the room reading the news. I came across the article about Mohammed Bobat and Ian Whitley. I ran into the bathroom, showed Peter and I started convulsing. I didn’t know what was going on but I got scared – who was I in ‘bed’ with i.e. Trillian? Who are these people? What is going on? Up until that point, I didn’t really follow the news. I read news apps before I went to bed at night and listened to the radio. Apart from what was shared through those forums, I was ignorant to current affairs. My knowledge of the Gupta’s was only through those forums. I knew that there was a lot said about a wedding in Sun City and a flight landing at the Waterkloof airport. At that time, I had no idea what state capture was and if it was even real.


Peter said that I was over reacting and that the media was possibly exaggerating the situation. I couldn’t calm down. We took our Duaghter to her aunt and again, I brought up the article to my in-laws. They too, said that I was overreacting. Driving back from dropping our Daughter off I got furious with Peter – he wasn’t applying his mind to the severity of this article and potential risk. We got home, had a drink and discussed it. Peter didn’t understand my concern. Truth is, I didn’t even really understand my fear. In all likelihood, I did not articulate myself well. I was so scared and so emotive. I had never worked for any employer that had this type of bad publicity. What made it worse was that I knew Mohammed. It felt too close to home for a simple girl from Pietermaritzburg – I shouldn’t be around things like this. It wasn’t me.


Peter and I had a huge fight. I couldn’t stay with him so I drove to my cousin and spent the night in Pretoria. Whilst at my cousin’s place, I sent my Mom the links to the articles, called her and shared how I felt. My Mom is great like that – she doesn’t need facts, just feelings - I explained how uncomfortable I felt. I begged her to not tell my Dad. All my life my parents have been painfully consistent in our values and principles. One such value is that ‘you are the company that you keep’. I come from a family that is painted with integrity and honour. If my Dad thought that I was in bad company, I would disappoint him. My achilles-heel in life is my Dad – I will not and cannot disappoint my Father. My mother was clear; “Bianca, leave this company now!”. In hindsight, that incident should have been my first warning sign and I guess it was. If I was doing something that I was too scared to tell my Father, I probably shouldn’t be doing it. I chose to ignore my gut and decided that I would endeavour to get more information first.


To calm things at home, I accepted responsibility for the fight with Peter but couldn’t ignore the way that I felt about Trillian. I resolved to get more information from Tebogo, Eric and Clive first thing on Monday morning.


The following Monday Ben and I chatted over coffee. We both were not familiar to this type of publicity associated with our employer. We were both concerned but agreed that we should get Trillian’s feedback on the matter before making any rash decisions. Much later that day Clive came into the office and spoke to Ben and I. He made it seem as though the media were sensationalising the situation and assured us that there was absolutely nothing irregular in Mohammed’s appointment nor his relationship with Trillian. Clive almost made it seem as though whoever ‘leaked’ this story, had a vendetta against Trillian’s future success.


Ben and I didn’t completely buy Clive’s story. We spoke about it after Clive left and we acknowledged our respective concerns. The issue was that we didn’t have any proof that our concerns were valid. We agreed to be more vigilant around the office – we needed to be aware that there could be some truth in the speculation and so it was our responsibility to act on anything that would confirm the speculation.


By the end of February 2016, I was feeling very uncomfortable about my new job. The business was not getting revenue as the contract with Eskom was not signed, the relationship with McKinsey was stressful, McKinsey were not willing to support us in building the company and there was speculation of some really dodgy stuff with people that I was forced to work with (Mo Bobat). Things simply weren’t adding up. My discomfort grew every day and everyday stress mounted without a release valve. I was hardly speaking to Peter at this point – I was getting home late every night and working through the night most nights. At the same time, Peter accepted a voluntary separation package from De Beers and I can only imagine how stressful that was for him.


There was a lot going on and trying to make sense of it all was too much for me. The only time that I had to myself was when I was driving and even then, I was on calls the entire time. I was now a very very long way away from the familiarity of Maritzburg.


All the while, I was aware for the original agreement that I had with both Peter and Ben – the first three months were supposed to demonstrate ‘skin in the game’ and then I needed to discuss incentives. With my discomfort growing every day, I seriously started questioning if I made the right choice and if it was worth staying. Making a decision to leave had to be considered holistically in that I needed to balance the pros with the cons. The cons were somewhat clear to me at this point and the potential pros certainly weren’t. I knew that at some point in March, I had to have a risk discussion with Clive.


On the 1st March 2016, TMC had a headcount of 41 resources, 36 of which transferred from Regiments and were mostly fixed term contractors allocated to work at Transnet. Overnight Ben and I had to change focus. Suddenly we had human capital who had expectations of this new company with leadership that they didn’t know – both Ben and I had no prior relationship with Regiments. The team were all excited to work on Eskom and start something new. My hands were tied because McKinsey didn’t want our people on the workstreams. Things were getting incrementally rougher by the minute.


As expected, there were teething issues. Trillian was not Regiments. Ben and I had a very specific culture and plan in place that we were going to communicate to our team within the first two weeks of their transfer. A consultant from the Financial Advisory subsidiary did not agree with my approach and crossed a line – she contacted a client at Transnet directly and made commitments without my consent nor any prior discussion with me. To ensure that this did not happen again and that there was discipline in TMC, I made it very clear that her behaviour was out of line and that I would not stand for it. She resigned the next day. I explained what happened to Mosilo as she was TFA CEO. Mosilo supported my stance. Tebogo, Ben, Mosilo and I all agreed that it’s probably best that this consultant leave the organisation so Mosilo accepted her resignation.


The following day Mosilo was instructed by Eric to not accept the resignation but rather, do everything that she can to keep the consultant. Tebogo, Ben, Mosilo and I were shocked. It simply didn’t make sense. Later in that week, Clive also spoke to me about the matter and stated clearly to me that Mosilo was not empowered to make such a decision. I was gobsmacked! How is it possible that a CEO is not empowered to accept the resignation of one of her employee’s?


On Wednesday the 16th March 2016, I walked into the office that Mosilo and Tebogo shared to get an update on the resignation matter and to find out if there were any further developments on the Eskom MSA. Tebogo was concerned because it seemed as though the issues with the McKinsey relationship was hampering the signing of the MSA hence no cashflow for either company. Mosilo was frustrated at been forced to reject the resignation from an employee that she wanted to leave. Tebogo looked really troubled. He came over to Mosilo’s desk took her notebook and wrote a sentence down for us to read: “They are replacing the finance minister”. Mosilo spontaneously laughed. I looked at Tebogo and said: “you’re talking shit! Who are they?”. Tebogo pointed in the direction of Eric’s office. Mosilo, almost shouting, said: “Do they not care about our economy? Didn’t they see what happened with Nene?”. I left the office and went to Clicks to buy some flu medication. Once I was in the mall, I called Peter to tell him what Tebogo just shared. I told him that it seemed so far-fetched to me and I had no idea if it’s true or not. I told him that I was calling to tell him this as a reference in case Pravin Gordhan was in fact replaced, then at least I had a witness to validate that this conversation with Tebogo did in fact happen. Pravin Gordhan was eventually replaced as Finance Minister, but much later – a year later to be precise.


Later that evening, the first Trillian ExCo was held at the Integrated Capital offices. It was Mosilo’s birthday and Eric gifted her an orchid. All the CEOs and COOs were present, together with Clive and Marc Chipkin. Eric spoke to the forum with confidence. He was not concerned in the least that the Eskom contract was not yet signed. When questioned about revenue and managing costs, he assured us all that the contract would be signed soon and Trillian was secured. McKinsey was in question. At every turn, it seemed that the information that received was conflicting.


Needless to say, the writing was screaming on the wall for me. I could not stay in this organisation. I decided that now, in the third week of March, I would bring up the risk discussion with Clive so that I could determine whether I should leave or not. I sent an email motivating an increase for Ben and seeking clarity on an incentive structure for the leadership of the subsidiaries.


I got a reply saying that it’s been discussed and not up to me to make proposals nor motivate an increase for Ben. So, just like Mosilo, it became very clear to me that I was not in a leadership position. I was in a slave – master relationship. I could not speak. I had to listen. I felt like the most disempowered CEO ever!


So, it’s no surprise that when I was instructed to open the bank of Baroda account the following Friday, my wheels came off. I was officially defeated and could no longer pretend that this situation was normal. It was not normal and I would not stand of it.


In one week, I realised that the people in this company talk about replacing Finance Ministers over coffee, the CEOs were completely dis-empowered and that the leadership of Trillian, whoever they were, were influential enough to consider replacing partners like McKinsey at state owned enterprises. The leadership of this company also expected the dis-empowered CEOs to accept huge financial liabilities without any explanation.


51 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All