CBZ hives off two directors in shock move

Holtzman, who once served as board chairperson at the Bank of Kigali (Rwanda), was head-hunted in 2019 to steer efforts to grow the financial institution’s balance sheet and attract foreign capital.

DISTINGUISHED banker Marc Holtzman’s sudden departure as board chairperson at the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ) Holdings has rattled the market and sparked speculation that he was pushed out.

Holtzman, who once served as board chairperson at the Bank of Kigali (Rwanda), was head-hunted in 2019 to steer efforts to grow the financial institution’s balance sheet and attract foreign capital.

In a notice to shareholders this week, CBZ announced the departure of Holtzman and chief executive officer Blessing Mudavanhu.

The shock departures come at a time CBZ has assumed a controlling stake in ZB Financial Holdings (ZBFH) in a transaction that strategically positions the financial behemoth to drive national development projects.

As part of its growth and expansionary drive, CBZ has already concluded a 31,22% purchase in First Mutual Holdings Limited (FMHL) from the former majority shareholder, the National Social Security Authority (Nssa), which once held 65,53% shareholding in FMHL.

However, in the statement, CBZ did not give specific reasons explaining why Holtzman and Mudavanhu were leaving the financial institution, triggering speculation in the market that the former “could have been pushed out”, by shareholders.

The financial institution’s group executive marketing and corporate affairs, Matilda Nyathi, later told the Independent that Holtzman had left CBZ to pursue “other interests”, having played “a significant role in supporting the Zimbabwean economy”.

Through the astute leadership of Holtzman, Nyathi said, the outgoing banker was able to unlock lines of international credit.

“Holtzman retired to pursue other interests as was advised by our notice. (He) demonstrated exceptional leadership and made significant contributions to the Holdings' growth … whilst also playing a significant role in supporting the Zimbabwean economy.

“Marc Holtzman's appointment, coupled with his strategic initiatives, brought about significant changes to the group’s performance. Firstly, he adopted a comprehensive approach to reach out to foreign investors. The bank has over the period raised international lines of credit.”

In the statement, CBZ noted that the institution would continue to leverage on the solid professional relationships built by Holtzman during his tenure.

“Whilst the board and management will miss Marc’s insights and wisdom, the company will continue to benefit from the many relationships that he built over the years with key stakeholders,” excerpts from CBZ statement to its shareholders read.

A source close to the developments said: “All this happened because of a fight for control of the institution by some shareholders”.

Holtzman will be replaced by ZBFH board chairperson Luxon Zembe, who also has a long-standing history in the banking field.

Questions sent to Holtzman on his mobile phone were not addressed at the time of going to print. His mobile phone was also not available.

The Independent wanted to understand the reasons why he is leaving CBZ at a time the entity is about to tie up the ZBFH takeover deal and what his next adventure would be.

A brief history of Holtzman shows that he once served as the vice-chairperson of Barclays Plc, a British multinational universal bank and executive of Kazakhstan’s largest private bank.

In 2021, Holtzman was part of the delegation that travelled with President Emmerson Mnangagwa to South Africa for the Inter Africa Trade Fair held in Durban.

Holtzman’s web of international connections extends to Washington DC, where he served under President Ronald Reagan’s administration.

Under his watch, the US Treasury cleared CBZ of a US$385 million penalty for processing transactions for a designated entity, ZB Bank.

When the hefty penalty was imposed, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) indicated that CBZ had perpetrated numerous violations of US sanctions on Zimbabwe. 

Concerning Mudavanhu’s closing chapter at CBZ Holdings, having been at the helm for five years, the executive told the Independent he was leaving because his contract with the financial institution had expired.

Away from the banking world, Mudavanhu said his next adventure would be focused in the field of academia at the University of Cape Town and Witwatersrand University in neighbouring South Africa.

He explained: “I have a five-year contract which expires this year. This gives me an opportunity to do other things such as research and teaching specifically at the University of Cape Town and Witwatersrand.

“My most (outstanding) achievement has been the rebranding of CBZ, which ushered in a new company with new ambitions leading into the acquisition of a large insurance company,” Mudavanhu said.

“The revamping and commercialisation of command agriculture and now the digital transformation are (among) some of my key achievements in my five-year tenure.”

Mudavanhu, whose name has been thrown in the hat among candidates tipped to take over as Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor when the tenure of incumbent John Mangudya ends, highlighted that he will be “happy” to take up a position where he can contribute meaningfully.

Mangudya is serving his last term as central bank chief, which ends next year.

“I have not been approached on any opportunities outside CBZ and will be happy to consider opportunities where I can make meaningful contributions,” Mudavanhu said.

Lawrence Nyazema will replace Mudavanhu as group chief executive officer at CBZ.

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