Peter Moyo was suspended in May 2019, with the company stating there had been a material breakdown in trust and confidence between him and the board.
Further details came to light a month later, when Old Mutual sacked Moyo following concerns about his relationship with an investment holding company he co-founded called NMT Capital.
Ironically, court documents reveal that it was Moyo’s concerns about Old Mutual chairman Trevor Manuel’s potential conflicts of interest that he believes resulted in his dismissal.
Moyo asserted that, in March 2018, he raised concerns about Manuel’s triple conflicts of interest.
In addition to his Old Mutual Ltd role, Manuel was also chairperson of Old Mutual plc and Rothschild, both of which were involved in, and stood to gain from, the managed separation of the group.
His concerns were disregarded and Moyo stated that he noticed his relationships with Manuel “going sour”.
This was compounded by other “inconsequential incidents”.
Case for the defence
Old Mutual, however, argued that it acted in the best interests of its shareholders, policyholders, staff and other stakeholders.
In response to allegations that the company did not follow procedure in sacking Moyo, Old Mutual stated that, given that the grounds for dismissal pertained to misconduct and conflict of interest, it acted within its rights.
The judge disagreed.
“The conclusion that [Old Mutual] first accused [Moyo] of conflict of interest and misconduct and then denied him of the procedures laid down in the contact […] is unavoidable.”
Judge Mashile said that the contract clause invoked to justify firing Moyo, “in reality had nothing to do with the situation that they faced”.
“Both the suspension and subsequent dismissal were unlawful.”
As a result, Moyo has been temporarily reinstated as chief executive and Old Mutual has been prohibited from taking any steps to appoint another person to the role.
Old Mutual will also have to foot the bill for Moyo’s legal costs.
Not so fast
But the insurer has not taken the decision lying down and quickly moved to block Moyo’s return.
In a statement, the company said it was “considering the terms of the appeal against the high court decision”.
“The filing of the appeal with suspend the operation of the court order. Mr Moyo has been informed that he is not required or permitted to resume his duties, pending the outcome of the appeal proceedings.”
The company said it will appeal to a higher court to argue that it acted lawfully in terminating Moyo’s employment.
The Old Mutual South Africa business split from the group following the managed separation that was first announced in March 2016.
The move saw Nedbank and Old Mutual in South Africa spun out, while the UK wealth management business rebranded as Quilter and the single-strategy arm of Old Mutual Global Investors was sold and renamed Merian.
The South Africa operation has no connection to Quilter or Old Mutual International, which has yet to adopt the group’s branding.