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EXCLUSIVE: SA SME Fund CEO’s stepping down was ‘amicable’ says fund official

The head of the SA SME Fund Quinton Dicks has parted ways “amicably” with the fund, a right-hand official of Discovery CEO Adrian Gore who initiated the fund, said today.

The R1.5-billion fund, which aims to put money into private funds that will then lend to small companies, was announced over two years ago by President Cyril Ramaphosa when he was then deputy president. But it is yet to begin lending to small businesses.

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Lisa Klein, head of mergers and acquisitions at insurance giant Discovery, told Ventureburn today that the two parties had parted ways “amicably” and that the parting had come about after discussions between both parties.

Klein helped put together the fund’s mandate with Discovery CEO Adrian Gore on behalf of the CEO Initiative. The SA SME Fund’s board has tasked her with finding a replacement for Dicks.

SA SME Fund head Quinton Dicks’ departure was ‘amicable’ says a top official at the fund

Dicks, who in his time since his appointment in January 2017 had helped assemble a team of five, is currently serving out his notice period, she said.

She said that while the former fund manager — who has 15 years’ experience in the private equity sector — had done a good job in putting in place “rigorous” systems for the fund which will give shareholders some comfort, there was a need to put in place a new person for what she referred to as “stage two” of the fund.

The process to recruit a new CEO has begun and the fund would announce the successful candidate shortly, she added.

‘Probably moved too slowly’

While she conceded that the fund had “probably moved a bit too slowly”, Klein said all governance and systems were now in place and that it is now “critical” for the fund and its board to move forward “more aggressively”.

She confirmed that the fund had so far signed up three funds which it would invest in, that then lend or invest in small businesses. The names of the three would be announced in the coming months, she added.

Co-investing, supplier development aims

In addition, Klein said the board is looking at also adopting a co-investing model, possibly alongside the fund-of-funds model it is currently following — the former would allow the fund to have more sight over individual deals that funds that form part of its portfolio invest in.

Furthermore the fund is also looking at ways that the 48 listed companies that — together with the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) — have pledged R1.5-billion can assist small companies to access their respective supply chains, she said.

This is the second set back the fund has faced, following the government’s confirmation in April last year that it had no immediate plans to match the R1.5-billion that the private sector had committed.

Read more: Exclusive: ‘Government won’t match private sector in R1.5bn SME fund’

But Klein says she is still very much optimistic. “We are excited for phase two,” she added.

Ventureburn contacted Dicks, but he declined to comment on what he said “had been a development at the fund” and instead referred the publication to Klein.

Read more: Over a year on, when will big companies’ SA SME Fund get going? [Opinion]
Read more: SA SME Fund will commence with due diligence in July says CEO
Read more: SA SME Fund is not aimed at venture capital sector, says CEO

Editor’s note (6 June 2018): Ventureburn editor Stephen Timm promised Discovery’s Lisa Klein that he would crack open a bottle of champagne — and photograph this and carry this as a story — upon receiving the announcement of the SA SME Fund’s first deal.

Featured image: Outgoing SA SME Fund CEO Quinton Dicks

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