Teichmann can turn Sharks around

Gary Teichmann's appointment as Sharks CEO is a sensible one, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

The Sharks on Wednesday confirmed that Teichmann would replace John Smit, who will step down from the role at the end of October. Smit took over from Brian van Zyl as Sharks CEO in 2013, straight after retiring as a rugby player, and the two recently had a very public fallout.

It began when Van Zyl wrote a letter to The Mercury, in which he said the Sharks had 'deteriorated from a sound financial position to that approximating insolvency' under Smit.

'During 2013 and 2014 substantial losses resulted in an accumulated deficit of more than R40-million,' Van Zyl elaborated. 'I suspect that a loss of another R20-million has been incurred since and I ask why the financials have not been approved by the Sharks board of directors for 2015.'

Smit hit back through the media, referring to Van Zyl's letter as a 'cheap shot' and 'personal attack', and insisting that the Sharks' financial position was 'stable'.

KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union president Graham Mackenzie supported Smit, saying: 'John has achieved a great deal in his three years as CEO, substantially increasing commercial revenue and bravely clearing the spider’s web that he inherited.'

However, the fact remains that the Sharks did not produce their financial statements at the Annual General Meeting in April and have yet to do so, according to the Sunday Tribune. The newspaper also reported that the KZNRU sent an email to its clubs' chairmen, saying that the second half of the annual grant to the clubs could not be paid due to 'financial constraints'.

The Sharks have had on-field problems too, finishing 11th on last year's 15-team combined Super Rugby log and eighth in this year's 18-team competition. Matches at Kings Park are now played in front of tens of thousands of empty seats, with whole sections of seating behind the posts covered in advertising material.

While Cell C this month opted to extend its title sponsorship of the Sharks for another three years, things are clearly not going well in Durban.

According to veteran rugby writer Mike Greenaway, SuperSport, which at the time was a 40% partner in the Sharks (Pty) Ltd, was so concerned about dwindling dividends that it approached Teichmann about becoming Sharks CEO. On Monday, SuperSport bought 9% of the KZNRU's shares in the Sharks (Pty) Ltd for around R40-million, which took its stake to 49% and allowed the KZNRU (which now has 51%) to write off debt.

While Teichmann will clearly have his work cut out for him at the Sharks, he is well equipped to handle it.

Like Smit, Teichmann was a successful player and captain for the Sharks and Springboks. The No 8 led the province to Currie Cup titles in 1995 and 1996, and to the Super 12 final in 1996. The Boks won 17 Tests in a row under him in 1997-98, and he would have captained the Boks at the 1999 World Cup had Nick Mallett not made the biggest mistake of his coaching career by dropping him.

However, unlike Smit, Teichmann will not go straight from the playing field into the boardroom, and have to learn about the job as he goes along.

After retiring in 2000, he started Teichmann Plants and Civils, a performance-driven company involved in civil engineering, construction, contract mining, plant hire and supplying equipment. Teichmann went on to achieve great success in the business world and will bring that business acumen to the Sharks.

'Business is all about performance and being able to deliver a high-quality project on time and within budget,' he once told Engineering News. 'In rugby we used to say you are only as good as your last game – in business it is no different.'

If Teichmann can put up with the rugby politics, which probably influenced Smit's decision to resign, you wouldn't bet against him turning the Sharks around, on and off the field.

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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Simon Borchardt