Zimbabwean business community mourns top business executive John Koumides

John Koumides
Spread the love

HARARE – John Koumides, who has died aged 65, was a corporate executive with a chartered accountant background, and with little doubt, was the finest business mind of his generation.

Candid, brutally honest, and respected across the business community for his formidable intellect and strong views, he was never scared to express them in public or the boardroom.

Any company he turned his hand to was to become more successful as he understood the component parts of the operation.

At company analyst briefings, he never read off a Powerpoint display, rather adding colour to every slide.

Mr Koumides also served as chairman of the Harare Hellenic Community for many years, and presided over the board of governors of Hellenic Academy for a decade, in a period that saw it turned from an ethnic community school into Harare’s most prestigious educational facility.

His work at the Hellenic Academy was particularly selfless as he had no children himself. At Delta Corporation and then at Innscor Africa, he oversaw the unbundling of two of Zimbabwe’s largest corporates, unlocking millions of dollars in shareholder value.

But it was not just business and his second love was horseracing, helping a failing Borrowdale racecourse beyond its natural life.

Passionate about Zimbabwe, he never advanced his career in the greater South African Breweries (SAB) group as he did not want to leave the country, even when economic meltdown was apparent.

After overseeing the unbundling of the Delta group in 2001, SAB hatchet man Norman Adami asked him to run SAB Middle East Africa. In an interview in February 2023, Koumides said he told him:

“Norman, I wouldn’t work for you guys for all the tea in China.”

Ioannis ‘John’ Koumides was born in what was Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia on February 9, 1958, the son of Greek Cypriots, who had immigrated to the country separately. His parents Andreas and

Eleni ran Golden Glory Fashions, a well-known fabric outlet at the Second Street Extension shops.

Koumides, or JK as he was known to most, attended Avondale Junior and Mt Pleasant High, where he excelled academically and his height aided him as a basketball player.

After attending the University of Zimbabwe with contemporaries such as OK Zimbabwe’s Albert Katsande, he joined Deloitte & Touche in 1983, and like fellow Delta executive Ron Stringfellow, he became a partner in record time.

Delta’s United Bottlers (UB) was one of his first audits, where in 1983 he met and befriended the marketing officer Joe Mutizwa, who was to go on to become Delta’s CEO in 2002.

Leaving Deloittes in 1991, he busied himself with various opportunities in the early days of ESAP, but in 1994, he joined Delta as finance director, just as Zimbabwe became an attractive destination

for international capital. This saw Delta’s foreign ownership broaden, with SAB having been reduced to 21 percent after they were forced to sell their majority shareholding to the government. Taking instruction from SAB and Old Mutual Zimbabwe, Mr Koumides oversaw the unbundling of Delta Corporation’s shareholdings in OK Zimbabwe, Pelhams and Zimsun via a dividend in species. Koumides left Delta in

April 2003 and six months later, he joined the board of Old Mutual and Innscor, initially as a non-executive director, before being appointed CEO.

Diabetic, Mr Koumides lost half his leg in 2007 after an infection, which saw him chart a healthier lifestyle in the years that followed. He then fully involved himself in the Hellenic Community and the

Hellenic Academy. After the tortuous period of hyperinflation, which lasted officially for over seven years, the companies that emerged like zombies from the apocalypse were few and weakened.

For those who he respected, a compliment from Mr Koumides was equivalent to an endorsement from the Harvard Business School: Koumides declared that “Joe Mutizwa saved Delta from collapse,” a statement that would probably embarrass the modest Mutizwa.

Once again, Koumides saw the unbundling of Innscor, starting with Padenga (2010), Simbisa Brands (2015) and finally Axia Corp, which he had headed up after handing over the job of chief executive at Innscor to Julian Schonken.

Selfless to companies and his community, Mr Koumides was a financial sage and a mensch. He never married and leaves his mother, Eleni, brother Kyri and sister Jenny. – Herald