Exclusive Books boss suspended: the plot thickens
Publishers rally behind CEO Benjamin Trisk
Exclusive Books CEO Benjamin Trisk says he plans to defend his “name and reputation” following his mysterious suspension this week by the Exclusive Books board pending the outcome of a disciplinary inquiry.
Trisk said he was “astonished by the reasons advanced” in a suspension letter served on him on Monday but would not be drawn on what these reasons were.
“They have no merit. I know I have the support of my staff and the publishing industry, both of whom are fully aware of my success as CEO,” he said on Wednesday, adding that Exclusive Books traded well “in a very difficult market”.
Exclusive Books said chief financial officer Frank Boner would be acting CEO until the disciplinary process was concluded. “Due to the confidential nature of the disciplinary proceedings, Exclusive Books Group is not able to share more information.”Exclusive Books is majority owned by Global Capital, an investment banking and private equity firm operating in South Africa and Australia. Mark Barnes, CEO of the Post Office, chairs the retailer’s three-member board, on which Boner and Global Capital CEO David Vinokur also sit.
Barnes declined to comment while Boner and Vinokur did not respond to queries.
The board’s handling of the matter had “left everyone guessing”, including publishers, said a senior figure in the book world who declined to be named.
“This is a confidence-shaking move that will reverberate across the industry.”
Penguin Random House SA had written to the board expressing “serious concern over the suspension and seeking clarity”, said MD Steve Connolly. “Exclusive Books has transformed the bookselling market under Benjamin Trisk’s leadership,” he said.Jenny Crwys Williams, a writer and talk show host on Kaya FM, said: “Benjamin has single-handedly saved South Africa’s book industry by putting together the consortium that saved Exclusive Books.”
Jonathan Ball Publishers CEO Eugene Ashton said Trisk had saved Exclusive Books from “certain doom” and had been “fantastic” for the book business. “He has rejuvenated to a degree the interest in book selling, which has been great for us. Exclusive Books as a book chain is world class.”
Trisk, a former lecturer in the department of financial economics at Wits and former executive GM of Premier Group, has driven the revamp of Exclusive Books stores since becoming CEO in December 2013.
Last year Exclusive Books Hyde Park was shortlisted for an international excellence award in the category Bookstore of the Year at the London Book Fair. Its Ballito store won the 2017 Retail Design and Development Award for best retail store design in a shopping centre.
Globally, print book sales have enjoyed strong growth. South Africa was lagging due to the weak economy, but was “holding its own” and posting growth, said Jonathan Ball’s Ashton.
On Monday Business Day reported that legal counsel for Airports Company SA Bongani Machobane was found guilty in a disciplinary hearing of unnecessarily involving it in litigation with Exclusive Books, and withholding pertinent information on this from the board. It could not be confirmed whether this was related to Trisk’s suspension.