Cape Chamber boss quits even after CCMA win

Ruben Richards.

The Cape Chamber of Commerce axed its first chief executive officer, Ruben Richards, before the end of his probation because he “wasn’t the right fit,” but agreed last week to a settlement that put him back at the helm of the organisation.

But Richards said on Monday he had resigned from the Cape Chamber, despite the settlement reached at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) that reinstated him as chief executive. “You must know when not to overstay your welcome.”

The former director-general of the Scorpions told the Cape Argus that he took his dismissal to the CCMA as a “matter of principle.” Richards, who was axed in October last year, said he only heard at the CCMA hearings on February 25 that he was charged with misconduct.

Rubens was still within his probation period with the Cape Chamber when president Janine Myburgh announced at the annual general meeting that the organisation was looking for a new executive director. She said then that the organisation had struggled to find the “right fit” for the position.

Richards’s dismissal rocked the Cape Chamber’s board, with three members resigning over the decision. Charles Scheltema stepped in as caretaker chief executive.

Myburgh said yesterday that Richards was allowed to resign “at his request at the end of his probation period, instead of his contract being made permanent by the chamber”.

She said there were no particular charges against Richards as there was no disciplinary process that led to a dismissal. However, she said Richards did not meet the requirements of the position as chief executive, and his contract was therefore not made permanent while he was on probation.

“The agreed Key Performance Areas to which he was contractually bound were not met.”

Rubens, who has served as chief executive of Globe Engineering, said the CCMA hearing was cut short after the first witness and a settlement offer was put on the table.

As part of the settlement, Richards was reinstated and the warning letter informing him that his probation would not be extended was withdrawn.

“I also refused to sign any confidentiality agreement. I am not to be silenced by anybody.”

Richards said the chamber had put forward that his dismissal was performance-related.

When he was appointed by the chamber last May, Myburgh said the organisation was fortunate to have a man of Richards’s talent on board. Candidates for the position underwent psychometric tests as part of the application process.

Myburgh said on Monday that Richards refused offers of help during his probation period, and he therefore failed to perform his duties. “There was a written warning given to Richards due to a breach of his employment contract, but as part of the settlement, the chamber was willing to retract this warning as (it) did not wish to tarnish Richards’s reputation.”

Richards said he welcomed the outcome of the settlement, which allowed him to formally resign from the organisation.

Myburgh confirmed that three board members had resigned after Richards’s contract was not made permanent, but she said these were short-term board members who only served for three weeks.

One of the board members, Gordon Metter, told the Cape Argus he had resigned from the board “with disgust”, when Richards was removed, and now from the Cape Chamber after the CCMA settlement.

Metter said, “The president of the chamber persists with her nonsensical comment about the dismissal of the CEO. The CEO was dismissed by virtue of the fact that his period of probation was terminated and the chamber stopped paying his salary.”