In the opening pages of Rob Rose’s riveting book Steinheist: Markus Jooste, Steinhoff and SA’s biggest corporate fraud (published by Tafelberg and on shelves in late November), he tracks the final days leading to the implosion of the behemoth company.
On Wednesday 29 November 2017 CEO Christo Wiese was told by the Deloitte auditing team that they could not sign off on the Steinhoff accounts. They had reason to believe, the auditors said, that Steinhoff’s management had been defrauding the company for years.
“The enormity of the words hit Wiese as if a wave of icy water had rolled up out of nowhere, and smacked into him,” writes Rose. From there, he chronicles the day-by-day build-up as the absent Markus Jooste feints and dissembles and “compsplains” from afar, while accounting and lawyering wonks run handkerchiefs over their brows and cluster in the boardroom, waiting for him to appear, as promised, with all the documentation they need.
The hours tick by. And then a lawyer arrives with the news: “Markus is at the wine farm Lanzerac, and he’s a mess. Unshaven, sobbing uncontrollably, he is tearing his hair out, saying he screwed up.” The lawyer told Wiese: “Markus has asked me to give you this message: he is offering his resignation, and you must decide whether to accept it. It’s up to you.” And with that, Christo Wiese watched R59-billion — read that again, R59-billion — of his fortune vanish in a puff.
Rose, the editor of Financial Mail (part of the Tiso Blackstar Group, as is Business Day Wanted), is a fluent and engaging writer, and takes the reader back through the history of the company to its German founder Bruno Steinhoff, who did business in the Communist bloc and apartheid-era South Africa. He describes Jooste’s childhood as the son of a Pretoria postal worker, his first job as a “runner” for racing punters, and how his first business was built in the bleak dustbowl of Ga-Rankuwa.
He parses the elaborate con that underpinned the Steinhoff edifice. For instance, how Jooste insiders shifted liabilities off the balance sheet to secretive companies overseas to present a false picture of the profits.