“When sailing a boat or driving a bus, I don’t want to be in the passenger seat, I want to drive.” These are the words of former MXit CEO, Alan Knott-Craig Junior, who stepped down on October 19. He and the shareholders knew where they wanted to take MXit, but didn’t agree on how to get there.
In 2013, instead of sitting in the boardroom, Knott-Craig won’t be driving a bus but a motorhome, contemplating his future. He bought MXit in October 2011 through his company, World of Avatar, and announced his resignation in October 2012; in the same breath MXit announced a R100 million ($11.4 million) investment.
The word is that Knott-Craig clashed with shareholders and FirstRand heavyweights Paul Harris and GT Ferreira.
Knott-Craig sold the shares in World of Avatar, which bought MXit from its founder Herman Heunis; who in turn sold all his MXit shares to World of Avatar and is now on sabbatical photographing wildlife in Botswana.
Knott-Craig will also be taking time out to reflect on his decisions and traveling.
“They bought me out, it was quite emotional. In retrospect it was a long time coming,” he says.
Duncan McLeod, tech columnist, founder and editor of TechCentral says it appears the disagreement was largely between Knott-Craig and Paul Harris. He also said that Knott-Craig’s management style, which included not taking minutes; allowing staff to wear baggy pants and having an unstructured approach, was appreciated by his employees, especially at iBurst.
“It depends on who takes over MXit. They’re facing fierce competition [from] BBM and WhatsApp as the market moves to smartphones,” says Mcleod.
Knott-Craig believes his former business will prosper.
“It’s got a lot of money invested in it. It makes a lot of money. It’s got a lot of employees; a lot of users and that’s the ecosystem. It’s not going anywhere anytime soon; it’s on the right track. My [former] co-shareholders are not fools, they wouldn’t be investing in this thing unless they thought we had a chance. So it’s quite exciting,” says Knott-Craig.
For now, Knott-Craig is off on holiday for six months; he’ll travel the States with his wife and two children in a Winnebago mobile home. He will have plenty of time to consider his future on the open road. When he gets back he wants to study South African history, maybe he would do well to study South African boardroom politics as well.
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