Former Vodacom CEO Alan Knott-Craig was accused of being evasive on Wednesday, when asked if MTN planned to sue the company for stealing the Please Call Me idea.
“Your worship, the witness is being evasive about it,” Cedric Puckrin, for former Vodacom employee Nkosana Makete, said in the High Court in Johannesburg.
Knott-Craig responded: “I am not trying to be evasive, I am trying to answer as honestly as possible.”
Makete took cellphone service provider Vodacom to court to get compensation for the Please Call Me service, which he claims he invented in 2000. He said his boss at the time, Philip Geissler, promised in an oral agreement to facilitate remuneration negotiations with the company.
Geissler submitted the idea and said he would negotiate remuneration between Makete and Vodacom once it was developed and its technical and commercial feasibility had been ascertained.
On Wednesday, Puckrin questioned Knott-Craig about an email Geissler sent to Makete on March 8, 2001, saying MTN was suing Vodacom for stealing the Please Call Me concept.
Puckrin asked if he was aware of the alleged legal action.
Knott-Craig responded: “I do not remember them [MTN] accusing Mr Makate. I believe that they did not formally sue Vodacom for stealing their idea.
“I am not sure what happened between Mr Geissler and MTN… What I can tell you, ultimately, we were not sued by MTN. But someone could’ve called with a verbal threat.”
Puckrin said Makete wanted a share of the revenue generated from the idea.
Knott-Craig said Vodacom never had a profit-share or revenue-share agreement with employees who introduced new ideas.
He said he was not sure of the agreement Geissler made with Makete, and said profit-share would be “beyond anything that would be accepted” by Vodacom.
“This particular promise of sharing revenue within a company is not normal. I would’ve been surprised that he [Makete] believed that a company would share its revenue on an untested product,” he said.
“To lead Makete to believe that [the reward he wanted] is beyond what the company could ever give.”
He said a bigger bonus and a progression of rank would have been considered remuneration in terms of policy.
“No one has ever suggested revenue-share to me,” Knott-Craig testified.
“We do not make additional payments to people… Makete wanted payment for doing nothing other than having an idea for a moment in his life.”
Puckrin read various paragraphs from Knott-Craig’s biography, “Second is Nothing”, illustrating his sense of business, how he made decisions, and that his word was his bond.
Knott-Craig became visibly emotional, looking down and away after the paragraphs were read. He had to clear his throat before speaking again.
Puckrin put it to him: “The culture you instilled in Vodacom in this sense was that you regarded your word as your bond — this is promulgated throughout.”
Discussing the delegation of authority, Knott-Craig said he did not need to authorise an agreement with the board or shareholders if the payment was within the budget.
The delegation of authority determined who had the power to sign agreements at the company.
Makete first approached the high court in 2008, after he sent letters to Vodacom in 2007.
The matter was adjourned.