The notion that a Vodacom employee could seek compensation for the idea for the Please Call Me service was “foreign”, former CEO Alan Knott-Craig testified on Wednesday.
“[At Vodacom] we did try and run a company based on respect for each other, offering ideas to the company for the good of the company and never sought personal gain,” he told the High Court in Johannesburg.
“This particular matter before you today is just foreign to me.”
Knott-Craig is the main witness in a civil claim brought by former employee Nkosana Makate against the cellphone operator. He wants to be compensated, claiming he invented and introduced the Please Call Me idea to his former boss, Philip Geissler, in 2000.
Makate said Geissler promised in an oral agreement to facilitate remuneration negotiations with the company. Geissler submitted the idea and said he would negotiate remuneration once the idea had been developed and its technical and commercial feasibility ascertained.
On Wednesday, Knott-Craig told the court that Vodacom never had a profit- or revenue-sharing agreement with employees who introduced new ideas.
He said he was not sure of the agreement Geissler made with Makate, and said profit sharing 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 [Makate] believed that a company would share its revenue on an untested product.”
He said a bigger bonus and a promotion 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… Makate wanted payment for doing nothing other than having an idea for a moment in his life.”
Cedric Puckrin, for Makate, accused Knott-Craig of being evasive when questioned if MTN planned to sue the company for stealing the Please Call Me idea. Knott-Craig said he tried to answer truthfully and was not trying to be evasive.
“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.”
On Wednesday morning, proceedings were briefly adjourned because the court’s recording equipment was not working. Knott-Craig helped court staff get it working again during the adjournment.
Makate first approached the high court in 2008, after he sent letters to Vodacom in 2007.
The case was provisionally closed to allow documents to be submitted to court on Thursday morning. A date for closing arguments would then be set.