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South Africa's Naspers ups its bet on e-commerce with new CEO

By David Dolan

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Naspers Ltd named company newcomer Bob van Dijk as chief executive, looking to tap his expertise in e-commerce in line with a strategy that has already transformed it into an emerging markets force worth nearly $50 billion.

The company said in a statement on Saturday that Chief Executive Koos Bekker would step down in April after 17 years of explosive growth that turned the Cape Town company into one of the world's most valuable media and internet firms.

Van Dijk's appointment marks the rare promotion of an outsider to Naspers' top job and underscores its growing emphasis on e-commerce platforms such as auction sites and classified ads, areas where he has substantial knowledge.

"In view of our strong development focus on e-commerce, the board believes that Bob has the skills to lead us into the next phase of our growth," Chairman Ton Vosloo said in a statement.

The 41-year-old van Dijk joined the group last year to head its eastern European on-line marketplace business. Before that he led the German arm of eBay Inc.

Traditionally Naspers has drawn much of its leadership from South Africa's close-knit community of Afrikaner elite - unlike the Dutch van Dijk, a former McKinsey consultant with an MBA from business school INSEAD.

Van Dijk will take over on April 1. Bekker will take a year off to travel and look for new growth opportunities for the company before returning to replace Vosloo as chairman in April 2015.

GREATEST SUCCESS

Under Bekker, Naspers went from an Afrikaans-language publisher into a $48 billion multinational by investing in internet companies and fast-growing markets.

Bekker's greatest success was Nasper's investment in Tencent Holdings Ltd, which has become China's largest internet company and in which Naspers owns around a third. Bekker will stay on as a board member of Tencent, Naspers said.

"I hope to travel to places like Seoul and San Francisco, where the future is being manufactured, and see if there are new technologies we should be trying out," Bekker said in a statement.

Founded in 1915 as Nasionale Pers, or "National Press", Naspers was widely seen as the mouthpiece for the white minority government. But with the end of apartheid in 1994, it has increasingly focused on building and acquiring internet businesses in fast-growing markets.

It also has a highly lucrative pay-television business across South Africa and much of Africa, as well as stakes in newspapers and magazines in South Africa and other emerging markets.

Its share price has increased around 64-fold since 1994. Naspers is the fifth-most valuable global internet services company, according to Thomson Reuters data. Only Google Inc, Facebook Inc, Tencent and eBay have larger stock market values.

The stock hit a record 1,304.40 rand as recently as February 19.

(Editing by Ron Popeski and David Holmes)

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