Gil Oved’s Lessons Learnt: Be The Grandmaster of Your Game

Gil Oved’s Lessons Learnt: Be The Grandmaster of Your Game


Vital Stats:

Gil Oved, 39, is the co-founder of South Africa’s biggest brand activations agency The Creative Counsel, a company with a R600 million turnover, and more than 650 employees.

When Oved went into business, it wasn’t about being an entrepreneur as much as wanting to do his own thing. He’s not a rebel, he says, but he’s not averse to challenging society’s norms either. Intensely curious, he’s been investigating opportunities since he can remember.

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At school, he worked as a TV presenter; as much as he liked being in front of the camera, he was more fascinated by what went on behind the scenes – he learnt then, that you could either be the pawn in the game, or the grandmaster.

How has your description of success evolved over the years?

Success has come after many failures. Even by today’s standards, we fail way more often than we succeed. We just ensure that our failures are always smaller than the big successes.

There’s no such thing as absolute success. Like life, business has its troughs and its peaks. There’s no time at which you can say ‘you are hereby successful’ – you’re just a little bit less of a failure today than you were the day before. It’s fear of failure that motivates me. It’s what keeps me focused on innovation and challenging the status quo.

That said, when you start a business, you’re just trying to survive. Success then is the ability to pay the bills, and have a bit more money in the bank this month than you did the last one. But as you progress, money becomes less of a focus and your attention turns to growth, scale and sustainability.

Now, I define success as leaving a legacy, changing people’s lives and motivating and inspiring others to achieve success. I’m proud to employ people and make decisions every day that impact the lives of others.

What does wealth mean to you?Gil-Oved

It’s a huge mistake to be motivated by money and the pursuit of wealth. A good entrepreneur is led by love for what you’re doing, where you’ve innovated, what developments you’re investing in, how you’re impacting your surroundings and changing the world.

Money is merely the form in which you are rewarded. It’s the points system in business. If I were a rugby player, I’d be rewarded with tries for playing well. Although our business creates wealth, there are many ways people can make money in business, but not all create wealth.

True wealth creation sometimes happens at the expense of short-term money making. In our industry, for example, we’ve been offered opportunities that would dis-intermediate other players and destroy relationships – that is not building wealth.

What underlies your success?

I call it passion-fuelled optimism. It’s a principle I live by. When you combine these two qualities, the result is powerful.

You have to be optimistic as an entrepreneur, because often you’re not the expert in your game – think about Uber disrupting the taxi industry. Optimism is important because you cannot be an entrepreneur and a realist at the same time.

If I knew back then what I know now, I would never have started this business, in an industry that was small and fraught with challenges – not in a million years. And then passion is what inspires loyalty and makes people look to you as a leader. You will be forgiven for many mistakes if you display passion.

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What kind of thinking limits entrepreneurs?

  • They don’t back themselves. Self-belief is absolutely key. It’s like doing weights at the gym – that second last rep is always the hardest. Why? Because of self-doubt. If you don’t believe in yourself, you will never succeed.
  • They look for inept ways to get by. Hiring the wrong people because the right people come at a price is penny wise and pound foolish. I’m not saying pay flagrantly, but get the best people. The cost difference between a mediocre hire and the best person for the job will give you 100% improvement in performance.
  • Don’t be a jack of all trades. Surround yourself with people who are better than you, who are not yes-men. Maybe it’s scary to do that but remember, you are the entrepreneur, and you are the risk-taker – not them.

Have you achieved work/life balance?

I have a huge issue with that concept. There’s no such thing. It implies that anyone who does not spend the prescribed amount of time on certain activities is in some way naughty. Nonsense.

To be happy and to experience joy, you need to be doing what is right for you at the time. Stress may be bad for some, but others love it. Just do what is right for you.

So what do you do when you are not working?

I invest a disproportionate amount of time in my work because I love what I do. When I’m not working I spend a lot of time on YouTube, which is an unbelievable source of information. At this point in my life, I know a lot about very little. The next phase of my life will be focused on learning a little about a lot.

Any words of advice?

Find the flaws in the system and see the opportunities. Be as transparent as possible with clients – I have no shame about the money I make. I’m proud of our margins because for every rand I make, I ensure my client makes ten.

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Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.