Your career has been one of accolades and awards. What are you most proud of having achieved?
When John Hunt and I started the agency it was incredibly tough. No-one knew who we were. In the first year we managed to sign up three small clients and in the second year we got no new clients at all. So I think I am most proud of the fact that we kept at it and that we’ve created great advertising that to some extent has been unequalled in South Africa.
We were the first people to win at Cannes, the first agency to have an ad (the BMW mouse ad) in the Advertising Hall of Fame and the first people to dominate the awards in South Africa. I am very proud of those firsts.
What role did your vision play in helping you get through the early years?
At the outset our vision was to be the first world-class agency out of Africa. For two guys starting an unknown agency it was a big ambition but, somehow, when you float really big dreams like that, they are always in the back of your mind, and eventually they come to define how you do things.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Money. For the first six months we didn’t earn anything ourselves; in the seventh month we were able to pay ourselves a small salary but it was really tough. You worry if you are ever going to make money and if you’re ever going to be able to support your family – I had four children – but fortunately it worked.
What is the most difficult lesson you’ve had to learn?
The toughest thing early on is being rejected all the time. The key is to be able to stand up to rejection and keep coming back for more. For the first couple of times when we were rejected we got very depressed, and then after that we got angry and that made us push harder.
What mistakes did you make early on?
We didn’t understand the value of a good financial director and after three or four years we got into trouble. This prompted us to find a really good financial guy and after that life changed. He brought in discipline and allowed us to carry on doing what we did best.
Over the years I often wished I had become a CA so I could understand all the financial stuff better, but I think if you realise your weaknesses and get someone to manage those areas then you’re covered.
What is the mark of a good leader?
At the beginning you need to lead from the front but as you grow and you get more people in, you need to lead in such a way that allows them to grow. You can’t keep leading from the front; you have to start supporting from behind.
What was the most humbling experience you’ve had in your career?
Working with Nelson Mandela, just after he was released, on the ANC’s first election campaign. Making all that happen was a huge change from “selling baked beans” and it was really inspiring.
What’s the key to a great advert?
In the end it all comes down to the idea. If you have a good idea people will react to it – it has universal appeal.