Ask Mike Schalit about the origins of Net#work BBDO and he’ll tell you that one of South Africa’s hottest ad agencies was born out of naïve optimism. “We launched the business in May 1994,” hes ays. “It was a time when the entire country was at a standstill and everyone had adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude.
People were storing toilet paper, but we were ridiculously positive. I think that’s why we succeeded; we were committed to making it work.”
Schalit had trained as a copy writer and had left TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris to co-found Net#work BBDO with long-time colleague Keith Shipley. Both were keen to create something of their own, having worked in the shadow of other agency heads for a long time. Today, Net#work BBDO is recognised as one of South Africa’s most adventurous agencies.
Its power billboard for Nedbank is a case in point: the agency won a Gold Bullet and the first-ever Jury Chairman’s Choice Award at the 2006 Annual Young Guns International Advertising Awards, as well as a 2006 Silver Loerie for Outdoor & Ambient Advertising.
A world-first, the power billboard, currently positioned at a school in Alexandra, produces solar energy that powers its kitchen, saving it nearly R3 000 a month on electricity bills.“We realised early on that we had to have differentiators if we wanted to survive and grow,” says Shipley.
“We chose to define ourselves through our ethos and value system, which turned out to be an amalgamation of extremes – a combination of discipline and design with spontaneity and vibrancy. To this day our people have to live according to those values.”
By the end of their first year, Schalit andShipley had employed 20 staff members. The business was entirely self-funded and cash positive from day one, although they did have assistance from global advertising group BBDO in the form of access to international accounts, the first one being Nissan.
Shipley notes that one of the early difficulties was that clients love the energy of a new company; at the same time, they also need security. “This had a lot to do with how we presented the company to potential clients in the beginning.
We went in with confidence,often leading even ourselves to believe that we were more established than we actually were. That, coupled with our creative ability, helped to seal many deals.”Abdulla Miya, who is today MD of Net#work BBDO, joined the company ten years ago.
Miya was brought on board because he shares the same value system. Shipley adds: “That is the difference between successful and unsuccessful companies. You have to attract partners who share your vision.”Schalit and Shipley took on BBDO South Africa group responsibility in 2004, with Schalit becoming group executive creative director, and Shipley the group CEO. Miya was joined by Julian Watt as executive creative director.
Schalit, ranked by his peers as South Africa’s top creative director for seven years in a row, is quick to point out that he is not averse to hiring people who are better at their jobs than he is,and may even earn more. As the creative leader in the company, Schalit ensures that the team constantly innovates.
“Our business is dynamic, and we are never afraid to take risks and make mistakes.”One of the challenges that Shipley and Schalit recall was taking the company beyond the “honeymoon” phase. Both agree that any customer base has great empathy for a new company, yet almost overnight clients reach a point when they expect you to be as professional and practised as any of your competitors.
“We learnt that fairly early on,” says Shipley, noting that their bank encouraged them to run the company as a fully fledged business right from the start.”Another early challenge was aligning capacity with client requirements.
“That happens maybe twice a year,” Shipley notes wryly. The fact is that you either have too much business for your resources, or not enough.”The company does not achieve its bottomline at the expanse of fun and pride. Shipley notes, however, that substantial backend systems are in place to liberate the creatives. “You cannot have chaos in our environment. Imagination needs strong bedrock on which to flourish.”
Lesego Maphanga of Standard Bank
Lesego Maphanga is young (he only graduated in 2014 with an Industrial & Systems Engineering degree), yet he has already made a name for himself in multiple industries. His secret to success? Always doing more than is asked of him.
- Player: Lesego Maphanga
- Company: Standard Bank
- Position: Manager: Card & Emerging Payments; Africa Regions
- About: At only 27, the maths & science whizz works at Standard Bank as an Emerging Payments manager responsible for implementing remittances products across multiple African Regions. He also has his own radio show on CliffCentral called the Urban Culture Drive, and is founder of social entrepreneurship movement called Unplugged and in Charge.
I studied engineering knowing right from the start that I would never work as an engineer. I just couldn’t see myself working at a mine, or something like that, but I knew that engineering would give me a solid foundation and allow me to keep my options open. A STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) degree is a great base, as it shows that you have a mind for numbers and the analytic mindset needed to get things done. I don’t think you can go wrong with a degree in one of these fields, even if entrepreneurship is your ultimate aim.
How can I set myself apart?
You have to ask yourself this question. There’s a lot of competition out there. You might have a great academic history or work experience, but so do a lot of people, so you need to have a differentiator — something that makes you stand out. I entered Mr South Africa, for example, because I knew that it would increase my profile and add something interesting to my CV. I didn’t win, but I was a top-five finalist, which was good enough for me.
Find interesting things to add to your CV as well, since it’ll make it stand out in a massive pile of similar submissions.
Always go the extra mile
I had a lecturer who always said: “There are two kinds of bad engineers. There are those who don’t do what they’re told to do, and there are those who only do exactly what they’re told to do.” You need to add value and show that you are a crucial part of a team, so don’t just do what you’re told. Instead, look for ways in which you can go beyond the brief. Work hard and spend time coming up with your own ideas and projects. At the end of my studies, I interned at Standard Bank. I knew that I only had five weeks to make an impression, so I gave it my all. When you’re young, you don’t have many responsibilities apart from work, so that’s the time to put everything into your work.
Be audacious and make things happen
Seizing an opportunity that comes to you is great, but creating your own opportunities is even better. Don’t take no for an answer, and don’t wait for someone to give you a chance. A friend and I had an idea for a radio show and decided to put a proposal together. We had no experience and no contacts in the field, but we emailed our proposal to everyone we could think of. We spammed them, sending it out every single day. Eventually, CliffCentral got in contact with us.
I don’t want a ‘normal’ life
I want an extraordinary life, so I demand a lot of myself. I think Elon Musk is a great example of this. He’s doing things no one thought possible. Of course, it requires extreme levels of dedication and hard work. If you’re aiming for the top, I don’t think work/life balance is possible. You need work/life integration. You need to be pursuing your passion all the time. If you’re on a path you’re truly interested in, work doesn’t feel like sacrifice.
Exercise is important to me
I go to gym twice a day. It’s significant to me, as it allows me to relax and clear my mind. It also provides structure to my life. When I get up early and go to gym, I find that the rest of my day falls into place. It sets the tone. As long as I maintain focus in this part of my life, I find that things overall stay under control. Sometimes, though, I need to take a day off and just sit in front of the TV. Generally speaking, however, I find that routine helps maintain focus and momentum.
Joel Stransky Shares His Insights On What Makes A Great Leader
Enter Joel Stransky just as friendly as the rest of the team, also casually dressed, also wearing a smile. As a founding director of the innovative Pivotal Group, he explained that their value proposition particularly in Pivotal Talent.
Posters displayed on companies’ walls representing the business’ Vision and value system are a common occurrence. A general value that numerous companies share is to be client centred and to provide excellent service. Yet, unfortunately a proportion of companies do not live according to their values as tools to actualize their collective Vision.
An observant individual would take only a few seconds to notice that the Leadership group at Pivotal has gone to great lengths to establish a definitive and value driven culture as well as a motivating climate for their team members. As I waited in the reception area I was met with smiles from several people passing by and there was generally no way to assess what their position was as they were all casually dressed, friendly and approachable.
Enters Joel Stransky just as friendly as the rest of the team, also casually dressed, also wearing a smile. As a founding director of the innovative Pivotal Group, he explained that their value proposition particularly in Pivotal Talent, is the use of Augmented Intelligence and data analytics within the “human capital space”. The application of AI and data makes talent acquisition and career guidance much less of an enigma and challenge as opposed to the recent past where traditional talent acquisition and career guidance methods became less and less successful and more and more time consuming.
The “pivot” of the 1995 Victorious Springbok world cup team shared that he always starts off an employee-employer relationship with the assumption of mutual trust and respect. He believes that once you have put in the sincere effort to understand people better, bigger belief in them is a natural result.
“The greatest asset in business is people,” Joel passionately explained and added that it is possible for a brilliant product to fail in the long run when the wrong people are employed.
“Hiring the right people that would not only help sustain the current culture but add more value to it is critical to any team or companies’ sustainable success,” Joel explained. The Millennial generation think differently and have different expectations from a working environment, therefore it is a critical factor for any manager and/or Leader to understand what drives the emerging generation and also how to manage the polarity of generational gaps.
Related: Servant Leadership – Will You Serve?
As a result of diversity and generational gaps Leadership and management has become a fascinating space to operate within South-Africa as not only cultural and language barriers might offer a challenging HR environment, the millennial generations unique behaviours amplify the need for useful adaptations within all spheres of work.
As a practical example, employee X is twenty-three years old. Some of the key questions that management needs to figure out, that is if they sincerely want the best for, and the best out of employee X, are:
- Is X motivated by monetary rewards and/ or does she/he need a regular hug to feel part of and add to the company culture?
- Does X need to interact with management socially for example be taken out do dinner?
- What skills does X have or lack that impacts his/her performance?
- It is impossible to motivate someone else. In what way can I create an environment for X wherein he/she can motivate himself/herself and excel?
How you satisfy Xs’ needs and manage all related factors to his or her needs has become critical success factors in how we as leader’s approach career development in general.
Reflecting on the development of his own sports and business career, as well as his family life Joel is adamant that whatever drives you in sport also drives you in business and within your family life. Whatever he has achieved within all aspects of his life came as a result of setting goals and making those goals a reality.
Both in sports and in the business world within South Africa there is a general tendency towards over structured management and coaching. Although a structure and daily management is an integral part of business and sports, a paradigm shift towards inspirational Leadership that empowers other leaders to succeed is key in terms of serving others and creating a motivating and sustainable environment within which all team members can thrive.
Reflecting on Joels’ observation: “Our countries’ value chain is broken” the moment has most certainly arrived within which more and more value driven and ethical Leaders, emerging from all generations must arise and collectively work towards an improved future.
Critical to the actualisation of a collective future vision is the development of Leadership skills therefore one of the keen interests of the author is to recognise and learn from other Leaders’ character traits. Joel’s’ highly effective communication skills underpinned by the core people skill of active listening quickly came to the fore as he could quote part of my question and comments in each of the very insightful answers that he provided. His keen willingness to innovate and to create inspiring working environments makes his enthusiasm and skill as a Leader tangible.
Let us all challenge ourselves to learn from prime Leadership examples offered by individuals such as Joel Stransky and leave more and more Leaders behind for only in such a way can an inspiring future be built.
Nhlanhla Dlamini Not Only Has Guts, But Grit – In Spades
An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla Dlamini did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.
It takes guts to venture into entrepreneurship. And when you’re in a ‘cushy’ job with a top global auditing firm who are grooming you for partnership, it takes even more guts.
Nhlanhla Dlamini not only has guts, but grit – in spades.
An alumnus of WBS and Harvard Business School, Nhlanhla did some soul searching when he was doing his MBA at Harvard, and knew that the corporate ladder, although tempting, was simply not going to be enough.
“I started thinking, ‘what is the best thing I can do with my life?’”, recalls Nhlanhla. “I always felt a pressing need to get involved in lowering the unemployment rate in South Africa. It’s a notoriously difficult space, but entrepreneurship is the real engine of job creation and I felt compelled to rise to the challenge.”
When he left his job at McKinsey in March 2015, Nhlanhla decided to explore the agricultural sector – having no idea what product or what part of the value chain he would end up in. He spent until December that year exploring the agri-food sector, gaining as much understanding as he could about the entire industry by talking to famers, co-ops, agricultural associations and various other stakeholders.
“I wanted to export products to the US and I looked at tree nuts, blueberries, dairy products or meat. Because of stringent FDA regulations, meat wasn’t an option – but a friend of mine from WBS days suggested meat in the form of pet food.”
And so Maneli Pets was born, and Nhlanhla moved his fledgling business into a factory, which he re-purposed for meat processing, in October 2016. By June 2017, he had started operations with 30 employees on board, and by September he had 50 employees.
What makes Maneli different from other US-bound pet food products in an already saturated market? The answer is high protein meat from animals that are unique to South Africa.
“I discovered a market for the off-cuts of meat from specialist butcheries – so crocodile, warthog, ostrich etc,” Nhlanhla explains. “The result is a very high quality, high protein pet snack with a difference – and US pet owners are willing to pay for the best they can get.”
Under the brand name ‘Roam’, Maneli Pets products are exported to a pet food wholesaler in Boston, US, owned by the family of Nhlanhla’s former WBS classmate, who had planted the seed of the idea in the first place. Nhlanhla is now preparing to launch the products under another brand name for distribution in South Africa and export to the EU.
But pet food is only the start. Maneli Pets is an offshoot of the Maneli Group, a diversified food company which is looking ooking to build further businesses in the green energy sector, while boosting black entrepreneurship.
According to a City Press report, South Africa has relatively few black-owned food production businesses, which is why government is actively promoting agro-processing and the manufacturing sector in general to spur economic growth.
Nhlanhla has worked tirelessly to secure government funding, and was thrilled to obtain R26 million from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). Just last month, he received the news that Maneli Pets had been awarded grant funding of R12.5 million from the Department of Trade and Industry’s Black Industrialists Scheme (BIS).
Nhlanhla, who was also a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, considers his PDM at WBS a “superb” way of preparing a student for the real world of work. “The group dynamics was an essential learning experience in terms of delivering on a mandate with a group with entirely different skill sets.”
Describing himself as a “passionate and active WBS alumnus”, Nlhanhla still stays in regular contact with a core group from his PDM class, proving that one of the enduring benefits of a PDM (and an MBA) is the opportunity to connect and network with like-minded people and form life-long friendships.
Apart from what he learnt in the Entrepreneurship Management module of the PDM, such as the pillars of entrepreneurship, macro trend support and financing an idea, Nhlanhla considers the keys to success are threefold: Recognising the value of a social network, tenacity – and just a little luck!
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