According to Ayanda, who confidently refers to the well-known adage ‘no guts, no glory’, being bold is not something one spends too much time in planning to become. She believes that, ironically, boldness is a quality that requires a determined spirit and an explorative nature. It is for this reason that Ayanda constantly surrounds herself with equally successful and determined individuals. This 2008 Nedbank Businesswoman of the Year finalist looks up to her senior colleague, Gail Curtis, Chief Executive Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi, who often says, “Fail fast, fix fast.” Ayanda also believes that success comes with a lot of risk-taking. “If one is too afraid to try out new things, one will be in a constant state of pontification and ultimate paralysis. I believe that a life well lived is about taking risks – preferably calculated ones,” she states assertively.
Ayanda started her own company with six individuals at the tender age of 25 in 1998 without thinking too much about what could possibly go wrong. Today, she has a staff complement of over 60. Initially, she did not know much about running a business; all she had was a Rhodes University degree in journalism, ambition and lots of guts. Fortunately, she had the financial backing of Saatchi & Saatchi, a company where she started her career as a copywriter.
It is because of that nurturing and supportive springboard that Ayanda has been able to pursue her dream of being the chief executive officer (CEO) of Ayanda Mbanga Communications (AMComms), her own brand and one which she built from scratch. “In the beginning, there was the requisite blood, sweat and tears, but the process of building my own brand became an ongoing adventure, one which is still a worthy journey,” she states. Today, AMComms has offices in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
Ayanda highlights that establishing and maintaining a brand is a consistent, deliberate, long-term and often painstaking process. She goes on to say that it can never be too early to start this process. “The key thing is to be absolutely clear in your own mind what you want that brand to be,” she declares.
This mother of two boys whom she refers to as the “current most important project”, does not spend all her time thinking about growing her brand. She makes time to relax and unwind, and, during her spare time, she enjoys a glass of wine. Once in a while, she pays attention to her sporting interests by jogging or, whenever she finds a quiet moment, reads a book on philosophy or current affairs. Ayanda definitely wears a few hats. Over and above being a devoted mother, she is a board member of the Association for Communication and Advertising, Publicis South Africa, and Heifer International, among others.
Like any other person, Ayanda has moments of doubt and uncertainty – she sometimes asks herself if she is really good, if she is truly giving her best. She deals with these negative thoughts by keeping an open mind. Having access to a lot of high-profile individuals is an advantage that she always utilises and, over the years, she has learnt that wisdom indeed comes from anywhere, even from someone who may, on the face of it, mistakenly be seen to seem dull and ignorant.
Ayanda, who sees herself as more of a doer than a thinker, advises that one should listen to the heart more than spend time thinking things over repeatedly. Of course, applying one’s mind is equally important. However, it is during the implementation phase that one truly finds out if an idea is practical or not.
Hard work as it may be to champion one’s brand, Ayanda believes that the rewards are great. Being guided by certain values is what brings focus and consistency to a brand. Therefore, values, which in her view are not born out of a scientific process, are what a company should believe in and live by. Values do not have to be fancy and complicated, but, most of all, they have to be authentic and practical. “Authenticity and sincerity are very much what I personally live by. I find it makes life a little bit easier to navigate, and I think the same can be said of business. You need to know what you are about, and then live by it. Never try to be all things to all people, and that is certainly at the core of building a brand,” concludes the trailblazing Ayanda.
Being the CEO of Your Own Brand
Therefore, this interesting mystery continues to be puzzling. “Certainly, an individual requires certain inherent abilities to be able to lead with relative success. That, mixed with the right opportunity to make things happen, is a powerful combination,” says Ayanda Mbanga, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi. This mix, which she refers to is something that Ayanda experienced when she initially entered the business world.
Some people say leaders are born; others say leaders are nurtured; and only a minority of individuals can get away with not providing a direct response when asked whether leadership qualities are inherent or not. Of course, it is not easy to say with confidence whether humans are born with leadership qualities or if it is the physical environment that moulds and direct our goals, dreams and visions.
by Nomia Machebe