“Don’t ask me how I manage to balance the ‘mom - wife – career’ thing. It’s a disparaging old cliché,” says Deseré Orrill, CEO of the Ole! Media Group, holding company of mobile media company, MobiMedia, and digital agency, HoneyKome.
“Rather, ask me how I run my business - now that’s a more interesting topic!”
So, how does Deseré run her business, which has grown exponentially since its beginning as a four-person start-up in 2009? And how she manages a typical day, for example.
“Well, I usually don’t plan my day in too much detail, except for scheduled meetings. I find that setting weekly, monthly or even quarterly goals works better,” she says. “For me, leaving lots of grey space in between the black and white is more realistic, because life intervenes and those neat, short term plans can fall apart.
“So, there may often be short-term imbalances in my week or month, but I’ll achieve what I set out to do over the year, for example. In a fast-paced and constantly evolving business environment such as the digital media landscape, agile thinking and resilience are prerequisites for success.
“So yes, I plan by setting course for a destination, but I don’t always plot every mile of the route. And because I always consider potential alternative consequences, there’s usually a Plan B, too.
We ask Desere about her career background. Where did she start and how did she get to her current position?
“It’s been an interesting journey,” she smiles.
To Germany And Back.
Deseré completed a Bachelor Degree in Law and Languages at Wits followed by an Honours Degree in International Marketing at UNISA. She then embarked on a career in the travel industry, in Johannesburg. Five years later, at age 27, she moved to Germany to take up a job offer in Frankfurt, as Marketing Director of international hotel group SRS Hotels (today known as World Hotels), with 18 offices and 400 member hotels around the world.
“Plan A was to be CEO of the hotel group by age 35. But then in 1996, life intervened and I implemented Plan B instead. I set up a hospitality marketing agency as I had decided to get married and knew I wanted to raise a family and would need the flexibility of being my own boss. Also, it was time to take the leap - in more ways than one.”
During the next seven years, Des (as she is known to friends and close colleagues), built up her small agency to a turnover of 150 000 Euros (R2m). At the same, juggling motherhood with three young children, moving home four times, swapping countries as well as purchasing a hotel in South Africa in 2000 and managing it remotely.
With the aim of shifting gear into the slow lane, Des and her family returned to South Africa in 2003, ostensibly to live a leisurely life in the Cape and manage their hotel. However, the bright lights of Johannesburg and the faster pace beckoned and after two years, the family relocated. This is when she, together with husband, Tim Legg, first delved into the world of mobile technology and its many facets as a communications tool, leading to them setting up MobiMedia in 2009 – a mobile-focused marketing agency.
It was a visionary step.
“It was tough,” she says. “We were one of the first mobile-only marketing and advertising companies in South Africa and in those early days, people didn’t yet fully comprehend the power of mobile. I guess we were ahead of our time.”
Dambuilder Des and Rainmaker Tim.
Des and Tim have become a solid business partnership since then.
“Today, as co-founders of the Ole! Media Group, we share responsibilities: Tim is the sales driver and heads up bizdev and strategy, while in my role as CEO, I focus on ‘execution’”, laughs
Des. “By that I don’t mean anything that involves a guillotine, but rather managing commercial and financial aspects, building skills and resources, service delivery and group marketing, It works really well; I think we're a great team. Tim’s the rainmaker - and I build the dams to irrigate our business flow.”
Des gives us some background as to the impressive growth of the Ole! Media Group.
“After establishing MobiMedia in 2009, we acquired the sports media hub, TEAMtalk Media from BskyB in 2012. We relocated our head office to Cape Town and grew from a ten man team in Johannesburg to a total of 64 employees literally overnight.”
“Over the next year we grew the business organically, acquiring and integrating two smaller companies and adding a third division, AddSuite, a Google partner and digital media management company. We founded the Ole! Media Group as the umbrella holding company for our businesses in 2013. Since then we’ve established HoneyKome as a full-service digital creative agency, expanded our digital video production capabilities and established a dynamic technology hub.
By 2016, Ole! Media was a company of 120 people. Rapid expansion and heavy investment in our overseas holdings, too, put pressure on the purse strings, and we had to review our position. Some rationalisation on the cost front and a hard-earned break-through after two years of relentless plugging away on the sales front finally bore fruit. We weathered the challenges of 2017, which resulted in some logical consolidation, and have emerged stronger and more agile in 2018.
It’s a Jungle Gym, Not A Ladder.
Deseré has some thoughts on leadership:
“I think it’s important to take charge, to have the courage to be the captain of your ship. That includes making the hard decisions, but it’s something I am willing to do. I’d rather be strong and accountable than someone who has to ask permission to lead.”
What does Deseré think about the ‘Lean In’ philosophy of COO OF Facebook Sheryl Sandberg? Do women need to be bolder?
“Yes, women need to overcome their reluctance to make their voices heard, they should not sit back and let the meeting happen. I agree with Sandberg who says that the climb to success is more like a jungle gym than a ladder, with multiple paths to the top. As women who have braved the climb, we should help to enable younger women to flourish, too.”
Deseré’s philosophy incorporates directness with diplomacy and discretion. With her, clients and colleagues always know where they stand. It’s a compromise-oriented approach that best serves long-term success. “For me, taking charge doesn’t mean ‘flatter and cajole”, nor does it mean ‘crush and conquer’. Rather it is leading by example, being willing to go the extra mile yourself, proving you have your team’s back in times of trouble, and reaching well-considered compromises which will win the day and earn you the lasting loyalty that true leadership engenders.”
Purpose Beyond Profit
Deseré also believes that a business should have a purpose beyond profit.
“After coping with breast cancer, I appreciate purpose in life, and my business has to have a purpose, too. Mine is to empower other people - helping them to recognise their potential.
“I like being involved in developing people, both practically with courses and training, as well as something deeper and more lasting. I want to help young people develop a sense of self, to grow and go on to be successful and confident, in whatever they do. I actively encourage our team here to spread their wings and fly the nest or experience something new within the group, when their time is ready.”
“We’re always open to opportunities and new ideas. In fact, we’ve even been known to hire people and create roles for them, just because we like their energy and drive. It’s about chemistry and being a great fit for our team and business.” It’s a formula that works.
“I love the fact that our organisation has diversity and variety,” she continues. “We’re a truly mixed bag of nationality, gender, race, age and philosophy - people from all backgrounds - with a great array of skill sets, but with one thing in common: curiosity and the desire to discover.
“That’s how people grow - and businesses, too.”