My Brilliant Career
Entrepreneur strikes out on his own to fulfil his dream
Vincent Magwenya is the founder of a public relations company, and says late payments by clients are a challenge
How did you get your start in the public relations industry?
I was headhunted out of the newsroom 11 years ago, where I was working as the executive producer of Morning Live at the SABC, by Michele Anderson of Magna Carta PR. Her brief to me was to set up the agency's rest of Africa network. Expanding the agency's footprint on the continent was key in supporting some of the clients that were expanding into the rest of Africa.
What was behind launching your own firm?
It was a combination of frustration with the bureaucracy of large international holding groups and a long-held desire to embark on an entrepreneurial journey at some point. I desperately wanted the freedom to conduct certain elements of our practice differently.
What challenges have you faced as the owner of a PR agency?
Cash flow, due to late-paying clients. As we speak, we are still chasing payment for work done in December to February, with a total figure that is quite material for a start-up;
The inability to determine the right client match. The hunger to gain traction quickly and succeed forces you to take clients that are not the right match with either your values or core expertise;
Wasting time on poorly managed requests for proposals, particularly in the public sector, where some of the requirements are nearly impossible for a self-funded start-up to have within its first 12 months of operating; and
Mistrust from prospective clients, especially in the private sector, who expect to see a fully-resourced team that will work on their account during the pitch, while you have no revenue to support that team. Nor does the client have enough trust in you or the patience to allow you the time to put a team together once you have secured the business.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
At first, I thought I wanted to be a school inspector because of the authority inspectors commanded among teachers and the respect they enjoyed from the community, which I was completely in awe of. My lower-primary school was always abuzz with activity whenever inspectors were due to visit, and everybody had to be on their best behaviour.
I quickly ditched the idea when I learnt from my grandmother, who was a teacher, that to be a school inspector one had to be a teacher first.
Thereafter, I wanted to be a human rights lawyer. I was inspired by the work of lawyers Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge in their support for political activists at the time. Before their brutal murder by the apartheid security forces, the couple lived in my home township of Umlazi, south of Durban.
In the end, though, I chose neither of those career paths.
What was the best career advice you have ever received?
To work outside South Africa. Living and working in the US for four-and-a-half years, based in Washington, DC, was a great induction in international diplomacy and the exercise of influence. Working in the rest of Africa for the past 11 years has ingrained in me an unwavering sense of optimism in Africa's potential and its bright future.