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Mike Abel, chief executive partner of M&C Saatchi Group SA. Picture: SUPPLIED
Mike Abel, chief executive partner of M&C Saatchi Group SA. Picture: SUPPLIED

The chief executive partner of M&C Saatchi Group SA, Mike Abel, has been awarded a Nelson Mandela University (NMU) 2021 Alumni Achievement Award for his contribution to the country's business and creative sectors.

The NMU Alumni Awards, held earlier this month, celebrate outstanding alumni who use their leadership and expertise to contribute to society while addressing complex challenges and having a positive impact on those around them. 

Abel’s career spans more than three decades in different countries, building some of the biggest names in advertising. He cofounded M&C Saatchi Abel, the first creative company in M&C Saatchi Group SA, just more than a decade ago, and published the book Willing & Abel: Lessons from a Decade in Crisis, on the key lessons he learnt while building one of the most recognisable creative brands on the continent during a difficult 10 years in SA.

Abel’s belief that “the people with the best people win” has underpinned much of his leadership: investing in talented people and giving them the space to grow into industry leaders. This unrelenting orientation towards excellence has paid off handsomely, with all M&C Saatchi Group companies recognised as leaders in their fields and representing top brands on the continent while being demographically diverse and transformed.  

“This university carries the name of the greatest South African to have lived, Nelson Mandela. And so, beyond it being a massive honour to receive this award, it is a massive responsibility to live the values and build on the legacy of our nation’s founding father,” said Abel at the awards ceremony.

“I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to NMU and the Alumni Association for bestowing this huge honour on me. I remember the university fondly, and it played an integral role in shaping my values, just as it continues to develop tomorrow’s leaders today. 

It’s important to drive change with humility and respect for that which unites us as people

“Beyond being a beacon in the city and a driver of economic growth in the region, the university shaped me personally in my formative years — knowledge and wisdom I have carried with me throughout my career.”

Led by Abel, M&C Saatchi Abel founded #TheStreetStore, a global movement of innovative pop-up stores that clothe the homeless while prioritising their dignity. Almost 1,000 pop-up stores have opened around the world to date. 

“It’s important to drive change with humility and respect for that which unites us as people as opposed to that which separates us: a great lesson from Madiba, whose name reverberates in Nelson Mandela Bay and the university of which I am a proud alumnus,” said Abel.

He believes creative companies should grow their clients’ bottom line, boost their market share and increase their brand equity. This, he said, required “brutal simplicity of thought” — in other words, a laser-sharp focus — and the nurturing of long-term relationships built on honesty and transparency, both inside agencies and between agencies and clients. 

Over many years, Abel has overseen the development of best-practice thinking and fully integrated business models to support both clients’ businesses and the performance of M&C Saatchi Group SA companies.

Jason Harrison, group MD of M&C Saatchi Abel, said: “Like Mike, I grew up in Gqeberha, went to the same school and also attended NMU. He hired me for my first job when I came to Cape Town, and 20 years later we are co-founders of the same business, so our shared history runs deep. But it is his values, work ethos and commitment to community and country that has always inspired me. It is a huge honour to call him a business partner but, more importantly, a friend.”

This article was paid for by M&C Saatchi Abel.

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