“I like to think of myself as a rebel, a non-conformist who takes an idea and runs with it. I care about my business but more importantly, my people, and try at all times to lead by example.” This is how Primedia Broadcasting CEO, Terry Volkwyn, describes herself.
Clearly, she has a winning formula because not only do her staff rave about her as a leader but everything she has touched – with a great deal of hard work – has turned to gold. Primedia Broadcasting has this year exceeded the R1-billion turnover mark despite mounting challenges for media companies to stay afloat and generate profit.
Over the past 10 years under Volkwyn’s leadership, gross revenue has increased five times to this figure, according to Michelle Sampson, Primedia Broadcasting’s chief financial officer. “That is a compound annual growth rate in 10 years of 18%, a phenomenal return on investment for any shareholder,” she says.
Head of news and current affairs, Yusuf Abramjee, says: “Terry has developed the four radio station brands over the years and her legacy will last for a very long time.”
Volkwyn joined Talk Radio 702’s sales department in 1986 and has worked her way up to CEO of Primedia Broadcasting. Primedia Group CEO Kuben Pillay says of Volkwyn: “Terry’s tenure in each of these businesses has been accompanied by major shifts and accomplishments: from successfully leading the best sales team in the country’s media, to effectively integrating the various radio stations into Primedia Broadcasting, to being the architect behind the positive financial turnaround of the businesses within the Primedia Broadcasting stable. Terry’s story is the stuff that MBA books are made of.”
Volkwyn cites her biggest challenge and greatest achievement as turning Talk Radio 702 around from a station that was on its way out to multiplying its revenue six times to R260-million in 10 years. “There was a strong push to just cut our losses, but we managed to steer 702 out of troubled waters to the success it is today,” Volkwyn says. This same station won MTN Radio Station of the Year in 2010 and 2011. “I also enjoy seeing my people happy and motivated to come into work every day and deliver way beyond what their jobs entail. It shows that investing in people pays dividends.”
Under her watch, Primedia Broadcasting’s heart grew as it launched successful corporate social investment projects like LeadSA, Crime Line (an anonymous crime tip-off service), Hear for Life Trust (that sponsors cochlear implants), the Christmas and Birthday Wish List and many others…
She has been a leader in transformation in this industry, both racially and in terms of gender. Of the 26 senior managers, more than half are women who command some key strategic portfolios that include finance, sales, human capital and production. The managers of each station are women, as is the editor-in-chief of news and the Cape Town editor.
Volkwyn believes that the high road for the media allows for growth – of profits and people. “We are wrong to think our assets are immovable. Our greatest assets are the warm bodies that go up and down our lifts daily. They give of themselves and in return we give them the freedom to explore…and disrupt,” says Volkwyn. “Shortsighted is the business that cages people…and the leader who allows the cage.”
This industry’s high road, Volkwyn says, requires strong and courageous leadership – often behind the scenes. “Having the commitment and stamina to keep going, especially when things get tough and the media is under pressure,” she says. “Leaders have to keep level heads. There is no greater responsibility than that which the media carries at this volatile period in our history.
“Every media company should have an air-tight, responsible set of values. They need to commit to transformation and ensure their houses are clean, especially if we are looking for dirt in other people’s homes.
“The media are the thought leaders in our country. We owe it to ourselves, and our staff, to lead in a courageous, responsible way while still ensuring that ethics are enshrined in everything we do. We also owe it to South Africans to give something back by using our powerful platforms for corporate social investment initiatives. These platforms should be used to encourage people to mobilise in order to do good as this road also allows for a strong and active citizenship.”
Volkwyn is strongly committed to activism when it is necessary to stem major problems in the country. “We applaud this activist mentality and hope it serves us well – if, or rather when, we rise again. For rise we must if we are to put an end to the endless corruption eating away.”
As much as a leader she is, she sees thing as a company or an industry, not as just as an individual. “It’s not about what I must do – but what we as a Primedia Broadcasting team and the media at large should do. We must keep pushing ourselves, our colleagues and others. We must challenge the process.” As she sees the South African media as being at a crossroads, this is the only way to maintain the high road and ensure that South Africa’s democracy thrives and the media is free.
Performance management consultant Nick Christelis, who has worked with Volkwyn over the years, gives insight into her leadership style: “Terry has a great vision and clarity of purpose, which she communicates through her actions and behaviour rather than through rhetoric.”
Leadership strategist Adriaan Groenewald wrote on Leadership Platform: “I believe Volkwyn has now arrived in a leadership space that I call ‘leading beyond’. In other words, she demonstrates leadership beyond the boundaries for which she is held accountable.”
Katy Katopodis, Eyewitness News editor-in-chief, says: “She epitomises the leadership required to ensure that the media stands firm against the elements that threaten its independence and freedom. Terry is a formidable woman with unrivalled leadership abilities and an excellent instinct which I have always admired. She just has a ‘gut’ for what is right and what will work and what won’t work. The media is often under attack and the unyielding support that we enjoy from Terry is invaluable. She leads from the front.”
Abramjee says: “Terry is a principles woman; she doesn’t bend easily under pressure and sticks to her guns. However, she also listens and weighs the opinions and views of others to eventually make the right decision for the business and for her people. After all, media is about people.”
According to Ryan Till, Primedia Broadcasting chief operating officer, Volkwyn played a role of leadership in the whole industry. “This has been in formal roles, such as chairing the radio committee of the NAB, and has been in more informal ways through relationships, business dealings, and being guide or mentor to industry players. Her intuition delivered with candour has impacted individuals and companies’ leaders and strategies.
“In the last 10 years, Terry has brought to the fore a social conscience in the making of business decisions, and developing business strategy,” says Till. “Through campaigns such as LeadSA, and much of the community work that the radio stations have done, she has influenced all stakeholders (from shareholders to listeners) to think outside of just financial returns. The impact of LeadSA alone has been vast, and in this way her legacy will live beyond her years in the industry.”
People who have worked with Volkwyn over the years have commented that she is far more relaxed, compassionate, less highly charged and way more of a people’s person than she used to be. To this, she says: “Working in broadcasting is incredibly fast paced and needs quick decisions. I realised early on that if I didn’t slow things down within myself I would not be able to cope. So I stopped, spoke to people with life experience who were able to help me and it actually taught me that if I stayed calm and focused, all those around me also calmed down. It’s helped me to calmly approach those daily quick decisions that crop up in a fast-paced business as well as a hectic family life.”
Having achieved so much in her career, it is easy to just associate her with broadcasting alone. But when asked what she is most proud of achieving, she answers: “Being a mother and wife. (She is married to Greg Volkwyn and they have two daughters.) It is a privilege to be able to be the CEO of a major media company and also have a family to go home to. Just when you think you have it all worked out, marriage and children come along. It teaches you many life lessons and has a major impact on your life both professionally and personally. They add incredible value to my life and keep me grounded.”
Says Katopodis: “There can be no doubt that the media landscape of the future is in good hands with Terry Volkwyn at the helm of Primedia Broadcasting.“ n
Thanks to Primedia for supplying a wealth of information in Terry Volkwyn’s business profile, which has been used liberally in this article.