There is nothing fanciful about Michelle Meyjes: what you see is what you get. And for the most part, what you don’t see is the amount of slog she does as CEO of the MEC Group, which comprises two specialist media agencies, Nota Bene and Mediaedge (MEC). She is also the de facto head of Kinetic OOH specialist agency and GroupM in SA (the consolidation of the international WPP group’s media investment).
“Michi is a machine,” says close colleague, MEC Group managing director Erica Gunning, “but you know where you stand with her because her ‘no’ is a ‘no’.
“She is not there to break you down. Instead, she shows you the right way to do things and gives you a perspective that takes you forward and helps you grow. I have tremendous respect for her and find her inspirational,” says Gunning. “She is very hands on and deals with everyone and everything in a human way.”
And how does Meyjes describe herself? “I’m middle-aged, bit of a grump and honest to the core. I have absolutely no patience, but high expectations for achieving results. I am consistently growing, very modest and hard working. I control situations and confront challenges head on and always take responsibility for my actions.”
Her grownup daughter, Bianca, says, “Books could be written about Mom. Learn to laugh if you’re around her, throw ‘can’t’ out of your vocabulary and leave your airs and graces at home. Bullshitters stand little chance and colourful characters are rewarded with love and warmth. Know she can clean a pool and sweep the floors as well as she can command a board room. It has to be said that before business, she’s always been a mom and, at that, one of my dearest of friends.”
Not bad for someone who had a tough start in life with her own extremely hardworking and selfless mother and bounds of talent, particularly in sport. Meyjes has had a phenomenal career, having been appointed to the Panasonic board of directors in 1996 as the first female board member in a predominantly male industry. She gave up this corporate dream to join a small specialist agency called Media by Storm as managing partner. She slogged away and in 1999 this company sold to the WPP Group. In 2003, it was rebranded The Mediaedge. Today the MEC Group is a multi-billion-rand billing specialist agency. As well as being CEO, she is also the chair of the media investment of the international WPP (GroupM).
Does she care about being the most powerful woman in the industry? “Never think about it. I’m just Michelle and will always remain true to myself,” she says.
Her biggest career achievement, she says, has been, “To witness the number of individuals I’ve mentored over the years and see their growth in all aspects of their careers and development. They have made me so proud.” And her biggest life achievement, she says, is Bianca. “She has given me the most pleasure in all my years.”
Meyjes says she can’t help regretting her “absolute loyalty which led to self-sacrifice and personal gain taking a backseat” and “working an additional 10 years over and above her normal service for no additional reward, either spiritual or financial”. Loving the variety of her job, she says “normally a normal day becomes abnormal. And then there are the nights. This is when the real work needs to be completed.”
If she had it all over, she says, “I would have had a larger family, as one realises one’s achievements from a career perspective are short lived compared to the rewards that children bring forever. Also, I would invest more time in myself and enjoy a balanced life. I would spend as much time on growing my own wealth as I have spent on shareholders’ returns.”
To youngsters coming into the media agency world, she says, “Take advantage of the learning as much as possible and in the process build depth. Understand that it takes time to build depth. Those with depth will rise quickly. Understand too that the converged media is the new imperative. So make sure your learning encompasses this landscape.”
And if she could change anything in the
industry, it would be to avoid the commoditisation of the business, which she says has had a major effect on investment opportunities. She would like to make media agency positions more attractive to graduates because “people are our business and this is critical to grow future talent”. She also says it is important to grow black senior management.
Meyjes doesn’t have big dreams right now. All she wants is “to work as hard at my own pace and not be controlled by time and deadlines”. And in the long term, she would like to be remembered for “the positive influence I’ve had on the lives of individuals who’ve crossed my path”. n