Turned on by developing new media options: Ken Varejes is the group CEO of Primedia Unlimited, a position he has held for the past 10 years. He was voted Sales Legend at the very first MOST Awards in 2009.
What drew you to the media? Absolute chance. I had completed my B.Comm Honours degree and a fellow student convinced me to join him in a cane furniture factory. When we sold the business I applied for a job at the SABC and Eskom. I was offered both and I chose the sales manager position at SABC Durban. Within two years I had been posted to Joburg as national marketing services manager, and the rest is history.
Do you have any hidden talents? I reckon I do, but unfortunately they are hidden and yet to be discovered – I hope!
What is your best characteristic and your biggest flaw? My best is that I love a challenge. My worst is that I’m really impatient. But I’m trying to get better.
If you weren’t in media, what would you be doing? Great questions and honestly I have no idea. Maybe I’d be a bad cook!
What moment do you regard as career defining? Joining up with Alan Prentice in 1993 and starting Taxinet, which became ComutaNet. It was the ultimate lesson in hard work, passion and commitment.
What have you learnt the hard way? Never give up on what you want to achieve. In life, many people who you think will back you may not, and many who you thought would not give you the time of day may surprise you and deliver. So always expect the unexpected. I believe in loyalty.
What is the best and worst advice you have ever been given? Best: Tomorrow is another day, tomorrow is a better day. Worst: Don’t start an out of home business. It’s just too tough out there.
Who do you admire most? Everyone who puts in a major effort in an organisation, from the tea lady to the MD.
What quote best describes the way you see the world? “When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain. When the hurly burly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won. Then to meet upon the heath. There to meet with Macbeth.” – Shakespeare. This is the only quote I know, so I thought I would just quote it and gain some kudos from all who read this.
What is your favourite holiday spot and why? I don’t have a real favourite – just wherever friends and family are.
What book do you wish you had written? Maybe the Archie comic series. I read more of those as a kid than any school books.
If you had a tattoo, what would it be of? I would never get a tattoo, as I don’t understand the relevance of marking your body permanently.
What are you addicted to? Friends and family. They make the world go round.
What are you afraid of? Not trying new things on a regular basis and potentially losing passion for what I do. I hope that never happens.
What do you regret most? I have no real regrets. I have really enjoyed what I have done and I love this industry. It’s full of amazing people.
What cheers you up the most? Concluding a sale after putting in real effort. Unfortunately the feeling is only temporary as the next chase becomes the name of the game. It’s a bit sad.
What was the most memorable moment of your career? The fact that I have been lucky enough to be involved in business set-ups that have employed over 400 people. In a country where there are many unemployed, it helps me sleep a bit.
What is it about out of home that keeps you invested? I love the challenge of developing new media options, especially in spaces where there is significant dwell time. As more and more elements impact on people’s lives, it’s great to find environments that still ensure we can get breakthrough for brands.
What is the future for out of home? It’s extremely positive. People are gregarious by nature and will always want to spend time out of home shopping, socialising and entertaining. So we will always have an environment that will appeal to marketing and brand managers.
What are your goals? I have always wanted to be involved in the development of new businesses. So possibly my goals include a base of new businesses over the next five years. Shit, I never learn!
This story was first published in the April 2014 issue of The Media magazine.