Adelaide McKelvey – managing director of Continental Outdoor Media’s Rest of Africa business – is the 2014 Media Owner Legend of the Year. Melina Meletakos reports.
When Adelaide McKelvey first joined Continental Outdoor (then CorpCom) her name caught then-CEO Barry Sayer’s attention on the employment reports.
He was impressed that McKelvey was prepared to leave outdoor signage company Claude Neon, which Sayer describes as “a hard school, a man’s world, really”, to pursue the equally tough task of being a sales executive at Continental Outdoor’s print division.
As McKelvey’s sales number began to climb, Sayer’s curiosity demanded that he meet her. “My initial impressions of this young, vivacious lady – who confidently and assuredly lit up my office – begged the question of why, in those chauvinistic times, any red-blooded male would not want to buy from her?” says Sayer, executive chairman of Continental Outdoor.
But as they spoke, it became apparent to him that there was more to McKelvey. “Very soon it was me on the defensive as I soon realised I was being interviewed. The way her fiery green eyes surveyed my office, my choice of furniture and the colour of the curtains, I was left with the distinct impression that my office was being mentally re-modelled with a new incumbent in Adelaide’s mind… Ms McKelvey herself!” says Sayer.
Seventeen years later, McKelvey is the powerhouse driving Continental Outdoor’s Rest of Africa business, a position she has held since October 2012 when she was appointed managing director of the division.
McKelvey says out of home appeals to her because the medium has the ability to reinvent itself over and over again.
“Despite regulation challenges, I believe we have a lot more flexibility in our offering to clients than most above-the-line media,” she told The Media in an interview last year.
Her career path at Continental Outdoor has been a steady rise to the top as she went on to become general sales manager, divisional sales director and then Continental Outdoor’s sales and marketing director. She held this position for seven years before becoming managing director of the 13 other African countries in which the company does business.
McKelvey took no prisoners along the way, says Sayer, but she developed “an exceptional network of client friends and respectful colleagues whom she protects fiercely and for whom she delivers admirably”.
McKelvey’s success, says Sayer, was understandable from the get-go. “She was clearly highly knowledgeable of her craft, dedicated to detail and determined to deliver. It became patently clear to me that any client, male or female, would soon willingly trust her with their account due to her down right efficiency, product knowledge, capability and, of course, charm, the latter which she exudes in abundance,” he says.
Gordon Patterson, business director at Omnicom Media Group, says that McKelvey is a consummate professional with a sharp business mind.
“She has brought a level of professionalism [to the outdoor industry] that’s put Continental on the map as a media leader,” Patterson told The Media last year.
Lyn Jones, Continental Outdoor’s marketing manager, says McKelvey’s logic, structure and control is evident when you first meet her.
“She loves taking charge, making quick decisions and solving problems. Those who work with her and understand the high standards and delivery expected by her soon learn to appreciate the openness, transparency and mutually respectful environment she generates,” says Jones.
But when not on the job, McKelvey is the antithesis of the frenetic businessperson she is at work.
She swaps her business suit for a paintbrush and gardening tools, and likes nothing more than drinking a glass of wine or two.
“She is exceptionally generous, kind and thoughtful and is totally committed to her family and her close circle of friends,” says Jones.
McKelvey has served as an alternate director of Continental Outdoor’s main board since 2007. As the only female on the board, she is a force to be reckoned with.
“Her male co-board members have each been given cause to question their own board security reflected in comparison to her work ethic, while Adelaide tirelessly continues to do the heavy lifting, be it directing the sales effort, pioneering Africa operations or just generally co-running the group from her daily executive committee seat,” says Sayer.
But McKelvey doesn’t believe that gender has any influence on the way things are done.
“This sector has often been referred to as the ‘cowboy industry’, yet gone are the days where the guys spend their afternoons at long lunches and on the golf course. Well, maybe not so much the golf course. The reality is that this sector has cleaned up its act and become very professional and very competitive,” she told The Media.
McKelvey added that working in the media was challenging, irrespective of her gender and that she had never really felt compromised or faced with issues she has been unable to deal with because she was a woman.
“If anything I think being female is an advantage. With no disrespect to my male colleagues, women in general are better at building relationships with internal and external stakeholders,” says McKelvey.
She said she prides herself in nurturing young women in the industry, adding that strength of character goes a long way.
“I have very little patience or tolerance for subservient females. On the other hand, women who have gravitas are easy to nurture. Throw them in the deep end… the rest is history.”
This story was first published in the September 2014 issue of The Media magazine.
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