Director of DStv sales and marketing Fahmeeda Cassim-Surtee talks about adapting to the changing broadcast landscape and being an eternal optimist.
A lesser known fact about the formidable Cassim-Surtee is
that she was the first woman in the country to apply for a boxing referees’ licence and is a qualified soccer commentator and linesman. “In my early career, I did some freelance sports reporting, and always felt that I needed to work harder, or do things differently just for some kind of acceptance as a woman,” she says. Working as a boxing journalist, she felt she needed to apply for a professional referee and judge’s license in order to prove that she knew the subject well. She adds, “during that part of my career I constantly faced discrimination just because I was a woman. But, it’s the challenges that make us stronger, so we have to face them head on.”
Holding a variety of qualifications in media management, strategic marketing, business management and journalism, Cassim-Surtee began her career at City Press newspaper as both an advertising consultant and freelance sports writer. This extended to radio broadcasting and contributions to international publications. She joined the MultiChoice Group in 1998 and has since held a variety of positions within DStv Media Sales, the advertising and sponsorship arm of the business. Nominated for SA Woman of the Year and SA Business Woman of the Year, she says of work, “I love it because I don’t treat it as a job. It’s integrated into my life. It’s different everyday. I like the opportunity to influence people in our organisation.” Never one to shy away from a challenge, Cassim-Surtee lives by the motto, “I can do anything even if it scares me.”
So far, the highlight of her career has been realising her ideas which have led to key successes for DStv Media Sales. Her achievements include Oracle’s market strategy and SuperSport’s successful commercial sales pricing model. “It’s a very exciting time for broadcasters. The landscape is experiencing change at a rapid rate and is constantly evolving with new technologies driving new behaviours,” says Cassim-Surtee. This is challenging broadcasters to think out-of-the-box and to innovate. Social media has added a completely new dimension to marketing as it gives brands the opportunity to improve their engagement levels. Brands need as much information as they can get from consumers and they need to keep talking to their customers. Cassim-Surtee agrees, adding, “The way we consume mediums is not the same as before. Within the media, we have to adapt to what consumers want. Our industry is on the cusp of great change.”
“I believe that I can learn something from everyone, friends, family, work colleagues, my housekeeper – every person has had some unique learning experience in their lives, and if you are open to it, you can take mentorship from everyone around you,” says Cassim-Surtee.
She lists Ferial Haffajee, the editor of City Press, as someone she admires saying, “She’s tough, courageous and never afraid to confront important issues.” Bernice Samuels, former CMO of First National Bank and currently director of strategic and corporate planning at South African Breweries, is another person whom she respects. “Resilient, smart and always professional, I’m always amazed at how she approaches challenges,” explains Cassim-Surtee.
Cassim-Surtee feels that it is exceptionally important to give back. She’s involved in local community charities which assist destitute families.
“Take your experiences and share with others. Teach and influence. Helping others gives life perspective. Everything in life is cyclical,” she explains.
For her, women need self-assurance for success as well as a strong belief system that includes adding value to other people’s lives. She also has some strong opinions on what kind of qualities girls today need to get by.
“Confidence in themselves is paramount. With that comes the ability to try new things and accept failure as just a stepping stone for greater things to come.” It is this kind of attitude that has propelled Cassim-Surtee forward in her own career to reach heights of excellence.
Making a mark
Although Cassim-Surtee thinks that we’ve progressed since 1992, when she was first involved in the media industry, she feels that we have a long way to go. “For a start, there are more women in the industry. Women who take on a media role can be very influential in shaping opinions in society and they need to use this power. But, they also need more self belief and to realise that they have earned their place and shouldn’t be fearful to apply and stand up for positions in leadership,” she says.
She also wishes that there were as many stories in the media about women doing great things as there are about males. “The scales should be balanced,” she explains, “Women need to be painted in a different light – less focus on the way we look and more about the value we add to society.” She believes that media can perpetuate gender stereotypes but if used cleverly, can change the way women in general society are perceived. “If only we could see the great things they do. Companies must start betting big on women within their organisations; to have more faith in women’s abilities to be leaders,” she says. To young people starting out in the media industry, her advice is “Be curious. There is no cut- off date to learning.”
Cassim-Surtee has learnt some valuable lessons in her life such as “Be yourself. Real happiness comes from within. No regrets ever. Even the bad things make for a good story.” Described by those who know her as “Sassy, energetic, persistent, smart and sociable”, she typifies a silver-lining person that anyone would want in their corner, leading a team. She affirms,“I don’t see any failures – just challenges that have become opportunities. I’m an optimist.”
Having already co-authored a book on branding, Cassim-Surtee says enigmatically, “My personal goal is to write a book inspired by my life experiences perhaps before I reach my next milestone birthday.” When she’s not working, she takes time out to exercise (it helps her mental state), read, scuba-dive and cook elaborate meals for her family.
She manages that delicate and often elusive work-life balance by not letting her work load overwhelm her. Cassim-Surtee asserts, “I’m good at prioritising, as I see everything as part of of a whole. I keep all the aspects of my life in check. I set myself goals – both business and personal – to learn something new every year.”
This story was first published in the September 2015 issue of The Media magazine.
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