Actress, entrepreneur and marketing and promotions CEO Annie Malan chats to Britta Reid about her commitment to social causes and the similarities between the creativity of acting and brand activations.
Annie Malan endured a particularly chilly and uncomfortable night out on Gwen Lane in Sandton, Johannesburg. She was one of the 248 intrepid chief executives who volunteered for the first ever 702 Sun International CEO SleepOut. The mission of the event was “to raise awareness and funds for South Africa’s most vulnerable children and to give them opportunity, purpose, and a place to call home”, according to the website promoting the event.
Her participation in this event was not driven by its high profile nature. Malan is truly committed to social causes as a patron of the Abraham Kriel Childrens’ Home, the Christian Social Board as well as the Helpmekaar Study Aid.
“When you’re given a platform or greater circle of influence you get easily selected. It is what you do from your heart that truly matters,” she points out. “I love making a difference, but I also step up to the plate with confidence and a real responsibility. I’m not popular on boards, because I tell it as it is.”
Malan’s big-hearted sense of fun is also palpable.“I’ve managed to organise real cool treats for some of the children – like an outing to Pop Idols or the ballet or chocolate from a chocolate company… I’m waiting to hear from BIC pens at the moment,” she enthuses.
Creative and business minded all at once
This business owner and CEO began her working life early – Malan was just 11 when she was cast as Little Nina in the heartbreaking movie based on the book by Dalene Matthee, Fiela se Kind. She then played acclaimed roles in Saartjie, Pot vol Winter, Emily Hobhouse and Glaskasteel and a string of children’s programmes. Her easy mastery of multitasking enables her to not only run Annie Malan Promotions but also to continue her acting career. Most recently she appeared in the award winning TV series Swartwater. No stranger to accolades in the acting arena, Annie recently received the Best Actress in Afrikaans Drama Series award from the ATKV (Afrikaans Taal en Kultuurvereniging) Mediaveertjies. In her acceptance speech, she referred to the sizeable investment that SABC had made into the series – her business sense clearly working back into the artistic arena.
While acting has remained a constant in her life, Malan has successfully worked in several fields including with trade unions, running mass marketing for the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) and the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), in the software businesses and in the medical field. She was even once sales director for The Media. She confesses that she “always loved media and wanted to own a media offering. Brand activation made sense”.
Entrepreneurial spirit plus diligence
Making it sound simple, Malan explains that great people and solid business processes are the keys to successfully balancing her commitments to both acting and running a company. “Going on film sets gives me a different perspective on my business –
great new vision and strategy. So the one definitely feeds off the other… On film sets, I value professionalism and bring my corporate will-do hat to the artistic table,” she says.
The reverse is also true – her acting talents and experience are integral to the success of her promotions business. She points out the undeniable links between acting and promotional work. “We train people to act when they sell or promote. People buy from you if you’re confident and interesting. Like acting, promotional activities require discipline.” Malan credits acting with giving her the advantage of confidence saying, “The acting helps me to create dialogue for my promoters and enables me to assist them in their communication.”
Malan says that she is a natural sales person, who loves “Spending time with my clients, partnering with them and showing them the bigger picture.” She’s clear that her best business decision was “Starting her business because it enables her to grow people, to turn clients into the most important people in my life. To make a difference”. She says she’s learnt to acknowledge her mistakes and turn them around fast. Practically, she measures the success of promotional projects by the ROI her clients receive as well as their growth. The biggest challenge Malan feels she faces in her business is the classic “founders trap.” Although she has the systems and controls in place, she believes that, at this point in the company’s life cycle, it is necessary to “partner with some bigger brothers for it to evolve to the next level. We need to constantly invest in growth for my staff and clients.”
Candidly, she declares that the secret of her success is her unrelenting diligence.“Come to my office at 10pm on a Friday evening and I’ll show you. I work hard!” she offers. Malan’s advice to young people is an interesting blend of the pragmatic and idealistic – “Don’t reinvent the wheel. Go find your truth… it’s in your heartbeat.”
For such an unashamedly glamorous figure, her advice to young women setting out into the business world is remarkably down to earth. She admonishes the fledgling businesswoman not to “think of yourself as a woman but as a person. Gender is so irrelevant!” Her entrepreneurial spirit and energy is manifest in her answer to the question of what she thought she’d do, if not her current job. It’s simple. She’d start another business. And another.
Dedication to making a difference
The mixture of hardiness and spirituality is again evident when Malan mentions that last December she climbed the Inca Trail up to the enigmatic and beautiful site of Machu Picchu. A glance at her Twitter history testifies to her love of travelling. She was on the red carpet in Cannes and at the Grand Prix in Monaco before that.
At the recent event in Monaco, she was exposed to such luminaries as Sir Martin Sorrell (Group Chief Executive of WPP), Howard Schultz (Chairman and CEO of Starbucks) and Biz Stone (Twitter co-founder). Of the last mentioned, she tweeted that she thought him to be “one of the most charming and wittiest speakers” and that it was “no wonder he built us Twitter!” She was deeply impressed by South Africa’s own Johann Rupert, as both a speaker and a leader and notes that he is an avid reader.
The actress and businesswoman’s enthusiasm for engaging with people and for continued learning is obvious. She was nominated as one of EY 2015 Entrepreneurial Winning Women. The theme of the most recent event was “how are you reshaping our world?” It is one that resonates deeply with Malan. She does not believe that awards and accolades constitute her biggest achievements.
The really big prize for her is seeing the development of the “great promoters, who I have grown who then go on to become leaders and great business people. Some of them even become my clients.” Two of her tweets truly encapsulate her passion and dedication to making a difference. The first is: “If you own a business, it’s your privilege to create leaders not just employees.” and the second: “If you want to make the world a better place, don’t become a beauty queen, become an entrepreneur.” Malan has certainly done that – albeit with more than a dash of glamour and beauty.
This story was first published in the August 2015 issue of The Media magazine.
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