Nomsa Philiso, the new group executive of commercial enterprises at the SABC speaks to Michael Bratt about what her role entails, her work aspirations and sharing war stories.
Despite whatever else is capturing headlines at the embattled public broadcaster, the organisation is certainly not afraid to appoint women to top positions. Nomsa Philiso recently succeeded Anton Heunis, who retired after 35 years at the SABC, as the new group executive of commercial enterprises. SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng noted that, “Even as we are losing a good individual (Heunis), we will produce a better individual (Philiso) in the new appointment”. He also said the SABC continues to recognise principles of gender equity, not just because of gender alone, but because the candidate is the best for the job.
Philiso was definitely not just thrown into the deep end – Heunis stayed on a little longer to provide guidance to her. “In the months leading up to his retirement, Anton specifically set aside time to mentor me. He was contracted by the SABC as a commercial adviser to specifically focus on a smooth handover,” she explains. The position is also not completely unfamiliar to Philiso as she was regularly tasked by Heunis to act as group executive when he was away.
Heunis was brought into the commercial enterprises division in 2010 when it was in disarray and given the mandate to turn it around. “Under his watch, commercial enterprises regained its stature as a credible media advertising partner. Internally, a valuable lesson from Anton for the whole management team was the importance of balancing business aspirations with sound governance,” explains Philiso.
This transformation has meant commercial enterprises has become a very important asset for the public broadcaster. “In terms of its current funding model, commercial revenue constitutes nearly 80% of total SABC revenue. The total from advertising and sponsorship is about R6 billion a year,” says Philiso, underpinning its importance.
“The sustainability of the SABC is dependent on the Commercial Enterprise Unit,” she said on the day of her appointment.
Philiso certainly has her work cut out for her as Motsoeneng has stressed the high targets that she will have to contribute to in her area of responsibility. He has also said, “We believe the SABC can’t be a R6 billion or R7 billion company. I believe we can put the SABC at R15 billion.”
Philiso, up for the task, gave a short address saying, “… at this stage of the game, I can only undertake to deliver to the best of my ability knowing that I have a very supportive team both at an executive and management level”.
Born to lead
The public broadcaster is definitely not a new environment for Philiso – she’s been with the media giant in different roles for the past 21 years. But the SABC almost missed out on a valuable asset. Philiso’s first job was in the retail space at the then named Edgardale Group in Crown Mines, but she was unhappy there. “I guess at that age the idea of a seven day work week wasn’t very appealing to me so I sought out different options,” she says.
She soon found her passion for media, specifically electronic media, which she says appealed to her as it “offers dynamic and exciting working environments across varied fields”. She also explains that the output of electronic media “feeds the public’s needs for information, education, and entertainment”.
She was drawn to the SABC as the country’s public broadcaster as it has, in her view, “unparalleled reach to all levels of South African society – socio-economic and otherwise”.
Philiso began working at the SABC’s technology division, progressing to management level where she was financial manager for the TV Outside Broadcast unit. She then moved into project management where she specifically focused on process and systems improvement across the group’s finance and television divisions. Commercial enterprises in 2010 was next before she was appointed as general manager of sales operations the following year.
In her new role Philiso has several responsibilities. “My primary mandate is to ensure that commercial enterprises maximises revenue from advertising and sponsorship to enable the SABC to deliver its extensive public value mandate and remain financially sustainable,” she says.
Since she has acted as group executive before her permanent appointment, Philiso has considered the strategies that she’d like to put in place and utilise to boost the division. Her two main tactics are to ensure equitable commercial revenue from traditional broadcast platforms – including new channels – and to embrace and maximise opportunities arising from the rapidly changing media advertising environment. “The aspiration is to get to a point where the staff is operating at their optimum and are motivated in their daily tasks,” she says.
For one thing, the division will also be going back to the basics of improving existing relationships and building new bridges with the media advertising industry.
“To this end, I’m urging the sales team to give substance to my intent through their presence, visibility and by adding value in the market place,” Philiso says.
Being a woman has never been an issue for her within the media industry. “Internally I’ve had nothing but support from my colleagues since I joined the SABC, even prior to my role as group executive. The past three months of my appointment have been well received in the industry, at least from my point of view. Most people have assured me of unwavering support. It’s very comforting to know that you can pick up a phone to your peers,” she affirms.
Another factor that provides her with much reassurance is the place the SABC holds in the current advertising market. “In spite of increasing competition, the SABC is still a market leader in free-to-air audience reach. Commercial enterprises thus offers cost-effective media advertising platforms,” she says.
When interacting with advertisers and media agencies, the sales team of the public broadcaster look to capitalise on the unique audience mix that the SABC offers. Philiso describes this as “an exciting challenge in the increasingly competitive media advertising environment which is mixed with overall challenges such as the impact of Eskom load-shedding”.
Counting her blessings
As a single mother to a 21-year-old son who she describes as “In some ways my best friend”, Philiso’s favourite pastime is spending weekends with her small family unit. She’s also surrounded herself with what she refers to as “a very strong contingent of successful women whom I call friends”. Their time together is mainly characterised by long sessions of sharing war stories about their different challenges and successes, be it in their careers or parenting. Philiso’s life motto is: “Before you complain about what’s missing in your life, take a moment to count the blessings you have.”
Inarguably, her biggest current blessing is her new career opportunity. A chance, she says, that will see her relying heavily on the team around her. “I’m fortunate to have a very good people that supports me in my role. We collectively recognise that every day is a chance to learn and become better at serving our industry. As the saying goes ‘if you know better, you do better’.”
This story was first published in the August 2015 issue of The Media magazine.
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