Zim­pa­pers CEO speaks on life, busi­ness

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Business -

look for greener pas­tures and the next time he came back to the vil­lage he was driv­ing his own car. He had worked as a cook and even­tu­ally got a driver’s li­cence and be­came a com­mer­cial driver, a truck driver and dur­ing those days that con­sti­tuted prob­a­bly the lower mid­dle class be­cause he was able to buy his own car, his own house in High­field and also start a fam­ily. My mum too is quite an in­spi­ra­tion. She is an old woman but since the pass­ing of the old man, she man­aged to buy a sec­ond in­vest­ment house in High­field. Bought her­self a car from her own sav­ings and rental in­come. LRM: So how big is your fam­ily then? PD: We were eight, five boys and three girls. Un­for­tu­nately, one girl passed away.

LRM: Do you think grow­ing up in such a big fam­ily made you a bet­ter per­son in terms of re­lat­ing with the wider world?

PD: I think peo­ple at that time had big­ger fam­i­lies. I re­mem­ber grow­ing up like ev­ery­one else. But be­cause my old man was the first of his gen­er­a­tion to come to Harare, get a job and buy a house; it was never just the eight of us. He had his own broth­ers, his rel­a­tives and my mother’s rel­a­tives. The house was al­ways full of peo­ple. I ac­tu­ally al­ways yearned to be alone and for my own peace.

One thing though that my old man in­sisted on when we were grow­ing up was that school hol­i­days were not just time to play and have fun. We would go to the ru­ral ar­eas and we would work on the land. Dur­ing the years of the strug­gle, it be­came dif­fi­cult for us to go to the vil­lage. I re­mem­ber one school hol­i­day in Mu­toko and we had to be re­lo­cated to a pro­tected vil­lage called a “Keep” be­fore he pulled us out of that to Harare. We aban­doned the vil­lage for that pe­riod. So we would do some farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in the city (High­field). I used to hate it. Paweek­end wakatakura badza wakananga ku­munda. But it sort of in­cul­cated a spirit of hard work that what­ever it is that you want you need to work for it. As a re­sult there was never lack in our fam­ily. We grew our own maize even though we were in the city. We had some­where to grow a crop of maize and har­vested quite hand­somely.

just a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion?

PD: Not at all, it was more the need for change in terms of the way we were do­ing busi­ness and what was hap­pen­ing in the rest of the me­dia world that sort of pro­pelled me to try out new things. When I be­came Editor of The Herald, one of the things that we de­cided to do was to turn the busi­ness sec­tion from a weekly Thurs­day edi­tion to a daily pull-out be­cause busi­ness was hap­pen­ing ev­ery day. The stock mar­ket was trad­ing ev­ery­day and I ar­gued that why shouldn’t we have a busi­ness sec­tion that talks to the busi­ness com­mu­nity on a daily ba­sis. So we needed to change that and we did change that. We also no­ticed that there were cer­tain seg­ments that were not read­ing us as they had lit­tle in­ter­est in the big po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic or sport sto­ries. Peo­ple were be­gin­ning to talk more around so­cial sto­ries. So we then saw the need to in­tro­duce some changes start­ing with the Satur­day pa­per by in­tro­duc­ing a pop­u­lar mar­ket pull-out that we called City.Com. The idea was now to start ap­peal­ing to com­mu­ni­ties that were not read­ing us. When I was ap­pointed Editor in Chief, one of the first things I did was to con­vert City.Com into a fully-fledged news­pa­per be­cause of that need to con­tin­u­ously con­nect with our au­di­ences. We had to keep an ear to the ground to find out where our au­di­ences were and what they were look­ing for and what plat­forms we could use to reach out to them. Although my brief was largely ed­i­to­rial, look­ing for new con­tent op­por­tu­ni­ties came nat­u­rally to me. So for me it has al­ways been the con­tent. This is what we do best. This is what we know, telling sto­ries in what­ever for­mat. When Gov­ern­ment ap­pointed me to the Broad­cast­ing Au­thor­ity of Zim­babwe board, it gave me exposure to the world of broad­cast­ing. So af­ter leav­ing the BAZ board and the op­por­tu­nity came en­abling news­pa­per com­pa­nies to also own broad­cast me­dia, I was able to per­suade my then CEO, Justin Mu­tasa and the Zim­pa­pers board to di­ver­sify into broad­cast­ing. So I have al­ways had this in­ter­est to grow new busi­ness or es­tab­lish new con­tent pos­si­bil­i­ties and em­brace new chal­lenges. One of these chal­lenges was a task by Gov­ern­ment to launch a new re­gional pub­li­ca­tion that would be owned by Sadc mem­ber coun­tries to tell the re­gion’s story from the per­spec­tive of the re­gion and its peo­ple as op­posed to stereo­type in­ter­na­tional news agency re­ports that were more of­ten bi­ased. This marked the birth of The South­ern Times through a joint ven­ture between Zim­pa­pers and Namibia’s New Era. The pub­li­ca­tion is now more than 10 years old and is sold in sev­eral Sadc coun­tries.

LRM: Were you then aware that you were mak­ing his­tory or some kind of trend­set­ter as one of the first jour­nal­ists to move from jour­nal­ism or ed­i­to­rial to man­ag­ing the busi­ness?

PD: I don’t know whether there is any­one who says I am go­ing to make his­tory. For me re­ally it has al­ways been a priv­i­lege to have an op­por­tu­nity to ful­fil the things you be­lieve in pas­sion­ately and most im­por­tantly that there is a team that is will­ing to work with you and sup­port what you think should be done in terms of your in­dus­try. While the credit is of­ten given to an in­di­vid­ual such as the top CEO award, the his­tory is made by the peo­ple around you, your bosses and your sub­or­di­nates. We could not have done South­ern Times if there wasn’t a strong team. We could have fallen flat as the pa­per was driven ev­ery week­end to Namibia. We could not have mi­grated into so­cial con­tent suc­cess­fully with H-Metro with­out peo­ple who were pas­sion­ate about writ­ing so­cial sto­ries. I am sure there have been lots of projects that have been launched and peo­ple fail to make them thrive be­cause they did not have strong teams around them. So re­ally the credit goes to the guys who were will­ing to take up the man­tle and run with the ideas.

LRM: How are the chal­lenges dif­fer­ent from the time you were in ed­i­to­rial?

PD: The big chal­lenge is how to deal with a me­dia in­dus­try that is fast mi­grat­ing from the tra­di­tional print busi­ness to dig­i­tal and other me­dia for­mats at a time when our econ­omy is go­ing through one of its tough­est times. It is nav­i­gat­ing that ter­rain to en­sure that we con­tinue to re­main rel­e­vant to con­tent con­sumers and that we are prof­itable to the mul­ti­tudes of investors who in­vest in our shares as well as safe­guard­ing as many jobs as pos­si­ble by cre­at­ing new con­tent plat­forms, re­vamp­ing cur­rent ones, and so on.

LRM: What about the chal­lenge of be­ing at the helm of one of Zim­babwe’s largest me­dia com­pa­nies? Isn’t that daunt­ing?

PD: I don’t take the task for granted be­cause you carry with the job the ex­pec­ta­tions of share­hold­ers, cus­tomers, fel­low em­ploy­ees, among other stake­hold­ers. Hav­ing a gen­eral idea of what needs to be done and who can do it bet­ter has had a calm­ing ef­fect. I have teams that are around me that are able to de­liver and con­tinue to do a good job. So it’s that team around you that makes it pos­si­ble and makes the chal­lenge less daunt­ing. You can go home af­ter work and be as­sured that The Herald, Chron­i­cle or H-Metro will come out to­mor­row with some­thing that will ex­cite the mar­ket on a daily ba­sis while the same is true for our week­lies or our ra­dio sta­tions. Hav­ing the right peo­ple with the right skills push­ing the con­tent agenda is cru­cial. The same holds true for our com­mer­cial print­ing busi­ness where the team at Nat­print has been able to turn­around the for­tunes of a com­pany that was al­most go­ing un­der into a prof­itable busi­ness en­tity.

LRM: How have you man­aged to stay afloat in an en­vi­ron­ment where com­pa­nies in­clud­ing me­dia houses are strug­gling to sur­vive?

PD: I can’t say we are any bet­ter but yes we are prof­itable. The chal­lenges are enor­mous, our copy sales are not do­ing well, and ad­ver­tis­ing is slow­ing down. So the chal­lenge is how do we stay afloat, how do we make sure that peo­ple are read­ing our con­tent and com­pa­nies are giv­ing us com­mer­cial print­ing work. In this re­gard in­no­va­tion has been an on­go­ing ex­er­cise. This is why we in­tro­duced sub­ur­ban news­pa­pers which are free sheets that peo­ple will be able to read hy­per-lo­cal con­tent, sto­ries about their own com­mu­ni­ties, what is hap­pen­ing in and around them, their schools, lo­cal sports, malls and where they go and buy things, crime and so on. So that thrust on hy­per lo­cal con­tent in Zim­pa­pers has made us rel­e­vant to com­mu­ni­ties while on a broader scale the na­tional pa­pers con­tinue be­ing rel­e­vant by telling the story of the coun­try and what is hap­pen­ing around peo­ple, as truth­fully as pos­si­ble. When the read­er­ship and lis­ten­er­ship sur­veys are done, the re­sults clearly in­di­cate that most peo­ple still want to read our news­pa­pers or lis­ten to our ra­dio sta­tions and ad­ver­tis­ers tend to go where the eye­balls are. In a way this has made us sur­vive. But at the same time we are also man­ag­ing our costs.

LRM: In gen­eral terms what is the fu­ture of the me­dia in­dus­try in Zim­babwe?

PD: I be­lieve very strongly that the me­dia in­dus­try has a bright fu­ture in this coun­try but me­dia com­pa­nies have to be alive to the rapid changes tak­ing place in the in­dus­try. Dig­i­tal me­dia for us is a big thing and we are con­tin­u­ously push­ing au­dio, video and other con­tent on new me­dia plat­forms. We want to be on peo­ple’s mo­bile phones, we want to be on their tablets and their com­put­ers or their ra­dios and tele­vi­sion sets with our con­tent. So tech­nol­ogy is a big part of what we do. Our tra­di­tional busi­ness of com­mer­cial print­ing at Nat­Print, we have tried to re­new it as much as pos­si­ble in tech­nol­ogy to make sure that we are the dom­i­nant player in print­ing books, la­bels, pack­ag­ing and so on.

LRM: In other words you are say­ing the fu­ture of the me­dia in­dus­try is in dig­i­tal?

PD: We still be­lieve print is not dead. It will be with us for years to come and we will con­tinue in­vest­ing in our print prod­ucts as well as our jour­nal­ism. How­ever, dig­i­tal is emerg­ing very strongly and we need to play a sig­nif­i­cant part in dig­i­tal me­dia. We have var­i­ous teams that are ded­i­cated to­wards dig­i­tal me­dia and this is why at the high­est level we have a Chief Tech­nol­ogy Of­fi­cer, who is a tech­nol­o­gist just to make sure we are not ir­rel­e­vant. We also have in­no­va­tion teams that are work­ing full time in com­ing up with prod­ucts that speak to our dif­fer­ent au­di­ences, which speak to the mil­len­nium gen­er­a­tion which is dig­i­tal savvy who do not want to read your news­pa­per but want to read on­line, on mo­bile or on a plat­form of their choice. So we are in­vest­ing in dig­i­tal.

LRM: What does win­ning the top ex­ec­u­tive award mean to you, your fam­ily and the busi­ness?

PD: I think it’s not about win­ning awards; it has never been about that. But maybe as a team this may be an en­cour­age­ment that we are on the right path. There is no leader who can make it on his own. It is the teams around you, who know what they are do­ing, who have made it worth­while be­ing at this com­pany. You may have a vi­sion yes, but un­less the peo­ple around you are not able to trans­late that dream into re­al­ity and prod­ucts, it will con­tinue be­ing just a dream. I am for­tu­nate to have a good team around me through­out the en­tire or­gan­i­sa­tion who be­lieve in the things that we have set for our­selves. In an en­vi­ron­ment where the econ­omy is go­ing through se­ri­ous chal­lenges, some peo­ple may think it’s naïve to be cel­e­brat­ing achieve­ments. It is not all doom and gloom. There are com­pa­nies that are do­ing well and we all have to learn to ad­just to the new re­al­i­ties of do­ing busi­ness. The chal­lenge is for each one of us to say it’s pos­si­ble in this en­vi­ron­ment to be able to achieve some suc­cess and our econ­omy be­gins to trans­form. We need to make a dif­fer­ence and even­tu­ally turn around our na­tion. The award is sim­ply an af­fir­ma­tion that it can be done and we can keep hope alive.

Mr Piki­rayi Deketeke

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