Happy 400th edition, Leadership magazine

Robbie Stammers, the former Editor of this mighty mag, reminds us of some of his greatest accomplishments and accolades in this historic and special edition

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I am profoundly humbled to write about the fact we are here reading the 400th edition of the oldest and most prestigious business magazine in South Africa, in fact, reasonably the entire continent, if not beyond.

Let’s be quite frank, in a time and age where magazines have come and gone, where most of them have dismally fallen more than recent ANC members at the Zondo Commission, this is something to indeed be immensely proud of and to celebrate.

Four hundred editions? Not many magazines can hold their head up as high and still claim they are going nowhere soon. Leadership can. Like Castle beer’s old saying, ‘The taste that stood the test of time’, so has this title.

Leadership was started by my mentor, Hugh Murray, in the early 80s, in a time that many arguably consider the most turmoil of times in our fractured history.

Hugh was the first person my mother took me to see after school when I had said I was interested in becoming a writer. They had attended UCT together and she thought it would be a good idea for me to speak with someone who was in the trade, so to speak. We arrived in his plush offices in Claremont (ironically, the very same building I would be housed in decades later) and Hugh asked me if I thought I could write? I replied that I thought I could.

“Did you see the lady at reception who greeted you on your arrival?” Hugh asked me. I told him I had.

“Well, she got a Cum Laude in Journalism from Rhodes and she cannot write. So, be careful what you wish for. You either have it or you don’t, son,” he said.

I will never forget it. And, just in case, I went off and studied a BCom in Marketing and Sales—I didn’t want to be his next receptionist.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Hugh Murray was with me every step of my career and it was ironic that many, many years later, I became the Editor of Leadership. Purely by chance, as Hugh had been long gone by then sadly.

So, I am going to try to share a few pivotal Leadership magazine moments that have happened over 400 editions, albeit I cannot share many before my own time, bar the ones I know below. The rest are my own memories.

In 1985, in the early days of Leadership magazine’s success, although the South African government condemned it and the Zambian government tried to play it down, a meeting between several white South African business leaders and the African National Congress (ANC) took place in Lusaka.

The meeting included its President, Oliver Tambo, and a group of influential South African businessmen and industrialists.

”They will discuss the present situation in South Africa as well as its future. They will share all their opinions,” said Tom Sebena, the ANC spokesman at the time.

Referring to the meeting between the ANC and the business leaders, Prime Minister P.W. Botha added, ”I regard such attempts as unwise and even disloyal to the young men who are sacrificing their lives in defending South Africa’s safety.”

An article at the time in the Washington Post said: “ Participants are Anton Rupert, chairman of the Rembrandt Group, a major tobacco consortium; Raymond Ackerman, owner of the large Pick n Pay retail chain; Tony Bloom, chairman of the Premier Milling Group, which processes much of South Africa’s corn flour, and Hugh Murray, Publisher and Editor of Leadership S.A., a glossy, liberal business magazine that has published interviews with black African leaders such as Kenneth Kaunda, who served as the first Zambian President. Murray has confirmed to South African journalists that he will participate in the meeting, and he is considered the key organiser on the South African side.”

This was the first of many such meetings and set the tone for Leadership magazine’s stance. That being that leaders come in every shape, size, colour, creed or gender, irrelevant of their political persuasion. It was and is about their ability to interact with one and all and properly lead by example.

As defined in the Oxford dictionary, “A leader is the person who convinces other people to follow. A great leader inspires confidence in other people and moves them to action.”

Another pivotal person who became involved with Leadership was David Goldblatt, one of South Africa’s most famous Documentary Photographers, who is internationally acclaimed for his work.

In the 1980s, Goldblatt teamed up with Hugh Murray. Goldblatt’s role as the Photographic Editor of the magazine gave him the opportunity to publish the work of many of the younger documentary photographers, amongst his own iconic work.

Goldblatt also began working on a 15-year project that would culminate in the publication of South Africa: The Structure of Things Then, published in 1998. In 1985, the London office of the ANC called for a boycott of his exhibition that was touring Britain. The ANC made this call as it believed that he had defied the cultural boycott and that he worked for Anglo-American Corporation. Subsequently, the boycott was relaxed when people like Badsha and the acclaimed South African Novelist, Nadine Gordimer, called for the boycott to be lifted against him. Goldblatt then donated the entire exhibition to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In 1989, together with some friends, Goldblatt raised funds to set up the Market Photography Workshop in Johannesburg.

What is not well-known is that Goldblatt initiated the first open dialogue between the South African captains of capital and the ANC. He and Murray were in Lusaka to do a feature on President Kaunda and after the interview, Goldblatt suggested that they try to get that interview with Oliver Tambo, the Head of the then banned ANC, which they did.

When I took the helm of Leadership in 2005 (to 2011), I was adamant we would return the magazine to its former glory based on what the men above had done. That vision being a magazine based on integrity, honesty and, above all, fine journalism combined with classic design and class (along with then and still current Art Director, Brent Meder and later, the current new Editor, Evans Manyonga as Deputy).

And, to be honest, we didn’t do too badly. In fact, my days at Leadership will always remain as some of the biggest key moments in my life. Who gets opportunities like interviewing your heroes face-to-face, like Sir Richard Branson, Al Gore, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who insisted on personally serving the biscuits in his own office!) , President Barack Obama (whilst still just a Senator), Zelda le Grange (Madiba’s amazing gatekeeper—it took a year for me to finally break her down for an interview), Jacob Zuma (who kept referring to me as ‘you people’, as in the media), the biggest captains of industry, both locally and abroad, and my childhood hero, Johnny Clegg, who deserves a mention as I was told I only had 30 minutes and left his house two hours later, dancing on air.

In the aforementioned era, the Leadership team won Business Magazine of the Year numerous times, Best Design and Cover numerous times, I was blessed with three Business Editor of the Year awards and we won Gold at the Tabbie International Awards for Best Business Magazine in the world out of 500 global entries.

In closing, I must share one of my not finest moments, considering we are celebrating 400 editions. It was talking to Pik Botha. I was usually quite composed and not rattled by big names. Leadership had enabled me to meet or speak with many over the years but for reasons I have yet to understand, when I finally got hold of Pik Botha via phone to get a message for a Special Madiba 90th Birthday edition, I became tongue-tied. He took the call and said, “Yes?” in an annoyed fashion. This rattled me, so instead of saying I was the Editor of Leadership, I said I was the Leader of Editorship. I corrected myself quickly, but the damage was done. My colleagues around me burst into laughter, as did Pik on the phone…I have yet to live that one down.

In closing, Leadership magazine in its 400th edition is still aimed at a dynamic readership who are not afraid to take life by the proverbial horns, entrepreneurs and those who aspire to leadership roles, across all sectors of the economy. It gives you a ‘one on one’ with leaders within South Africa and from around the world. From them and their personal stories, we learn what it takes and means to be a leader.

Leadership magazine’s insights and analyses of situations and people within the country bring forth an intelligent interaction with what is happening in the world today.

It’s been a privilege, and a big congratulations to your 400th edition! See you at 500! 

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