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Q&A with Dumisani Malembe

February 2, 2017

Dumisani Malembe is Development Director for Outdoor Network and board member of OHMSA. Member of the Black Management Forum. He gives us insight into how, in just 20 years, he went from factory cleaner to director of one of the largest South African Out of Home media companies.

In 2008 you became a director and shareholder in Outdoor Network. How did this come about?

In early 2008 my partner and I sold our business Imbokodo Outdoor to Outdoor Network Limited Group. Luckily it was just few weeks before the global economic meltdown. I joined the group as national development manager for a period of two years and was soon invited by the board to become a director and shareholder. I am responsible for development management and oversee the Gauteng operations.

What was the turning point in your career?

The turning point in my career was in 1996 when I was offered the opportunity to head up the Durban branch of Moving Media Outdoor – my introduction into the Out of Home media environment. This offer catapulted me out of junior positions within sales, despatch etc, into what effectively was a senior management position. After being in the industry for twenty years, I look back on that significant opportunity with fond memories

Who do you consider your mentors?

I was in the privileged position of being taken under the wings of industry giants like Brian Puttergill when he was Chairman of Rent-A-Sign; and Jeremy Townsend when he was Unilever client service for MediaCom. When I moved up to Johannesburg I appreciated the insight of the late Dave Granville Roberts, who later became my partner in Imbokodo Outdoor. Ken Fraser who was development director of Clear Channel Outdoor, Barry Sayer current Chairman of JC Decaux and Bazil Lauryssen, ex-Chief Executive Officer of the same JC Decaux taught me a great deal.

To what do you attribute your professional success?

I was born brave and courageous and always had high ambitions for myself. I was never scared to try something and put myself forward and use initiative. Soon after matriculating I faced the reality of becoming a young father and realised I needed to earn in order to provide for my child. I saw the value of educating myself further. As a young man I was once given sage advice when I applied for a job I didn’t have the skills for. “We employ people based on their ability to meet the criteria of the job, not on their own need or situation.”

What studies supported your career development?

I started my career at Nampak Polyfoil in 1986 by cleaning the paving around a factory and washing cars. It took me five years to get into a position where I could afford to support my family and study part time. In the early years my studies encompassed Marketing Management and Service Leadership and Performance. By 2010 I had studied Business Relationship Management, Corporate Governance and Financial Management. A couple of years after that I tackled Senior Management Development. In the last couple of years I have rounded it all off with Human Resource Management and Law Studies.

You were recently appointed to the Board of OHMSA, affiliated to international FEPE. What is the key activity of this industry body?

Our focus is on educating SMMEs on what OHMSA is about and inviting them to attend meetings. Increased participation moves it to another level. The second key objective is to develop relationships with government. It’s imperative that local authorities know of our existence and that we can be consulted with to give input into their public participation process; especially when they change by-laws. We operate and understand that space and want to create harmonious relationships by offering solutions.

The growth of Digital Out of Home has emerged as a key trend. What are the opportunities and challenges for the industry at large?

Every industry must evolve and does well to follow international standards of upgrading its infrastructure, no matter how costly. Even though digitisation is expected to decrease the number of static sites in the long term, each site will offer good returns and bodes well for the industry’s growth.

The long-term plan is to install sustainable green technology. Already new technology has moved us from using three-phase power to less energy intensive single phase (20 Volt) power.

The Department of Environmental Affairs came to Outdoor Network in 2011 with a proposal to solar retrofitting, going green on six billboards in different geographic regions including Johannesburg, Pretoria,Polokwane and Bloemfontein. The project was a success for a very short period and within three months all equipments installed was vandalised and stolen from these sites

Outdoor Network is in the process of rolling out 10 digital screens by April 2017. We are upgrading existing electronic billboards in Durban CBD and will go live on the last quarter of 2016.

In terms of challenges, some municipalities are still reluctant to grant permissions for digital billboards, mainly because they’re concerned about how moving digital content distracts motorists. Municipalities who develop by-laws are revisiting this issue. Traffic Impact Assessment studies, conducted by independent traffic engineering consultancies are costly, but necessary. Safety is key.

Does the industry have to contend with vandalism?

Interestingly digitised sites don’t attract vandalism. Even those based near townships. But solar panels sites do; especially the batteries for those panels. They are generally stolen within three months. Tags linked to a security company are now being used to track batteries and solar panels, but we are still struggling. It is a challenge we face, particularly in remote areas where we can’t access Eskom power.

How has the arrival of audience research from Out of Home Measurement Council (OMC) changed sales processes since you first started 20 years ago?

It is adding excitement to the industry. OMC offers us ground-breaking methodology by integrating big data and new technologies to ensure reliable and empirical outputs. Billboards are being recognised for the impact we always knew they delivered, but could not always prove. Ultimately this benefits the client.

What trend do you forecast for 2017?

OMC could potentially separate the industry. Smaller players will start to be integrated and incorporated through buy-outs. It is the right direction for the growth of the industry.

In your leisure time, what sports do you enjoy?

Spending quality time with my family is important for me; I especially love travelling with them and discovering new places together in a relaxed way. I love Jazz and almost every year I visit the annual Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. My favourite local soccer team is Kaizer Chiefs; internationally it’s Manchester City. I’m also an amateur golfer, with a 14 handicap at the moment.