Talking next-level-leadership with Jane Raphaely

Updated on 21 September 2016

Subscription Form (#66)

Talking next-level-leadership with Jane Raphaely


What is a 10X Leader?

In their 2011 book, “Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck – Why Some Thrive Despite Them All”, Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen labelled high-performing study cases with the moniker “10X” because they write, “they didn’t merely get by or just become successful, they truly thrived”.

These were the companies that beat their industry index by at least 10 times and according to the book, the distinctive behaviours of their leaders was part of the reason for their success.

The 10X term has now become the moniker for ‘the best of the best’.

Dubbed ‘The First Lady of SA magazines’, Jane Raphaely is a pioneer of the local media landscape and the very definition of a 10X Leader.

She pioneered the English-language women’s magazines genre in South Africa almost single-handedly.

She has played a pivotal role in magazine publishing and female empowerment in SA and is the recipient of numerous awards for professional and humanitarian achievements throughout her career.

These includes awards such as the Business Woman of the Year, Media Innovator of the Year, and Star Woman of Our Time awards as well as accolades such as Print Media SA Fellow and Naspers Order of Tafelberg. She has also been honoured with Lifetime Achievement awards from the 2008 Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards as well as the Advantage Admag Awards.

Raphaely is now the Chairman at Associated Media Publishing (AMP) a family-run publisher of women’s media brands in South Africa, producing local and international titles Cosmopolitan, Good HouseKeeping and Goeie Huishouding, Marie Claire, O, The Oprah Magazine and House and Leisure.

SME South Africa talks to Raphaely about her philosophy on leadership and she lets us in on why she describes herself as the village matchmaker and why women who want to blaze a trail have to be more ambitious and less afraid to fail.

“I became a leader by accident, not design, and I certainly wasn’t born into it,” Raphaely says and indeed her life was anything but yielding. Having grown up, according to a Daily Maverick article, in World War 2-era Stockport, an impoverished town near Manchester, it was her determination that saw her not only graduate from the London School of Economics in 1958 with a BSc in Sociology and Economics, but also winning a Rotary Foundation fellowship to further her studies at Columbia University in New York. She moved to South Africa in 1960.

Recognising and leading with your strengths

An experienced leader, Raphaely describes her leadership style as ‘unusual’.

“When I was at the London School of Economics I was known as the party starter. When someone wanted to have a great party they were told to get me to round up the right people. I was good at connectivity, and connections are essential. Also if T-shirts had been in at that time, mine would have had WHY NOT? on it. I still use those two words about ten times a day.”

“I often describe myself as the village matchmaker,” she says. Finding good people is very important, but putting the right people together is an art. Not only is she not afraid to have relationships with the people she works with, in fact, she says, it is a good thing. “People who play together stay together.”

The importance of a team

“When my husband Michael, Volker Kuhnel and I started Cosmopolitan I became a publisher as well as an editor and had to learn how to run a business and work with people who had to be creative in a totally different way to journalists, photographers, artists and stylists. The best people need space to make their own decisions and implement them in the way that is best for that situation. They have their feet on floors where you will never be. You have to listen to them and trust them. But you have to share in the decisions, so that the outcome, good or bad, is equally owned,” she says.

Keeping employees was something Raphaely says she never struggled with as an editor. She says that a fellow editor once asked to attend one of their editorial meetings, afterwards, he told Raphaely that he had never been to a meeting where the person in charge spent all their time listening. He wasn’t at the follow-up when she came back to her colleagues with the decisions and discussed them so that there was buy-in, Raphaely says.

“Women who want to blaze a trail have to be more ambitious, more confident, more cunning and less afraid to fail”

There is no perfect business leader
Although Raphaely is seen by many as the epitome of leadership, she says, however, that she didn’t have some of  the skills necessary to become a successful business leader and adds that had she had a crystal ball, she would have done bookkeeping as well as economics and statistics at LSE.

“I am hopeless at sport. If I were offered three wishes, sporting ability would be one of them. It would make dealing with men a lot easier. Neither am I good at languages. I would have got a lot further in this country if I had been able to speak some of the local languages.”

On being a woman in leadership

Raphaely says that being a woman is a tremendous asset, particularly if you work in fields where women are the major consumers, which includes cars, insurance, travel, housing investment and all major family purchases. She says that you often will be assumed to have inner knowledge of the working of women’s minds, however, in practice, you know that women differ just as much as men do, but you know those differences and can cater for them.

“The real asset that women have is that they also know how men’s minds work whereas usually, it is men like Dior and Lagerfeld know what makes women tick. All of this doesn’t alter the fact that for reasons we all know, the people with the power to employ, assign, promote and empower other people are usually men. Men who, until recently, have been able to dominate decision-making of all kinds and have seized this advantage to advance their own sort, largely, it must be said, because they suspect that mothers might have several things on their minds at once,” she says.

“Single-mindedness is a virtue in male minds, for women, it’s not important. So women who want to blaze a trail have to be more ambitious, more confident, more cunning and less afraid to fail than other women and men. People are either like that or they are not. It can’t be taught but people learn a lot from example.

Balancing work and motherhood

“I do not regard motherhood as a disadvantage. I think it is an advantage because raising children is the hardest job in the world,” she says.

“I often say that editing is like going into the lion’s cage without the whip and the chair and getting the lions to sit on their stools by sheer will power. But that’s nothing compared to being late at the school gates, or forgetting to bring the brown paper and Sellotape home.”

On going from a good to a 10X leader

Being successful, Raphaely says, is what it takes to become a mentor that people would want to follow and would advise people who are looking to become great leaders to never give up.

“Great leaders like Hannibal, Churchill and Nelson Mandela never give up. Always look forward and never look back or to the side. Diana Vreeland said this and I don’t think anyone has ever put it better.”

Get Weekly 5-Minutes Business Advice

Subscribe to receive actionable business tips and resources.

Subscription Form (#66)

Feeling Stuck?