Leadership Lessons from one of SA’s Most Influential Women in Digital

Updated on 24 August 2018

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Deseré Orill, together with her husband, and Tim Legg, is behind one of South Africa’s fastest-growing independent digital media companies, Ole! Media Group.

Since its launch, the duo has catapulted the company to incredible heights.

“After establishing MobiMedia in 2009, we acquired the sports media hub, TEAMtalk Media from BskyB in 2012. We relocated our head office to Cape Town and grew from a ten-man team in Johannesburg to a total of 64 employees overnight,” says Orill.

Deseré Orill

“Over the next year, we grew the business organically, acquiring and integrating two smaller companies and adding a third division, AddSuite, a Google partner and digital media management company. We founded the Ole! Media Group as the umbrella holding company for our businesses in 2013. Since then we’ve established HoneyKome as a full-service digital creative agency, expanded our digital video production capabilities and established a dynamic technology hub.

“By 2016, Ole! Media was a company of 120 people. Rapid expansion and heavy investment in our overseas holdings, too, put pressure on the purse strings, and we had to review our position,” adds Orill.

“We weathered the challenges of 2017, which resulted in some logical consolidation, and have emerged stronger and more agile in 2018.”

Orill talks about leadership, purpose and the importance of leaning in. 

For me, taking charge doesn’t mean ‘flatter and cajole’, nor does it mean ‘crush and conquer’

How she leads

From the front and by example, I hope. I prefer a collaborative approach to leading the team, but the buck stops with me and I’m not afraid to take the bull by the horns if needed. I think that also gives my team assurance that in as much as I set high-performance standards and expect them to rise to the challenge, similarly – when it’s crunch time and they need my support, they know they have it.

On leaning in

Yes, women need to overcome their reluctance to make their voices heard, they should not sit back and let the meeting happen. I agree with Sandberg who says that the climb to success is more like a jungle gym than a ladder, with multiple paths to the top. As women who have braved the climb, we should help to enable younger women to flourish, too.

For me, taking charge doesn’t mean ‘flatter and cajole’, nor does it mean ‘crush and conquer’. Rather it is leading by example, being willing to go the extra mile yourself, proving you have your team’s back in times of trouble, and reaching well-considered compromises which will win the day and earn you the lasting loyalty that true leadership engenders.

Purpose beyond profit

After coping with breast cancer, I appreciate purpose in life, and my business has to have a purpose, too. Mine is to empower other people – helping them to recognise their potential.

I like being involved in developing people, both practically with courses and training, as well as something deeper and more lasting. I want to help young people develop a sense of self, to grow and go on to be successful and confident, in whatever they do. I actively encourage our team here to spread their wings and fly the nest or experience something new within the group, when their time is ready.

We’re always open to opportunities and new ideas. In fact, we’ve even been known to hire people and create roles for them, just because we like their energy and drive. It’s about chemistry and being a great fit for our team and business.

I love the fact that our organisation has diversity and variety,” she continues. “We’re a truly mixed bag of nationality, gender, race, age and philosophy – people from all backgrounds – with a great array of skill sets, but with one thing in common: curiosity and the desire to discover.

That’s how people grow – and businesses, too.

Be grateful for every challenge. It is an opportunity to prove your greatness

On the importance of mentorship

I consider it our duty as women who have “done our time in the hallways” to ensure that we facilitate the path to the boardroom for the next generation. This doesn’t mean removing obstacles: it means equipping them with the knowledge and means to overcome obstacles.

It doesn’t mean smoothing the path: it means shining an inspirational light so they can find their way through the dark. Mentorship is as much a process through which people learn new skills, as it is a way in which the unwritten rules of business can be transferred through sharing experiences and telling stories along the way.

Words of wisdom she does business by

Be valuable. – Deliver Value for money. Value your people. Espouse solid values. Build financial value for all.

This means: building your business upon a foundation of solid values, always delivering value to your clients, remembering to treat your employees as valued people, and – of course – creating value through profit.

Be grateful for every challenge. It is an opportunity to prove your greatness.

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