RCA caught up with Daisy McDonald, CEO of Yelesa, one of the most successful PR and advertising companies in South Africa for an exclusive interview. Yelesa sponsored the publication of We Are Not Alone | Reflections from the Cafe, RCA's premier publication, a collection of short stories from writers across the African continent.
The first impression one gets of Daisy McDonald is of an affability, calmness and composure, but beneath the facade is a fierce soul, a soul ready to strive, that has strived and weathered the storm in the hustle and bustle that is South African corporate landscape.
A mother and a businesswoman, she is the brains behind Yelesa branding company, which has been making its presence felt in corporate South Africa since 2007. Besides Public Relations, Yelesa does line management of projects.
Daisy's business acumen dates back to her childhood when she helped out at her mother's store.
Her parents are/were entrepreneurs, ?as were most of her aunts and uncles, so it doesn't seem much of a surprise that she too has ended up taking the entrepreneurial journey – in a sense, it's the only journey she has ever known.. Over the years, she has been involved in various business undertakings ranging from catering to event management. But it was marketing and sales that always stood out.
Her clients range from individuals to corporations, both big and small, that are looking to reposition themselves in competitive markets, with dealings ranging from cosmetics, energy, education and information technology.
The South African corporate landscape is a tough one to navigate especially if you are a foreigner, and one may wonder what her typical day is. Daisy says that it depends very much on where she is and what she is working on. . She attends to work, reassess clients' needs and deliverables, while ensuring Yelesa's goals are on track. Also, her son is a constant in her life.
And on why Yelesa, a big brand, decided to sponsor RCA, the mother cum businesswoman says with a chuckle, “I think it chose me. I had also met the tenacious Ms Ayeza.” Cynthia Ayeza is the founder of RCA. She adds that her serious love for books was a huge factor. Her love for books is eminent. She adds, “I love books that tell my story, the African story; stories of our people. I love flipping through pages and reading about something I recognise and can reflect on; something that challenges my being – who better to invest in than African authors? People like you and me telling creation to take note of our corner of the universe.”
Daisy's outlook on life is not limited to business. She is concerned about the African narrative and recognises the role of publishing outfits, such as RCA, in shaping this narrative and the legacy we will leave behind. Despite the drawbacks and challenges that may come with running a successful business, Daisy pursues the same clients that big corporates pursue – and plans to keep winning. Being a single parent also comes with its challenges, however, having an understanding son is a plus and a good support structure comes in handy too.
Given South Africa's history, we asked Daisy if she has faced any challenges as a woman or because she is Black? This was quite sensitive. But she gave a straight answer. She asserts that “I found out I was black when I moved to South Africa. ?Race and the ability to deliver never mattered where I'm from. You either could get the job done or not. However, running a business as a woman requires a backbone of steel. You have to learn to stand your ground and be heard. That was difficult at first. I’ve also learned that being a woman also works for me and I embrace it. I love to prove people wrong about my gender and race.”
Being the brain behind such a successful business must mean that lots of people look at her as a role model, which in turn places a burden on Daisy. She admits it does, and the burden is a heavy one at that, especially when one has young family members that look to them to follow their lead. Nonetheless, she looks at it differently. She calls it love, not a burden. She is vehement that with love and kindness nothing can go wrong; and yet, she does not pretend to lead in this way all the time.
We asked Daisy whether it is a challenge for people who come from the rest of Africa to invest in South Africa. While she is positive that investing in South Africa is always a good thing, she notes that the BBEE (Black Based Economic Empowerment) is always a challenge. The BBEE is a policy-based phenomenon that seeks to bridge the inequality caused by Apartheid between Black and White South Africans. While it helps, she notes that at times it forces foreign corporates to empower locals which sometimes has its challenges. Daisy thinks South Africans need to explore the rest of Africa for opportunities which she says exist and are ripe.
Daisy also shared her thoughts about the role that African-owned businesses have to play on the continent. Her thoughts reveal a mature business mind; “African Businesses should aim at educating people through leadership programmes and challenging innovations. They need to invest back into the continent. I love reading about African companies that are shaping and changing the continent; entrepreneurs? striving daily to be masters of their own destiny. African-owned businesses put power back into African hands. We need to stay and develop our continent. The money stays here. The role that African business people play is crucial to our very existence.”
Amidst all the hustle and bustle of being the brain behind a successful PR company in what is arguably Africa's biggest economy, it is difficult to always stay focused. What keeps Daisy going is the love for her family and the palpable ambition she houses in her thick walled soul. One needs a thick walled heart to make it in the competitive corporate South Africa.
Daisy's last words are those of encouragement to anyone wishing to do business and succeed. Get straight up and go for what you want.
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