Words by Sanele Mawisa
Photography by Neo Baepi
Avukile Mabombo is a name many people might recognise as he is one of the most accomplished marketers in South Africa. However, his most noticeable characteristic upon engaging with him is his calm, laid-back demeanor; a trait he displayed when I messaged him to meet up for this interview.
Under all his achievements and accolades to date as a Brand and Marketing Manager extraordinaire, lies a man full of passion and pride for his country and the development of its people. I sat down with him to delve a bit deeper into his growth in the industry, his love for brands and his plans for the future.
With a Twitter biography as eclectic as “Umtata born, Bisho raised, Grahamstown schooled, East London lived, Cape Town settled, Joburg flirting, New York dreaming,” Avukile is somewhat of a nomad, undoubtedly leaving his indelible mark wherever he graces his presence. One of the most defining facets of his life is his belief that dreams never materialise where stagnation exists. “The reason I put that in my bio is because it’s saying a lot without saying much. It gives an idea of the person I am.”
As one of the top marketers in the country, he faced unique challenges to get to where he is, growing up in the period just prior to the unification of South Africa in 1994. “I went to boarding school at age 9 in 1992, my mom really struggled to get us to good schools. You get put into school with wealthy students and its difficult to survive in that environment. My mom and I used to sell fruit during the holidays as it would contribute to fees for the next term, it was the school holidays routine. Having to come to terms with the fact that we’re all running our own race and you can’t compare yourself to other peoples journeys. We all have the ability to succeed and we all have the tools to be successful. Understanding this helped me follow my own path and not worry about what other people were doing.”
Avukile’s love for radio began during the final year of his Film & Media degree at UCT and he started working at UCT radio even though at the time he hadn’t planned on a career in radio. During this period, he was given 2 job offers within his chosen field of Film. “I had these 2 offers but at the time the best offer was only R1800 per month and I knew I wouldn’t be able to survive off that.”
Faced with this conundrum and the uncertainty of life after varsity, he decided to make the first of many bold moves. “In my final year I created this documentary on what it means to be an African. Then one day I decided to go to Primedia Broadcatsing and show them my work. They really liked it!”
He got to present his work and his findings on the breakfast show. Later on he produced for the show and did the sports segment. However, he still wanted to do his Honours and decided he needed to pursue a more rounded degree, which would open up more doors for his career than Film & Media. So he embarked on a Brand Communication degree at Vega. “I had realised that perhaps the film and media industry wasn’t going to be as fruitful as I had hoped and felt I needed to mix it with something else.”
After completing his Honours degree, Avukile had faced the first, and arguably biggest, turning point in his career. “Mike Wills who was a host on the breakfast show for 567 radio said I should apply for an internship at the agency he used to work at, which was Ogilvy & Mather.”
He got the internship and soon after was offered a full-time job as an Account Manager. After being at the agency for 2 years, he took on the challenge of Brand Manager of Hennessey Cognac. “Hennessey was probably one of the most important things to happen in my career. People in the industry were introduced to me through Hennessey. And because I was a one man show, I did everything and the brand grew exponentially and that taught me so much within the marketing environment.”
Avukile’s hunger for a challenge and desire to make change are the drivers to his success. “Its the uncomfortable ideas that are the greatest. If you present an idea that’s comfortable you’ve probably seen it before.”
Relishing a challenge and diving into the unknown, whilst coming out stronger for the experience, is an important hallmark of Avukile’s career. “A key thing for me is to solve a challenge, the challenge to unlock a brand excites me, the opportunity for growth. I’ve always put myself in an environment where I can make a change.”
He has set himself lofty ambitions he wants to climb in the industry. “One of the things I would still like to achieve is to take a brand global! I want to look after a brand in a global market. The other thing would be to work on my own brand and start something of my own.”
He remarks that he still has a passion for film and one day would love to go back into the industry and do what he’s been doing his whole life, and that is to make a difference. “I still have this desire to go back to the film industry and do great things there.”
No matter what Avukile Mabombo decides to do, rest assured it will be worth keeping a close eye on. Through all his achievements to his current role as the Marketing Manager for Monster Energy, he maintains balance is everything. “As a marketer, I have to immerse myself in people, but to me time is also incredibly important; to switch off, and be by yourself. I watch movies at the cinema alone and eat brunch alone, so keeping that balance helps me be successful in my work life.”