Life lessons from an advertising industry legend

Mike Abel

By Jaime Uranovsky

Mike Abel is a man who needs little introduction.

Indeed, M&C Saatchi Abel, of which Mike is co-founder and CEO, is one of South Africa’s top marketing and communications companies, and has garnered various accolades over the years including the Large Agency of the Year Award at the 2019 Financial Mail AdFocus Awards. Since 2020 signifies the company’s tenth birthday, it was the perfect time for Mike to pen Willing & Abel: Lessons from a Decade in Crisis.

As Mike explains, “For many years I’ve been doing a lot of talking, public speaking, mentoring and coaching… in terms of imparting wisdom and insight and knowledge and case studies that I’ve garnered through my 30-year career, and you have a limited ability in terms of the number of people that you are able to reach. About 18 months ago I thought that the best way to share these things would be through writing a book”. The book, written in conversation with Tudor Caradoc-Davies, comprises 11 chapters, each of which addresses a different principle or teaching.

In Mike’s own words, “I always wanted the book to be useful… a series of lessons learnt that people could apply to their own life, their own business, their own situation and take it on, so we always knew it was going to be a catalogue of stories and insights”. In this way, it is relevant to everyone, whether one is a learner just leaving school or a seasoned entrepreneur. He adds, “It spans all industries…It’s a book about life, about personal issues, about business struggles and about emigration. It covers my move to Australia and my move back to South Africa and my belief in this country”

While Mike acknowledges South Africa’s challenges and issues, he remains hopeful about the country’s future: “What has changed is that there are active citizens in South Africa and I’m reassured and encouraged by the growth in active citizenry in the way that the independent media has played an enormous role in liberating us from the state capture project… What we do have is a remarkable country with remarkable people and incredible assets …We are world leaders in many industries in terms of the brilliant minds of this country and I think if we get behind the positive and fight the good fight, we can pull the country out of this mess”. Indeed, Mike believes that South Africa’s youth can become part of the solution by recognising the opportunity within the country and by contributing to it instead of leaving.

“There is a wonderful saying that ‘where there is chaos, there is money to be made’, and what it means in my view is that chaos creates new opportunities”. He references his own company which he started in “an overtraded market in a downturned economy at the peak where everyone was predicting it would be a disaster”. In beating the odds Mike says, “We’ve focused on the opportunity, on innovating, on bringing great products to the market, and on talent. I’ve had one saying on my wall my entire career: ‘The people who have the best people win’”.

Mike credits much of his worldview to his upbringing and to his Jewish heritage. “I am very invested in the Jewish belief that, in life, you get because of what you give and not because of what you take, so I have always wanted to contribute to society since childhood days… our role is to make the world a better place and to contribute meaningfully and actively”.

Willing & Abel is available on Amazon, Takealot, Kindle and is retailing at both chain and independently owned bookstores.

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