BLQ 3 Cover Story

Written by:

Craig Wilkinson

 

“Capturing our journey as Afropolitans is pivotal for our country’s progress .”

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Everything about Greg resonates with his heart for African humanism, ethical leadership, inclusivity and the assimilation into the African way of all that is good for the collective. Born and bred in Diepkloof, Soweto, Greg speaks with gratitude about the solid foundation of love and values his family gave him, listing his father and mother as two of his most important role models. His passion for radio started at the tender age of 13.  Playing vinyls on a turntable, speaking into a mike and tuning into adverts on Radio 5 he used to record his own ‘radio show’ on audio cassette. His inspiration came from a New York radio station which his uncle, who he describes as having an “interesting relationship with the Security Police”, used to record on his travels to the USA. What many people don’t know is that around the same age Greg wanted to be a priest.

“There is just not enough space given to people who are great leaders.”

Greg’s tertiary education got off to a shaky start when he arrived late at the Technicon in Shoshanguwe, then known as TNT. Wanting to study marketing he found the only two courses that still had places were Public Administration and Commercial Practice. Choosing the latter as the lesser of two evils he embarked on a course which he had very little interest in. Paradoxically it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for his career, as he ended up spending a lot more time working with the campus radio station than he did studying. And he did wonders with it, helping it attract advertisers, become a viable business and produce great shows. In 1996, his last year of studies, Greg and his team decided to apply for a license to operate the Campus station as a community radio station. Unheard of at the time the license was granted.

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In 1997 it was time to move on. YFM had just been granted a license and was calling for auditions. Greg remembers standing in a queue of about 600 people (including current stars like DJ Fresh) waiting to audition and thinking that the chances of him getting one of the few available spots was minimal. “I knew I had to find a way to stand out from the crowd so, while standing in the queue, I started writing a strategic plan for the station from my experience running campus radio. When the music manager, Arabi Mocheke, walked past I rushed over and pleaded with him to read my hand written plan. After several hours he came back looking for me and asked if I could attend a management meeting the following morning. Of course I could, I was 21, unemployed and desperate to get into this new, exciting radio station! The meeting started badly when I walked in and inadvertently sat at the head of the table, in the CEO’s chair. But it ended better than I could have hoped for. Towards the end of the meeting the CEO, Dirk Hartford, asked me what I thought and after I told him he said, ‘well why don’t you start?’  So I did”.

That was the beginning of a career which has seen Greg scoop multiple awards, play a pivotal role in South African music development – think House, Kwaito, Afro soul, Afro pop – and stamp his flavor and authority as one of the country’s leading radio icons.

“I knew I had to find a way to stand out from the crowd so, while standing in the queue, I started writing a strategic plan for the station from my experience running campus radio.”

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When asked about what legacy he would like to leave Greg has a refreshingly pragmatic approach. “It comes when you die, thinking of legacy during life is like taking millions of pictures while on holiday, you miss many moments. I believe if one does what needs to be done because it has to be done it is more meaningful than packaging what you do under legacy. If kids need a school, food, education, exposure, identity etc … fill that gap because that’s what the moment requires, not because it fits in with what you say your legacy should be. The world decides that, not you.”

In his spare time Greg loves to cook. Although he had his first drink at the age of 29 he loves his wine and whiskey and loves sharing them. He used to write a little bit of poetry and wants to get back into it. On what music he listens to Greg has a lot to say. “Music is important not just for enjoyment but for reflection, for healing, for understanding. My taste in music is eclectic. If you jumped into my car you’d be confused. Although my grounding is Soul and Jazz I enjoy anything from Hip Hop to Classic and almost everything in between. What I listen to is driven by my mood.”.

At his core Greg is a dedicated family man. He speaks with deep fondness about how becoming a father changed his life and in particular about becoming a father to a daughter. “Having a girl changed everything for me! I became so much more sensitive to how cruel and cold the world can be”.

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One of Greg’s great passions is helping people grow. And he has strong views on what that means in the South African context. “Capturing our journey as Afrpolitans is pivotal for our country’s progress. My obsession is equalling the playing fields, being a part of changing society so that many kids in the hood succeed not by accident but by design”.  He talks animatedly about purpose and how to advance it through innovation using African Methods. “We are at an interesting crossroads; so many indigenous methods were interrupted by apartheid, so there is often not enough to build on from that. We need to build a new knowledge system based on accurate and quality history – for example researching the military strategies of various African leaders – and combine it with what works today. Perhaps discover our own ‘Art of war’. How we educate, what we teach, how we do business should reflect who we are and where we come from and at the same time incorporate what works from around the world”.
 

Greg believes that South African leaders need to be more introspective about their lives and responsibilities to the collective. “What is my role in SA today as an African? What is my part at defining things in our own way? How do we run a business from an African perspective? Everything of ours is borrowed and has a lot of assumptions, many of which are irrelevant and just plain false. Some are even written into our labour law. Many of our workforce don’t have choices like I do and the way I lead must reflect an understanding of this and empathy towards it.  As a business leader my job is to empower and inspire, how do I best do that in the context of grave inequalities? Ethics and good governance must be central to how we lead in business and in politics. This is our great challenge at the moment”.

He is excited that as a nation we are starting to question a lot more. “We’re no longer content with just being emotionally attached to things, we’re starting to ask the hard questions, and demand the right answers. People are starting to understand their role in society and starting to play it”. But he believes there is a lot more we can do to create an environment in which our children will have it better than us. He rues the leadership crisis in politics and in business, seeing little interest in truly mentoring the next generation. “There is just not enough space given to people who are great leaders”.

Greg wouldn’t change what he does for anything. “I am blessed with the opportunity to run a 21st century, post-apartheid business. With just under two million listeners a week Kaya FM gives me the opportunity to shift the cultural needle. It’s a privilege and responsibility I am very grateful for. The many amazing people I meet and work with allow me to combine work with passion, a rare privilege still, especially in SA”.

“With just under two million listeners a week Kaya FM gives me the opportunity to shift the cultural needle.”

He believes that SA music is in a good place. “There is some great stuff being produced and the quality is exceptional. A lot of our music has remained true to who we are without selling out to international and commercial influences. We are the biggest players in house music for instance and that is something to be proud of”.

On what message he would like to leave with readers: “Understanding the generation we are in and what it’s purpose is! We need to see our world as an orchard which we are all responsible for growing. We need to prepare the soil well and keep planting. You can’t rush the growth of a tree, it needs the right environment, nurture and watering. That’s our role, to create an environment in which we and the next generation can flourish and thrive. Wealth and ownership are important, but life is not a race to acquire. In the words of Dr. Reuel Khosa ‘We must recommit humanity to a vision of shared destiny and collective effort for a better future. Life, work and moral values are indivisible – particularly for those in positions of leadership’”.