Ongeziwe Lupuwana African solutions for African challenges

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Trade Development Execution Manager / brand specialist / influencer
Post Graduate Diploma in Management, Wits Business School (2015); Bachelor of Laws, Wits University (2011)


Oz, your career growth has been exciting to witness and has taken a very unique course. After attaining your Bachelor of Laws from Wits University, your career path has seen you model, act on some of South Africa’s most popular shows, and most notably, become a Brand Ambassador of Jameson, one of the most iconic brands and Trade Development Manager of 5 countries. Could you take us through the journey to forging your present career?

I applied to the Wits LLB under the impression that the law would be as it was written by John Grisham in his legal espionage novels. I learnt quite quickly that the South African legal system couldn’t be further from that.

Upon obtaining my LLB I knew that I was not quite ready to get into the legal field and I brokered a deal with my, very understanding, parents that I would explore my curiosity with entertainment and passion for marketing by taking a ‘working gap’ year.

My initial plan was to explore radio, as I was a co-host on DSTV radio station TransAfrica while I was in Varsity. I never recorded a demo in time and had to make an alternate plan which lead to me getting into modeling and acting. I was fortunate to get several modeling campaigns and make it onto South African prime time Soapie Generations.

The moment I felt ready to get into corporate I received an opportunity to work at SAB in their Market Development Team working on International Premium Brands, which I did for 2 years winning an award and learning tons about sales and marketing.

I desired a more hands on approach to global business management and I found the company to which I could grow with, Pernod Ricard. I joined as a Jameson Brand Ambassador making a trip to Ireland for a month of training and returning to drive influencer marketing in South Africa. After 2 years in the role I have taken up a role as a Trade Development Execution Manager looking after 5 countries in South Central Africa: Malawi, Zimababwe, Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia.

Millennials are living in an exciting time, in that we are no longer confined to the professions that we studied towards and we are able to forge a unique destiny for ourselves. A career change, however, is seldom easy to implement. How did you go from studying a Law degree to forging the reputation you possess today as a brand specialist and influencer, and what obstacles did you face along the way?

I was fortunate to identify that I had an interest in life outside law from my first year in Varsity. I applied to be a Smirnoff Spin Agent (Brand Ambassador at University level) even though it was a role typically reserved for students in 3rd/4th year I threw my name in the hat and was successful after interviews.

Thereafter I worked in different roles within youth marketing and FMCG companies which opened my world to the prospect of a career outside of the traditional law route.

By the time I was done with my studies I knew that being a lawyer was not going to be my first choice. I made quite a few relationships in the fields I was interested in which made my decision to not pursue law not too painful as I already had people I could speak to for opportunities. Even though I spent some time acting and modeling I already had relationships in the field I was interesting it.

I think acting and modeling helped me in my sales positions as customers were receptive to me. I found the challenge to get taken seriously as a marketer without a marketing qualification. The best way to overcome that challenge is to prove yourself through succeeding in your role and strategies. Additionally to accelerate my commercial acumen I reinvested in my education and read for a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from Wits Business School which has aided in bridging the gap and continuously learning at work.

Your most recent and notable work is being a Trade Development Execution Manager for Pernod Ricard looking after Jameson, Chivas and Ballantines. Could you perhaps take us through what your time in this position entailed?

The Interesting thing about being in this position is the complexity with different languages and consumer behavior. Then also layer that with currencies and economies. Looking after 5 countries in South Central Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe, Bostwana and Zambia comes with tons of travel too. I am enjoying the role as it provides me with ample opportunities to learn and develop a differentiated approach outside the South African context.

Strategy without implementation is just hot air and my current role I provide excellence in execution and being able to get digital plans to make commercial sense.

What major lessons do you believe up and coming entrepreneurs and businesspersons can learn from working for well-established and iconic brands such as Jameson?

There is superb value in understanding that big brands/businesses are built by people. Thus you are able to build a passion brand because you recognize the contribution each individual makes towards the big vision.

Your time with Jameson saw you travel extensively. What lessons do you believe African millennials can learn from their counterparts abroad?

They don’t underestimate the value of experiences. Yes getting paid well is important but raking up life experiences means a lot in being a holistic being and bringing a broader perspective in the work place. Thus they are able to get out of their comfort zones and understand the value they will get out of that.

Now let’s talk about your personal brand. What do you believe are the attributes & characteristics that make a successful influencer? How can one build on their personal brand and become a key player in their respective field?

Work on the mantra of fresh consistency. Consistency is very much high up, which means you understand your personal brand essence, passions and interests and you do not stray off that path as it is your compass. Keep it fresh by then getting greater knowledge to learn from people around you and integrate what you’ve learnt where you can. Thus keeping things fresh as the world is ever changing, more especially trends.

Where do you wish to see your career go in the future?

I aspire to be the go to guy when it comes to growing businesses and brands on the African continent

Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and businessmen?

I believe in “African solutions for African challenges”. Africa is the final frontier and is home to many opportunities and interesting challenges.

Corporate Quickie

I would love to be mentored by…. Ciko Thomas
The biggest sacrifice I’ve ever made is… forego legal career for the unknown
Africans have the opportunity to… direct Africa’s growth
Worst money mistake… investing in a space with high risk and high rewards
Best investment… furthering myself through education

2 Comments

  1. I believe in “African solutions for African challenges”. Africa is the final frontier and is home to many opportunities and interesting challenges.

    I couldn’t agree more!!
    Great read.

  2. Great article , totally inspiring. I went to university with Oz , saw his involvement with brands . You did an amazing job with jameson. African solutions for African challanges is the most vital of points to look at when starting business.

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