Pepe Marais


Pepe Marais is one of SA’s advertising creative icons with a track-record to make anyone in the local advertising landscape swoon with awe, admiration, and to be honest, in my case, a twinge of jealousy. Together with his business partner, he founded the award-winning, highly acclaimed and sought-after agency, Joe Public, whilst still in his mid-20’s. Look, anyone who survives 10 years in advertising is a legend but Pepe has managed to guide Joe Public for 20 years from strength to strength, continually innovating and always ensuring it moves with the waves and tides of disruption that have smashed the industry, both locally and globally. But, Pepe’s story is one not without its casualties. With huge drive and ambition to succeed, he found himself at 38, on the brink of disaster – financially, physically and emotionally. Below is my riveting interview with Pepe Marais, the man himself, as he openly shares his path of success as well as lessons he has had to learn along the way, and how his whole life, and approach to leading his ad agency, have literally changed 180 degrees. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed getting to know this wonderful human a bit better:

My Definition Of Success | At the outset of my journey as an entrepreneur, at the tender age of 12, it was money. As I graduated from delivering newspapers, to selling T-shirts and cool-drinks on the beach, to starting our own advertising agency, this definition of success never changed. It remained money. It would remain money, money, money all the way until I reached the age of 38, when my whole world started to disintegrate. Our business was bankrupt, my marriage was falling apart, my health and body totally neglected. The perfect conditions, as the greater Universe would have it, to find greater meaning to life. Post finding greater purpose to my life in January 2007, my definition of success radically shifted and is today defined as follows:

To create an environment of harmony and joy, where the focus is on the well-being of people – growing them to achieve the highest levels of self-worth, honesty and excellence by nurturing ideas, dreams and trust – and through being a humble leader of integrity, to bring out the best in all, by displaying courage, firmness, passion, compassion and love in order to make a significant difference. I know, a mouthful – but you can wake me up in the middle of the night, and I will be able to tell you that this is my ultimate aim and definition of what I deem to be success.

I Am Driven By | My greater purpose in life, defined by one sentence: To bring out the “greatness” in those around me. Everything I do, everything I aspire to, every measure in my life, is in place towards living and delivering on this purpose, daily.

A Key Talent | I am very, very systematic as a person. I believe that what you measure will improve. So I measure like mad. But not for the sake of pure measurement, rather for the sake of consciousness. For example, on a personal level, I have learned that swearing is 50% efficient when communicating. 5 out of 10 people will like the energy, 5 out of 10 won’t. So it is more productive to communicate without using swear words. In order to decrease the amount of swear words I used to use, I started setting targets and slowly eradicated them from my language, unless I choose to use a forceful word on purpose, which is quite rare. I apply this approach to so many aspects of my life. But it is more a system of consciousness than that of measurement. I may often miss my target, but it is inevitable that it will drive my consciousness around a matter, no matter what. A few years ago I became conscious that 8 out of 10 pieces of film produced by our agency could be deemed wallpaper. I put my system in place, religiously measuring the monthly improvement of our product and in doing so, driving consciousness around the importance of an excellent product. 3 years later, 8 out of every 10 pieces of film produced by our business is above market standard, with a few ranked as the ‘best’ in our industry. What you measure will improve!

The Characteristics Of your Success | I am a planner. But not a planner in terms of detail, rather in terms of the 5 big actions per year that will make the maximum impact on our business and every aspect that it touches. I have a 25-year plan that I set in 2007, aiming towards achieving in 2032. Every year I take a day or 2 to align my annual ambition to my quarter century plan. Every month I review and measure towards my annual plan. Every week I take a few hours to measure the past week and plan the upcoming week. Every morning I plan my day. I am also always seeking improvement in everything, especially when things are going very well. At times, this makes people feel like nothing is ever good enough. I am working on ways to communicate my drive for being better than my best and then better, in a way that is more motivating to those who surround me.

Principles I Live By | I believe that it is only possible to construct authentic values to live by, if those are based on an authentic purpose. In my book, purpose is the ground zero of everything. Only once you have found an authentic life purpose – whether for your personal or your business life – can you aim for the stars and define a vision. My vision for my life and our business dramatically changed the day I found my personal purpose. Then, once you have defined your purpose and your vision, your values become that key set of guiding principles that you have to strive to live by and deliver against every hour of every day in order to move from A (your purpose) towards B (your vision). These will differ from person to person, and from business to business. The challenge that our world faces, however, is that there are far too few businesses willing to do the work that ultimately will serve humanity above shareholders.
My business values that I live by, based on our purpose and vision as a business are: Creativity, Excellence, Integrity, Respect, Leadership and Unity. Each word’s meaning is clearly defined on the walls of our business. Let’s face it, every single word has multiple meanings.
My personal values that I live by, based on my purpose and my life’s vision are: Creativity, Wealth, Growth, Family and Health. There is a clear overlap between these value sets and between the purpose of our business and that of my personal life.
After all, isn’t work life and personal life one and the same thing?

How I Use My Mind | It is a fact that our world is held captive by logic. We have eroded magic through a global educational system where IQ rules the day. We have forgotten about emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence and the resilience of the human spirit. I also know for a fact that the head, the brain, the parts of the body above the throat, process at 2000 bits per second. And that the rest of the body, the heart, the gut, the parts responsible for the way our toes curl when we feel excitement, process at 400 billion bits per second. That’s 2 tons of processing power of the heart against 1 gram of the head. Fascinating. For this reason, I follow my heart. Or heART. I wholeheartedly believe in vision and visualising, but no words could be truer than: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Vision, to me, lives in the back of my mind, while action is what I focus on every day. Every little daily action will ultimately lead to the manifestation of any profound vision. Yes, I reflect a lot to drive my consciousness and self-belief, but ultimately, I prefer to be a man of action. A few years back I used to wake up in a pool of sweat, worrying whether I would ever achieve my vision in this lifetime – until I realised: It doesn’t really matter if I achieve my vision, as long as I live every day towards it.

Lessons I Have Learnt | People are like plants. You cannot force them to grow, you can merely create the fertile conditions and soil that will grow their potential. The bottom line is called exactly that, because it should remain at the bottom of your priorities. It is a by-product of adding true value to the world.

Dealing With Doubt | In 2009, I was invited to judge at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France. We had just survived bankruptcy, so I was at a low point of my career. My self-esteem was equally at its lowest. It was in my bathroom at the Hotel Martinez that I looked myself in the eye in the mirror, uttering the words: “I love myself, I am great.” An awkward moment, to say the least, even though I was solely in my own company. I have performed the same ritual every day since, to this very day. It is tough to do, but a winning recipe towards a deep level of appreciation of self and self-belief.

Future Dreams And Ambitions | My greater vision is to create an educational system for South Africa that is a shining example to the world. Our business vision is to create an organisation that inspires greatness.

Balancing high performance with happiness and contentment | My entire life I struggled with a deep feeling of not being good enough. I also suffered from severe social phobia, a difficult one to manage when in the public’s eye. Since the day I found my life’s purpose, these two aspects started to dissipate.

The Best Advice I’ve Received | That there are 8 forms of wealth. I learned it at Robin Sharma’s Titan Summit in Toronto in December 2014. I have integrated this learning into the system with which I approach my life.

Advice On Building Wealth | Become conscious that there are 8 forms of wealth: Spiritual Wealth, Health, Family, Your Craft, Money, Circle of Influence (the people you surround yourself with), Adventure and Giving Back. Then work at becoming exceptionally wealthy in each of them. When you shift focus to that which is more important than making money, you may just find that you really start to make money.

I Am Inspired By | I am a non-church-attending closet Christian, so I will have to say Jesus Christ. I mean, imagine that level of consciousness, if there is any truth in that best-selling black book. I am also a fan of Nelson Mandela. To add that amount of value to the lives of others in one lifetime, is nothing short of a miracle.

The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I would like to make a significant contribution to the people of our country through solving the educational challenge that we face. I need not be named for it. As long as I know, and my wife knows, that I’ve done something of true value, I will be content.

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