Managing Talent in a Changing World: Leadership, Change, and Responsibility
1. Mark had spent 20 years in South Africa. His wife felt it was time to move to England when his wildlife business became too demanding. But faced with the choice of starting from scratch, he was sanguine about the safety that moving to England would afford his family. Decades later, he and his wife Gina, co-own Kruger Cowne Ltd., a talent management firm, managing hundreds of global icons.
2. These days, the definition of an icon has strayed from what it was decades ago. Celebrities were individuals who excelled in their respective fields and had absolute representation. Today, that definition has been diluted to mean anyone seen in the public eye.
3. Understanding a product is the first step towards aligning a brand with its appropriate message. It ensures a business' brand communicates the message that most serves the target audience or customers.
After completing his secondary education, Mark's interest in advertising kindled. So much so that he attended the Portsmouth College of Art to reaffirm his dream of becoming a graphic designer. But the imposter syndrome soon kicked in and made him come to the sad realization that he could never be the best.
Concealed in this new stumbling block was an opportunity—managing people. He found it effortless to communicate his intended message to the people around him. The natural followers he made from those around him spotlighted his leadership. This saw him pivot to management in the formative years of his career.
At the peak of his career, the opportunity to move to South Africa presented itself. Consortium Advertising was hiring for a position in South Africa, and having spent the past decade in the UK, it seemed like the right time for a change of scenery.
His work in South Africa afforded him the privilege of working with Scania Trucks, among other global 'blue-chip' brands. With the branding and leadership knowledge he had that far, it only seemed fair to explore a new challenge: entrepreneurship. Two decades later, he is now a proud co-owner of Kruger Cowne Ltd., an industry-leading icon management firm with 25 years’ experience working with global brands, including Sir Bob Geldof, Cher, Bear Grylls, Elle MacPherson, and John Simpson to name a few.
What Makes a Good Leader...DNA?
The leaders Mark represents validated his assertion that leadership in most cases is innate, as you have all heard of natural-born leaders. But he was stupefied by the pattern of challenging experiences he noticed in most leaders during their formative years. They were a band of misfits whose experience of hardship carved a unique perception of life.
"I look at a lot of the people I represent, and I think what put them in that position and inevitably, somehow or another, something didn't quite fit in their life earlier."
Mark’s parents' work demanded too much from them, robbing them of time he wished they had. Left with nothing but the resolve to make the most of himself, Mark joined the Army Cadet Force. With a newfound sense of camaraderie, he became a stronger communicator and so did the influence he had on his peers.
Research demonstrates that leadership comes more naturally to people who faced the inevitable choice of confronting a difficulty or tragedy in their early years (Gloria et al., 2022). With a rocky start and the drive to return one’s situation to some kind of normalcy, grows the mindset that sets leaders apart as problem-solvers and pioneers. For Mark, having the leadership trait means,
"Having the ability to visualize and communicate something in ways which others can understand and can follow, and being able to measure and, if necessary, redirect their efforts as situations change."
Whether it was a wildlife rescue program in Africa or setting up a fundraiser for earthquake victims in Turkey, leadership came naturally to Mark. Along with it also came the appreciation for partners and the satisfaction of helping others that drew him to mentorships. Despite that, he believes you must have a deeper connection with your prodigies.
Who is Iconic?
Mark dissents from pop culture's meaning of iconic, where any famous person fits the description. He reminds us of when being an icon meant leading in one’s craft emphatically. Whether it was sports, modelling, or music, being labelled an icon was a validation of one’s immense efforts.
“It could be Elle MacPherson, iconic as a model; Bob Geldof, iconic for leadership; Richard Branson, iconic for entrepreneurialism. Or it could be Ernie the milkman, the iconic leader of the milking people because he's iconic as what he does. So that's the definition of who represents the iconic.”
But central to the designation of iconic people is peer review. It means representing people in your field. Icons command their peers’ respect, so much so that they validate exemplary performance by crowning them the best in their class.
“You could say that somebody like Churchill was an iconic politician. He certainly wasn't a celebrity, but he was iconic.”
Kruger Cowne Ltd. has been in the business of managing global brands for the past two decades. Mark considers each client’s brand, an individual product with dynamic advertising needs. But as the relationship between the brands and their customers evolves, Mark’s team constantly aligns the advertising message to fit the target audience.
In advertising, as it is in life, you represent a brand or icon in your own right. You are under the constant strain of advertising your talents, skills, products or self in ways that would earn you favor at work, in business or among friends. But leaders shoulder the greatest burden when those in their team fail to live up to the hype.
“...Kruger Crowne Ltd. mustn't take on more talent than they can manage on a one-to-one basis.”
To bridge the gap between business expectations and leadership outcomes, Mark iterates that one must hire only those they can manage in person. With a similar model in Kruger Cowne, the company maintains a manageable number of clients and employees.
“Inevitably, there's a 3–6-month induction period before recruits can start to understand how they can genuinely apply their skill sets to the business that they've then found themselves in.”
Being conscious of opportunities is essential in business, but not more than it is to have the tools to utilize them. Forbes defines a successful startup founder as one who has the people skills to match the evolving business landscape (Riani, 2022). But with experience comes the ability to channel leadership and business knowledge into redirecting talent to areas where they could be more productive.
South Africa was home for Mark and his family. The thought of losing the extensive business connections that it had taken him 20 years to establish made the move to England a challenging decision. But as you all know, with big risk often comes an even greater reward.
“I was talking to Gina about the work she was doing with John Simpson outside the BBC, and I realized all the people who were putting him out for bookings had no clue as to what his actual brand values were.”
Along with working on his brother-in-law's brand identity came the realization of how mismatched his brand was. Faced with the opportunity to help his brother-in-law secure brand-correct bookings, his advertising knowledge kicked in. His brother-in-law referred a few of his colleagues at the BBC, putting a spotlight on Mark and Gina as new players in England’s talent management industry.
Mark’s knowledge of advertising had secured their business’ entry into a niche market they were set to dominate. With more referrals, they faced a new challenge, that of representing ‘difficult’ brands, most notably Bob Geldof. His earlier radical calls to action cemented a peculiar perception of himself and the causes he supported. It was not until Mark connected with Bob on a personal level that they were certain of the misalignments that affected his brand.
Years later, Bob Geldof had one of the most iconic brands in the lobbyist and philanthropic space. Together with Mark, Bob had successfully drawn support toward numerous wildlife initiatives and charities. At the pinnacle of their work, their lobbying efforts afforded them the audience of Former US President George W. Bush.
As is often the case in natural leaders, the only upside to a brush with challenges in the formative years is the resilience, strong communication, and decision-making skills it yields. But more than that, it is the professional skills and experience one gathers that position them to grab opportunities in business or work. For that reason, extensive experience affords one the foresight to grab emerging opportunities.
For Mark, that foresight culminated in making the best decision for his family. Entrepreneurship affords him time with family and the freedom to travel and take up racing. Whether it is contesting for the Porsche GT3 Cup or clocking a new personal best on the Nürburgring, the journey has been rewarding. But it all starts with building a personal brand strong enough to influence those around you.
Gloria, N. I., Zeaghe, K. Y., Tutu, N. O., Mbe, M., & Ermeco, S. A. (2022). The Nexus between Childhood
Trauma and the Emergence of Leadership. Open Journal of Leadership, 11(4), 335-355.
Petrarca, E. (2023, March 30). Product branding takes a deadpan turn, starring “the.” The Wall Street
Riani, A. (2022, April 25). The Most Important Skill for Startup Founders. Forbes.