Broadcaster Tumi Makgabo: Make a Choice to Influence Others

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Haegwan Kim: What is your definition of success?

Tumi Makgabo: You know I think that’s a very difficult question because success is a little bit of an intangible thing. I think, for a lot of people, they measure it in terms of wealth, and wealth creation, and so on, but I think that’s superficial. In real terms, sometimes people who are successful don’t know they’re successful.

But the reality is that when you’re thinking about what is success, I think if you’re doing something, one, that you enjoy doing, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but something that you enjoy doing, and something that you can do well with a positive result that impacts other people positively, for me then you will have been successful.

Not only are you fulfilling your own need to do something that you enjoy but you’re also allowing yourself to influence other people in a positive way, and I think if we all did that you would be quite successful. And I’m not talking about the monetary issues, because I think that’s a very debatable thing. When you look at somebody like Bernie Madoff who had a lot of money, and now is in jail, you know, is he successful?

HK: Nah. Ok, I got your point. So it’s not about money but it’s about how you influence others in a positive way.

TM: Yes, it’s about influencing others, and I think maybe even, I won’t say inspiring, but hoping other people make positive changes, or decisions, in their own life, because at the end of the day you don’t live in isolation, you live with other people. So I think that becomes very important.

HK: As I said you succeeded in a lot of things as a TV presenter and a broadcaster, so can I ask about what is the key element to be such a great, so-called “successful” presenter?

TM: You know it’s funny because I think whenever you look at people that other people regard as being successful, the qualities that differentiate them from everybody else are not always easy to point out. So, for example, you can say if you want to be successful at business, you have to do well at High School, so that you can get good grades that get you into Harvard. So, you can go to Harvard Business School, and hopefully then you become a very successful businessperson.

And then you look at somebody like Bill Gates who never actually finished College, or you look at somebody like Richard Branson who never actually finished even High School, so I think for me it’s a similar principle that applies to broadcasting, or to anything that people regard as successful when it’s an external view. We all have our internal motivators but when you’re looking from the outside I don’t know that it’s easy to define what it is.

There’re a lot of people who work really, really hard, there’re a lot of people who do a lot of research, there’re a lot of people who put in the hours, and never get to do that. So, what makes a good presenter, I don’t know, I don’t know that I can answer that question.

But, what I would say is that an important characteristic that comes across for most people who are successful in that industry is that they’re very true to who they are, they don’t try to be somebody else. They just are who they are, and they look, and feel really comfortable in their own skin, and I don’t think that that necessarily happens by happenstance.

I think it’s a conscious decision to say, you know what, I can only do what I know how to do, and that’s what I’m going to stick to doing. So, yes, it’s a combination of things, but I suppose if I had to pinpoint one thing it would be that, that you try to be true to who you are, and that usually fixes it I think.

HK: You’ve interviewed prominent people like presidents of the United States, billionaires, artists, entrepreneurs. Since I also do interviews, I’m just wondering what do you most carer about when you interview people?

TM: I’m very much interested in people, not in a sociological context, but what interests me, in my own mind, getting to know what the person is like. And looking beyond that sort of wall, of this is what I’m supposed to be like, because of my position, because of my fame, and my fortune this is what I’m supposed to be like, and trying to get a sense, or a feeling of what the person really is like. So I always approach things as a conversation.

To me an interview is more of a conversation than a list of questions that you have with someone, because when you have that conversation they’ll let you see sides of them, or parts of them, or parts of their personality that sort of slip out, because they’re comfortable, and that’s what really matters to me.

Of course you want to get the facts, of course you want to challenge people, but it’s also, it’s part of the exercise, is to show people a side that they may not readily have seen, and I think that’s really what I try to do.

HK: You have a really unique background as a South African lady, can you tell me pros and cons of that background to be a broadcaster?

TM: I think one of the big challenges, and I don’t think it’s because I’m a South African, I think one of the big challenges that women generally have on the continent is that most countries on the continent are patriarchal. So you’re functioning in the context of a male environment and I think that’s one of the big challenges that we all have.

That’s not a challenge that’s unique to me and I think because of that you have to work harder at defining who you want to be, and that’s not in a superficial context. In other words if I say I just want to be the best Tumi that I can be I have to focus on that, and work, and be true to that, and I have to decide what is Tumi like, and when Tumi’s confronted by a situation that feels very patriarchal, or where she feel constrained, because she’s a woman, she needs to fight that.

And it may mean she doesn’t get work sometimes, or it may mean that people don’t want to engage with her, but she’s still being true to who she is, so I’d say the biggest challenge that you have is that. But, in terms of the pros, you know, I live in Africa, so there’re a lot of pros, and I think one of the biggest pros is that in many ways people… It’s a lot more community driven, not just in the sense that everybody lives in community but people enjoy that socialisation, which I think is wonderful living here.

I’ve had the good fortune to travel to a number of different places and one of the things that one misses about being in South Africa is that feeling of family; you know, even if people aren’t your family you can create your own family fairly easily, because people are so much more outgoing, and so much more open about themselves, and welcoming of you into their lives.

So I think the pros of that is the very fact that I live in this country that’s, it’s a beautiful country, with some amazing people in it. I’m looking out the window today, and the sun is shining, and the weekend, and barbeques are coming up, so… Yes, that’s the pro; the pro is that I live in South Africa.

HK: Many people are now looking forward to seeing a huge development of that beautiful country, especially after the World Cup, can you tell me briefly your perspective on the future of South Africa?

TM: I think the continent has been on the cusp of really defining itself for a number of years and I think that the future has a lot of promise, but as is the case with so many things that have promise it can only materialize, or it can only realise when we actually take ownership of it. I think one of the challenges for many developing countries is that everything we do is done in the context of developed countries.

So the way we behave, the way we eat, our rules, and everything are done in the context of developed countries, and I think that for us we now, with the global economic crises, and so many other things, we really have a unique opportunity to find solutions that work for us on the continent, and to make those things happen in our own way.

You know whether we’re talking about the way we use our natural resources, or the way we deal with our intellectual property, or all of those things, that we really embrace this moment that we have to make our own decisions about how we want to be, and how we want to view, and to be viewed, and how we want our story, or stories, to be told.

The potential is great but potential is only as great as one is willing to maximise it. I think there’re a lot of people who want to do that right now, which is different, perhaps, you know, a few decades, it’s not so much about revolution, but it’s about empowering, and building a continent. We just have to do the hard work of getting there, and it’s hard work, but we’ll get there.

HK: As a final question, can you tell me your general advice to be successful?

TM: You know it sounds very clichéd but it’s a couple of things. At first you have to believe; you have to believe in your ability and in your inner strength to achieve the things that you want to achieve. So when I say believe I don’t mean think you’re better than everybody else, but think, for example, here’s a good idea, and I can work hard to make this real. So I think that’s one thing, so you have to believe.

Number two; you have to do the work. Without the work it’s not going to happen. And the third thing is don’t forget to bring other people along with you on your journey, because it can get lonely sometimes, and also it allows you to spread that knowledge, and to help to make things better. So the three things for success is that you have to believe, you have to do the work, and you have to bring others along with you as best you can.

Tumi Makgabo is a broadcaster and was an anchor at CNN International.

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