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LEARNING CURVE | Ad agency guru dreams of visionary Tower of Light project for Bay

Monument to late Nelson Mandela can be catalyst for something much bigger for region, says Bill Stephens

Former ad agency director Bill Stephens is an executive consultant for M&C Saatchi Abel, which is involved in the Bay's Tower of Light project
PASSION FIRST: Former ad agency director Bill Stephens is an executive consultant for M&C Saatchi Abel, which is involved in the Bay's Tower of Light project

Bill Stephens, an executive public relations  consultant for top advertising agency M&C Saatchi Abel, is Eastern Cape born and bred.

He is involved, through the agency, in the 27m Tower of Light project planned for St George’s Park in Gqeberha to honour the late Nelson Mandela.


I was born, bred and educated in the Eastern Cape.

My first job was with Ford Motor Company in human resources.

I then moved into marketing before joining Ford’s ad agency — De Villiers and Schonfeldt, and took my young family out of PE (Gqeberha) and off to Cape Town, where I joined the hot shop ad agency Rightford Searle-Tripp and Makin as an account director on the Volkswagen business.

In so doing, I kept my ties with the Eastern Cape through my involvement with VW.

The next 14 years were without doubt the most exciting and stimulating of my career.

I worked with an incredible team of people with the absolute obsession and commitment to produce the most creative and effective advertising of the time.

Our work on VW, Dunlop Tyres, All Gold Tomato Sauce, Lion Matches, Jungle Oats, Redro fish paste, IBM and many other iconic brands won awards, built brands and people’s careers. Importantly, we had fun.

I became a director of RS-TM, which was eventually bought out by the Ogilvy Group.

In 1993, Volkswagen offered me the job heading up sales and marketing, so we returned to our roots in the Eastern Cape.

The VW brand and the Eastern Cape are deeply rooted in our lives. And remain so despite, after retiring from VW 18 happy and rewarding years later, moving back to Cape Town, where we live today.

The next chapter:

Mike Abel and I go back many years — in fact I employed Mike when he joined Ogilvy in the early ’90s.

He and his fellow founders of M&C Saatchi Abel had just opened their doors for business when we arrived back in Cape Town to “retire”. 

Mike invited me to join his exciting new agency as an executive consultant — and 12 years on, I am fortunate to continue sharing in the growth and evolvement of M&C Saatchi Abel into one of the leading and most dynamic communications agency groups on the continent.

I love their obsession and commitment to constantly seek creative solutions to marketing, societal, environmental or intricate business problems.

Like me, Mike is deeply rooted to the Eastern Cape, and Nelson Mandela Bay in particular. 

The Tower of Light:

M&C Saatchi Abel saw the need to help the Nelson Mandela Bay metro inject new energy and life into the region.

With the help of some equally committed Eastern Cape-based collaborators and partners, The Tower of Light concept was born.

From the get-go, I loved the concept. It was typical of the M&C Saatchi Abel approach to problem-solving.

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro bears the name of one of the world’s greatest leaders.

The metro needs to reflect this great man’s legacy.

St George’s Park needs to be restored to its former beauty — a safe and accessible recreational space for all the residents of the metro and, importantly, visitors to this historic part of SA.  

The Tower of Light has the potential to be the catalyst to something much bigger than a new metro landmark.

We need to get all the metro’s residents to get behind the initiative and take ownership of this visionary project.

That’s the challenge we now face. With the full support and backing of the Bay’s residents, funding will follow. Of that I’m certain.

Life’s Lessons: 

My journey to date has been a typical one of trial and error. But what I have learnt is that without positivity, nothing can be achieved — whether in business or in personal day-to-day life.

Add a big dose of passion and commitment and it’s incredible how barriers can be broken down — no matter how challenging they might seem.

My best advice to any young school-leaver is to follow your passion. Believe in yourself.

Be determined to be the best at whatever career path you follow — whether as a plumber, teacher, builder, mechanic, nurse or doctor.

Set a personal goal to be exceptional in whatever direction you follow. Inner happiness and success will follow.

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro needs to start believing in itself and set an ambitious goal to become the sought-after place in our beautiful country. And a desirable region for the millions of visitors to  its shores.

The metro has many great schools, one of the country’s best universities, established industries, a magnificent coastline and hinterland, a great climate and wonderful people.

All this needs to be harnessed and packaged with pride and ambition.

The Tower of Light could be the catalyst towards achieving this ambition. 



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