Could you talk a bit about the history of Embassy Direct, and how it all started eight years ago?
I certainly have enjoyed the road that Embassy Direct has taken.
If I look at where Embassy Direct stands today and where it originated from, various conversations and certain occurrences stand out. There were a few factors that led to the start of Embassy Direct: a conversation with Eugene Kruger who compiles the magazine, and quite an amusing occurrence around Chihuahuas which I’ve shared many times.
I was looking after a Princess and an Ambassador’s wife in our VIP travel business, and we were tasked with securing a penthouse, Persian rug, helicopter transport, and two Chihuahuas. I just remember thinking that there was no way to derive revenue from this Chihuahua acquisition, and also the relevance of having an important network to call on when our VVIP international travellers are in the country. Things from visas to Chihuahuas – there’s such a diverse need. At that moment, I would say, Embassy Direct was born. And then, down the line, Eugene and I would have conversations about an Ambassador’s Handbook, an essential little book of numbers that any ambassador in the country should have. That has progressed over time to not only ambassadors but the diplomatic and the corporate expatriate community as well.
With this growth in mind, do you feel like the fundamentals of Embassy Direct are being upheld according to your expectations?
I would say that we still have quite a way to go, in terms of matching the standards we have set ourselves. In some ways, we are behind, and in some, we are exceeding.
What continues to surprise me is the need for quality services providers. In servicing this international VIP market and engaging with their embassies, we found that many of these same travellers ended up investing in the country, buying in South Africa, expanding into the region.
Embassy Direct has developed to the point that we have goals for the future that would connect the diplomatic and corporate expatriate community across the continent. I guess down the line we could look at the globe – it’s not impossible – but certainly on the African continent. This is what we know, and where we know – for now. When we get people travelling into Johannesburg or Cape Town, that’s one thing; Harare might be different, Swakopmund too – but when you start to head to Kinshasa and further afield, as people basically know less about a region and seek quality information, so we become more pertinent. Matching that expectation would be delivering quality service providers, and we certainly are doing that.
Your latest editions place an emphasis on content with more interviews, more culture. You approach various Heads of Mission for that purpose, could you elaborate why?
Firstly, I think we are really blessed as a nation, and other nations are blessed in the same way, in that we have amazing people here, in the country, from abroad. They are our focus. It’s always fascinating to learn about the road that they have walked, and what they are bringing to South Africa. These people then go out and become global brand ambassadors for Brand South Africa. So part of our mission, if you will, is to help shape that brand, to learn from these Heads of Mission and to influence them, to plant seeds as well. It is a resource that is on our doorstep, and a door into a country on the other side of the world. A lot are right here in Pretoria.
We aim to expand to learn more about their countries, about how their cultures influence our cultures here and about South Africans going over there. There really are just so many layers, from tourism to macro- and microeconomic policies. As you said in one of the interviews, you realise how small the globe is in the modern world. It’s really fascinating, and I would encourage everyone to look closely into these interviews.
As a businessman going into the publishing world, would Ron Mackenzie consider himself a media mogul in the making? (Laughs)
I was asked that question yesterday, so now my brain is starting to think there might be something to this.
That wasn’t the plan when we set out, and I go back to the conversation I referred to with Eugene, probably about eight years ago at the Mugg & Bean in Midrand, when we were talking about this little black book. There is no doubt that our publication has the potential to grow – that’s exciting! It wasn’t really a goal that we had set out in the beginning.
Normally when I have had an endeavour in the business world, after a few short years it has either made it or it has not. We are going into year eight of Embassy Direct, and we’re still growing incrementally, with positive, authentic, real growth.
I would definitely say we have not yet realised where we are still to go, there’s a lot of growth still to come on that road. Maybe one day we can look back to this conversation, and we’ll find out if that became a reality or not.
Lastly, Ron, we know that you are dedicated to all sorts of activities in the business arena. Nevertheless, something that I personally admire about you is that you are a family man. How do you combine a businessman with family-man?
That’s a good question, sir, and I think my wife would enjoy listening to this answer. As a dad of four children, and a husband, and a son, I think we know the different roles we have within our families, and I would encourage everyone to identify that your family needs to come above business.
You need your business to feed your family, it’s essential, but not at the cost of neglecting relationships. I would say part of a message that I feel is a bit lost in the world today, is that there is nothing wrong with working hard to get something. There is sometimes a negative sentiment around having to work hard, in a relationship as a dad, or a mom, a husband, or a wife – but there’s nothing wrong with hard work, and if you put a lot of effort into being a good parent, you’re still going to have challenges, but you’re going to increase your chances of succeeding.
So, on a personal front, my family is all-important to me, and I try to include them on our road of failures and successes – often more failures than successes, but we learn from them as a family.