Why Superbalist's Head of Brand is walking away from a good thing (and what you can learn from it)
By Klyne Maharaj | Photographs: Nick Gordon
Meetings make my existentialism flare up. I sit there thinking about the fact that we're these intelligent apes hurtling through space on a giant rock, and wonder how, with the infinite possibilities that exist, I ended up in a room full of people hellbent on wasting their own time. But there was a meeting I attended in the first three months of my career that actually had a profound impact on my life.
Fresh out of university and inexperienced, I found myself as a Suit at one of the countries leading advertising agencies sitting across from our new Client in a briefing. He was the co-CEO of a relatively small online retailer which had gained a cult following, virtually overnight. He told us about his company, Superbalist, while I forced composure and tried my best not to fanboy. He sat there cooly in a Patta tee and a pair of 'Oreo' Flyknit Racers, looking far too young and casually dressed to be an executive. I wasn't used to seeing CEOs in streetwear. I felt like I was catching a glimpse of one of these famed tech-startup unicorns I'd only read about up until then, and just being in his vicinity peeled my eyes open to a world I immediately knew I needed to be a part of.
A little over a year later, I had the surreal privilege of becoming the Marketing Manager of that company.
Melodramatic? Absolutely not. Put yourself in my shoes: a 24-year-old with roughly one year of work experience, suddenly being thrust into a management role at a dream-company. To many I was in an enviable position. It didn't feel real.
I joined the company and quickly learned that all things move unthinkably fast here. In my time at Superbalist I got to roll out 19 TV commercials, four radio campaigns, headline sponsor the county's biggest music festival Rocking the Daisies, win six Bookmarks, a Loerie and 'Niche Retailer of the Year'. I guest lectured for Meltwater and WGSN, represented the company in London at the international marketing conference FUTR, worked with some of SAs most influential young creatives and had tea at Riky Rick's house. There were three Black Fridays, interviews with media titles from Business Insider to 5FM. We merged with our biggest competitor. The guy writing this barely recognises the kid who was in that meeting a few years earlier. I'm proud to say, the kid in that meeting would be impressed with the guy writing this.
It's been the job of a lifetime. So I'm quitting.
Indians arrived in South Africa as slaves – or 'indentured labourers', if euphemisms are your thing – 158 years ago. As the 4th generation in that ancestry, my parents also came from humble beginnings. My mom grew up in a Hindu temple in Seacow Lake, Durban, in a religious family of pundits, while my dad grew up in what was formerly an Indian "group-area" during Apartheid, Chatsworth. But I grew up nothing like that. I am privileged in every sense of the word (except for, well, the obvious one).
Why? Because like so many POC South Africans who grew up within that context, my parents had an ambition of breaking out and finding more for themselves and their families. My dad took the nothing he inherited and went on to build the country's biggest independent kitchen company. No handouts, just hustle. That business gave my brother and I everything we could've asked for, and everything my parents didn't have themselves: world-class high school and university educations, a home in a leafy suburb and the opportunity to see the world.
That former client and current boss of mine? Him and his business partner took a gamble when they were exactly my age too. They left good jobs with clear career paths to chase down something more and build a legacy for themselves: Superbalist. For the second time in my short life I got to watch a business grow from a seedling to a major enterprise, only this time I got to be a part of that growth.
One of the less obvious – but equally important – determining factors of success in so many people's lives is mentorship. In spite of my decent career head-start I could still easily screw this all up, but I've been lucky to have mentors invest their time in me throughout my life and career. Through the mentorship of my dad and Luke in particular, I've been given a lay-up in life, and a constant reminder that there can be more should you seek it. Sometimes you just have to stick your neck out.
So I'm quitting my dream job and joining the family businesses to build on my dad's legacy and forge one of my own. It's not all rose-tinted glasses: the thought of my dad, brother and I building the next era of the business is daunting as much as is it's exciting, but like author Chuck Klosterman says "It doesn't matter what you can do if you don't know why you're doing it." And I know exactly why I'm doing this.