by Herman Manson (@marklives) Today we reveal which agency leaders were most-admired by their peers in South Africa during 2016.

Every year since 2012, MarkLives has been polling South Africa’s top agency leaders to find out what they think of their competitors, whom they see as effective managers and great creative leaders, and where they believe their future competition is likely to come from. First we announced the 2016 regional results from Cape Town, and last week we announced the 2016 regional results from Johannesburg. This week is dedicated to national results.

2016 regional polls recap

  • Cape Town: For 2016, James Barty, King James Group co-founder and CEO, has been voted as the most-respected agency boss by his Cape Town peers; Mike Abel from M&C Saatchi Abel is our runner-up.
  • Johannesburg: Here it’s Brett Morris, GCEO & GCCO of FCB Africa, with Gareth Leck, Joe Public United CEO, as runner-up. Our contender for 2016 was AVATAR CEO Zibusiso Mkhwanazi.


The most-admired agency boss in South Africa

Brett Morris October 2016 by by Jeremy Glyn.Brett Morris
Group CEO & group CCO
FCB Africa

It’s the second time in three years that Morris has emerged as the most-admired agency boss in the country, taking the most nominations in our poll by a comfortable margin.

During the course of 2016, the agency which he leads, FCB Africa, announced a major empowerment deal, making it majority black-owned for the first time; his agency landed the sought-after Barclays Africa Group consumer advertising account; and Ahmed Tilly, the co-founder of Black River FC, was headhunted as joint chief creative officer, alongside Jonathan Deeb. He was also the 2016 FM AdFocus Industry Leader of the Year.


In 2015, James Barty, co-founder and chief executive of King James Group, emerged as our most-admired agency leader for South Africa. In 2014, Gareth Leck (Joe Public United) and Morris tied for joint honours. In 2013, it was Gavin Levinsohn, ex-MD of Ogilvy Cape Town. In 2012, our inaugural poll, it was Barty.


The runner-up

James BartyJames Barty
Co-founder & chief executive
King James Group

Barty emerged as our most-admired agency boss in Cape Town and is the runner-up in our national poll. King James Group picked up the giant Pick n Pay account in early 2016. The group has grown by 34% (GP/revenue) vs last year (only sixth months of PnP revenue).


In 2015, Gareth Leck (Joe Public United) tied with Mike Abel (M&C Saatchi Abel). In 2014, the runner-up was Barty. Leck was the runner-up both in 2012 and 2013.



The contenders (tied)

Zibusiso Mkhwanazi

Mike Abel

Zibusiso Mkhwanazi
CEO & co-founder

Mike Abel
Co-founder & CE partner
M&C Saatchi Abel

AVATAR CEO, Zibusiso Mkhwanazi, emerged as a contender in our national poll. In 2016, revenue growth exceeded 100% and the agency head-count now stands at 69.

In January 2017, it was announced that Mkhwanazi and Ngubane had acquired a significant minority stake in M&C Saatchi’s South African agency network. This has allowed M&C Saatchi PLC to acquire a 20% stake in AVATAR from Avatar Investment Holdings.

Mike Abel should have had a terrible year when his agency lost the giant Edcon account, but he and his team turned things around when it took Sun International,, Lancewood Cheese, Twinsaver and additional work from Heineken (including launching Strongbow into the SA market).

Abel was also instrumental in the deal, announced in January 2017, for Avatar Investment Holdings, owned by Zibusiso Mkhwanazi and Veli Ngubane, to acquire a significant minority stake in M&C Saatchi’s SA agency network. This has allowed M&C Saatchi PLC to acquire a 20% stake in AVATAR from Avatar Investment Holdings.


In 2015, the contenders were Graham Warsop, founder and chairman of The Jupiter Drawing Room and Le Patron of Utopia; Charl Thom, CEO of FoxP2 Group; and Ahmed Tilly, ECD of Black River FC.


How the poll works

Towards the end of 2016, South Africa’s agency leaders were invited to nominate their most-admired agency in SA, the most-admired creative leader in SA and the most-admired agency boss in SA. We also asked them which agency did the best at digital integration and which agency they saw as the one to watch in the future. Nobody could nominate his or her own agency or staff members. All the nominations were then tallied up for the final result. The editors of MarkLives had a single vote in the poll. The most admired agency of the year is disqualified from the One to Watch category; votes cast in its favour in this category is discarded.

Note: Runner-up(s) will only be named if they achieved a good nomination tally relative to the winner’s position. Contenders are named if they stood out significantly above other nominees, but weren’t able to close in on the winner’s tally.

See previous poll results for South Africa:


Herman MansonHerman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of

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