Meet the Boss: Trevor Ncube, chairman, Alpha Media Holdings

Trevor Ncube

1. What part of your job keeps you awake at night?

We are in a period of expanding our businesses in preparation for what we think will be a better economic and political environment in Zimbabwe. So capital raising is my major preoccupation at the moment. Selecting partners and investors who buy into our vision is not an easy thing.

2. Name three traits required to survive in this role.

You have to lead from the front and behind, depending on the issues being dealt with. You have to be a good listener at all times because almost every member of the team has a contribution to make regarding the fortunes of the company. Solicit views and opinions from the driver, cleaner and messenger in addition to all the formal meetings and management structures that exist. Speak words of encouragement to all around you as this lifts the energy levels of the people around you. But hold people to account if they fail to meet agreed targets.

3. What is the biggest misconception about your job?

Many people think that l have a say in what gets published in our newspapers and all our online and digital platforms. Nothing could be further from the truth. I read our newspapers just like all members of the public when they have been published and are on the streets. We have created additional structures to ensure the integrity of our brands and the independence of our journalists. We have created an independent editorial advisory board composed of respected citizens to further protect our brands and journalists from the undue influence of shareholders, advertisers and politicians. Seven years ago we introduced a public ombudsman to help members of the public resolve complaints they have with our editorial content and our journalists. The ombudsman is a senior retired judge.

4. Who has had the greatest impact on your career?

The late Elias Rusike who used to be a publisher in Zimbabwe had the greatest influence in my career. He hired me to edit one of Zimbabwe’s leading newspapers when l had no journalism experience or education. He was impressed by my role in anchoring a prime television programme in Zimbabwe. In seven years as assistant editor and then executive editor of The Financial Gazette I made a name for myself in the industry. Mr Rusike then fired me in 1995 after a disagreement over the tough stance l took against Robert Mugabe’s autocratic rule. Being fired was the best thing to happen to me. It changed the trajectory of my life and forced me to go into business. I became the founding editor and shareholder of the company that l now own and have since expanded.

5. What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

That l must be authentic and consistent in who l am and what l do. Building a personal brand and reputation is a lifelong enterprise.

6. The top reason for your professional success?

I make an effort to surround myself with talented and professional people. People who are far better than me in intellect and judgement. I then give them space and the freedom to do what they enjoy. In so doing these professionals and talented people help me shine. I am never the brightest person in the room.

7. How do you relax?

I love reading books as a way of growing myself and relaxing. I have taken to adult colouring, which l have found to be an excellent way of calming down and listening to myself think. I read the Bible almost every morning and meditate. I walk as a form of physical exercise and relaxing. I also go to the gym about three times a week. My wife and l enjoy listening to music and drinking beautiful wine.

8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?

I am up at 4:30 am every weekday morning to go to the gym or walk. I then read my Bible and meditate. These are important rituals that get me ready for the day. So my day starts very early but l am only in the office at 9:30 am.

9. Your favourite job interview question?

What are you passionate about?

10. The biggest perk of your job?

Seeing our editorial content and our journalists shape public opinion for the good of the country. I love seeing our journalism shaping the national narrative and getting the nation to talk about uncomfortable things.

11. In addition to your own industry, name one untapped business opportunity in Africa.

I think that technology is yet to have a huge impact on the African economy particularly around agriculture, food production and distribution. You can’t go wrong with food, particularly if technology helps efficiencies and distribution costs.

Zimbabwean entrepreneur and newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube is the chairman of Alpha Media Holdings (AMH), and was the previous majority shareholder of South African publication Mail & Guardian. AMH, a company he co-founded 19 years ago, is based in Zimbabwe and owns four newspaper titles namely NewsDay, Southern Eye, The Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard.