Knight Ganje (Botswana): high school dropout builds pan-African ad agency

5/15/2018 1:17:01 PM

Twelve years after dropping out of high school in Zimbabwe, Knight Ganje (30) has built himself a new life in Botswana. Today, he is the proud Group Managing Director of H&G Advertising Group, Africa’s fastest growing ad agency, with offices and subsidiaries in 18 African countries. Club Africa spoke with the young serial entrepreneur who advises global brands like Samsung, Amka, Unilever, and Coca Cola about their advertising on the continent.

In a way, Knight Ganje still has not returned home from a week’s trip he took with a friend in his final high school year. “I asked my mom if I could go with him, she said fine. Later, I called her again to tell her I was planning to stay for six more months.” While Zimbabwe was experiencing economic downturns and political turmoil, Knight Ganje discovered Botswana as a land of promise: a stable country, with a well-functioning economy with opportunities that appealed to the teenager.

Two minutes with the CEO

A friend of a friend allowed him to stay at his home in Gaborone for a few extra months, but expected some pay in return. “I did some ‘piece jobs’, home painting and other activities, to make money. “The person I was painting windows for was happy with the work I had done. He told me he owned a milk company and asked me if I could help him there. My response was “I can do anything. As luck would have it, he asked me to do marketing-related work. I got to do merchandise in stores. That is how it all started.”

H&G’s first client was the local ShopRite supermarket. “When I finally got the two minutes I had requested for with the CEO, I had my pitch ready. Twelve years down the road, ShopRite still is one of my most loyal customers. We started doing media buying from them and now we assist them with store opening different countries.”

Learning-by-doing

After twelve years and a lot of learning-by-doing, the enterprise Knight Ganje built has grown at high pace. With offices in 18 countries and with 200 staff (and 2,000 temp staff in peak activation periods), H&G Advertising Group has developed in a sensational way. Building on H&G’s motto, as Knight Ganje explains, is ‘the impact of one’, the companies offers the services of almost a dozen specialised agencies under one group of companies. For example: H&G advertising does media buying and strategy; H&G Activations does brand launches, in-store activations; H&G Out Door owns billboard sites across Africa.

H&G also acquired successful businesses like Pro Brand in South Africa, that supplies brand promotional materials such as banners, T-shirts, caps, banners and gifts. With all of its activities, H&G operates in countries such as Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Knowing local markets

What makes Knight Ganje’s approach successful? “First of all, we deliver on our promises. Second: we know what we are doing. We know the local market from our own experience. We know Africa’s diverse audiences and get results that translate into good references from out clients. We do so well in many markets, that even global ad agencies – in a way: our competitors – hire us to do the work on the ground for them. In our industry it is important to respect people in each country we operate in. This means as a company we should invest in research to understand the culture that is different in each country. We need  to know about this to be able to offer solutions that will deliver results for our clients.”

H&G’s most recent success is securing an pan-African contract for the sales of TV-ads on Africa’s popular DSTV Media Sales network, the largest pay-TV provider in the continent. “Since June 2017, we are the exclusive sales agency for this network across Africa. I am very proud of this success. We It is not only another milestone for H&G, its also brings great packages for TV promo’s with large audiences to businesses in all of Africa. The deal is big for our clients and all brands that want to reach millions people on this great platform.”

An entrepreneur since day one

Knight Ganje is proud to be heading the successful enterprise. “I think I was an entrepreneur from day one. As a teenager, I made money fixing cars. In Botswana, I shifted from painting to advertising to media buying media and strategy. What I do is what many Africans do – be it on a different scale.”

Will Knight Ganje ever return to Zimbabwe? “We do have an office there, but our head office will remain in Botswana. I am hopeful about the new road that Zimbabwe has taken. I will monitor the improvements in Zim for a few more months, before deciding to step up our operation there.”

Even a healthy company like H&G Advertising Group has it challenges. Knight Ganje mentions funding growth, the quality of high-speed internet in some of the regions H&G Advertising operates in, air travel between African countries and finding staff with the right skills. Nevertheless, the entrepreneur is confident African economies will fuel further growth of his company to become a truly African enterprise. “And eventually, a global enterprise, with an office in London.”

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