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SA's digital footprint traces back to pioneer, Jason Xenopoulos

4 June 2019 6:05 PM
As one of the founding fathers of internet businesses in South Africa, Jason Xenopoulos’ digital rap sheet is longer than most.

RMB Solutionist Thinking is a podcast series hosted by Bruce Whitfield which focusses on great South African minds thinking differently and going against the norm. In this episode in the second series, Whitfield interviews Jason Xenopoulos, Chief Vision Officer and CEO for New York City at VMLY&R.

Some of the work that's emerging from South Africa… it is clearly the exploding identity and voice of a people or a culture that has been suppressed for many many years and is now… kind of finding its way and, I think that there’s something incredibly vibrant and vital about that.

Growing up with a successful businessman for a father, Jason Xenopoulos perceived the world of business to be quite a boring one. He was determined to follow a different path — as a filmmaker — and, for a short while, it seemed to be happening.

Jason had spent four years studying film and television at New York University and returned to South Africa to make a film but, when it proved almost impossible to secure funding, out of sheer desperation, he packed the script away and co-founded VWV Interactive, one of South Africa's first internet business.

At the time that the internet was really becoming mainstream, the world wide web had just been sort of popularized and that triggered a complete change in the way brands communicate with consumers, in the way media companies take content to audiences.

Jason Xenopoulos, Chief Vision Officer and CEO for New York City – VMLY&R

The business was an unexpected success and within 18 months, part of it was sold to Primedia, where Jason went on to become Chief Executive. A year later — at the tender age of 28, Jason launched and listed Metropolis Transactive and became the youngest Chief Executive of a JSE-listed company, with shares quadrupling in value over night.

While it might have seemed to others that he had successfully fulfilled his life's ambition, the constant, sobering reminder of an abandoned dream didn't quite make Jason feel like much of a success.

So, when Metropolis went bust — Jason pulled out the script and dusted it off to make the critically acclaimed Promise Land and for the next 10 years, he pursued his film career.

I've started to be a little more philosophical about these things and realised that, when something doesn't go the way you planned it often opens up another door.

Jason Xenopoulos, Chief Vision Officer and CEO for New York City – VMLY&R

His passion soon led to the merger between three specialist agencies — a convergence of advertising, entertainment, digital and traditional — giving birth to Native, which then became part of the VML network and was named Entertainment Agency of the Year at Cannes.

These days, Jason navigates the New York environment as a creative South African at VMLY&R in his official title, Chief Vision Officer. The role involves building and developing the new positioning of the New York office into an agency that is capable of being at the forefront of where marketing and communication is going.

But, while the digital pioneer is making a big impact around the world, his heart remains in South Africa.

There is a cultural renaissance, a kind of creative revolution that's happening in Africa that I haven't witnessed anywhere else in the world.

Jason Xenopoulos, Chief Vision Officer and CEO for New York City – VMLY&R

4 June 2019 6:05 PM

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