Gavin Rajah is a creative force with a multidisciplinary career as a designer, award-winning entrepreneur and event planner. He says fairness, equality and finding a balance of commercial success and empowering his team are the foundation of his work.
The role of a leader, he adds, isn’t just steering the business towards success and progress. “It’s not fabulous to progress in business while your staff haven’t progressed in their own lives.”
As a result, he is “big” on mentorship and bigger on empowering them to make decisions — these aren’t always necessarily the right ones, but they offer valuable lessons.
“One has to be fair all-around and embrace each of your staff members’ concerns, dreams and ambitions because they are valid,” Rajah adds. “As a person who has a business and who is in a position of privilege, one has to be accountable for one’s fellow citizens.”
The accountability works in two ways: by empowering smaller businesses and individual entrepreneurs, as well as giving back to the community.
He has supported old age homes, creches, clinics and “any kind of cause” that resonates with him and his team, and where they can lend a much needed helping hand.
“My staff is very involved in everything I do. The culture of taking care of people is very entrenched in my business. As colleagues we might disagree with one another but the one thing we share is a common purpose for creating a better community, we want to improve people’s lives, we support many institutes in Cape Town.”
Rajah’s career has seen him work with some of the most influential people in South Africa and the world, including Nelson Mandela.
“Very early in my career I was very privileged and honoured to work with Madiba on many things, including the launch of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Later on, I was also involved with auctions which raised a lot of money for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund,” he recalls. “I learned from this, no matter what, you have got to remain true to your belief. I was starting in this business when nobody wanted to give you a chance as a person of colour but sooner or later, you have to make your own kind of music when no-one else wants to listen. Sooner or later they will listen because you’re consistent and constantly delivering.”
Rajah has fond memories of Madiba. However, it’s the great leader’s ability to inspire those around him and his kindness.
“There was also a sense of compassion and fighting for the underdog, and I have always been doing that. I’m quite often mistaken for being super arrogant because I speak out about things, but I speak out because I really believe in it. And if you look at it, that’s what Madiba did. Why did he sacrifice all that time on Robben Island, because he stood up for something he really believed in?”