Born in Mdantsane, schooled in Cape Town and making waves in Johannesburg – Xolisa Dyeshana is a man with an inspiring story to tell. By following his penchant for all things artistic and his passion for creativity, he has gone from working as a call centre agent to becoming the executive Creative Director at Joe Public, one of South Africa’s largest independent advertising agencies.

The youngest of eight siblings, the 36 year-old comes from humble beginnings where money was a rarity. In 1991, when South African schools opened up to all races, Xolisa was fortunate to attend Selbourne College. “Going to Selbourne made a huge difference. It meant I could take art as a subject, which allowed me freedom to explore my creative side.”

He admits that after matric, he wasn’t particularly sure about what he wanted to do for a living. “I knew that I wanted to do something that has to do with art, but I knew I had to make money too”. I found out that in advertising you could explore your artistic capabilities, but also make money”. Unable to afford expensive advertising schools like AAA and Vega – Xolisa left for Cape Town to study Graphic Design at Peninsula Technikon on a student loan. Whilst doing his thesis in his fourth year of study, he realised he enjoyed writing more than he did design and he took the bold step to change his course from graphic design to copywriting.

“When I completed studying, I struggled to find a job. It didn’t make sense to me because I always did well at school. Eventually I started working at a call centre and worked there for a year.” He describes the day he received the call for an interview as unforgetabble. FCB was the biggest advertising group in South Africa at the time. “I had studied graphic design but was applying for a copywriting job. I had to convince management that I was more than capable of writing and conceptualising and literally pleaded with the MD of FCB for the job”. Xolisa describes the interview as his “Pursuit of Happiness” moment comparable to the movie.

Xolisa has gone on to achieve many great things since. An Executive Creative Director at Joe Public, he was the Chairperson of the Loerie awards for two years, he sits on the Creative Circle Exco and has judged numerous advertising award shows including the Assegai Awards, The Cannes International Advertising Festival and the Loeries.

His passion for advertising and the creative industry is matched only by his passion for people. A firm believer in the empowerment of people and social change in South Africa, his biggest hope for the country is that we can be led by a more definitive vision and purpose. “We need to inspire ourselves. We need to get out of this space that the world owes us something.

I believe that there are many nations that come from situations that were not necessarily fair, but I don’t believe it’s how you start that matters, it’s about how you finish. My hope is that young South Africans approach their lives with absolute brim and fire. Find something, focus on it, be good at it and ultimately sell that as your commodity.”

Xolisa also shares strong sentiments on Transformation within the advertising industry. “To me transformation means survival. No industry can survive if the people that are in it are not reflective of the people that it serves.” “I sit on some of the top bodies in advertising and for me the agenda is clear; it is a transformation agenda. It is the industry’s responsibility to encourage transformation, but we need government to get involved. We need the private sector to get involved, where clients are also forcing the agencies to transform. I am actively involved in these efforts.” Xolisa has achieved astounding feats in his career. However in his view, it’s just the beginning. One of his favourite life mantras is one that he wrote himself. It reads. “The only way to do the impossible is to start.”

Salute to the great achievers.



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