CHRISTINA Watson is the CEO of educational publisher Via Afrika Publishers. She tells Margaret Harris she loved being a teacher — for the four months she worked as one — but when an opportunity presented itself for her to join the world of educational publishing, she jumped
What does your job involve?
My biggest responsibility is enabling my colleagues to do optimally what is required of them. In line with this, a lot of my time goes into anticipating potential problems and obstacles and ensuring that we are ready to deal with them.
To be part of a fully functional and focused team, it is important for me to spend a lot of time with everyone in the company ensuring that we are all heading towards the goals that we have set for ourselves. It is also crucial for me to stay abreast of developments in the market to ensure that we are always one step ahead of our competitors.
You started your career as a teacher. How did you end up in publishing?
Well, to be fair, I only taught for four months and I enjoyed every minute of it. An opportunity came up for me to join a publishing company and I thought it would suit me well. I never really planned it — I was in the right place at the right time and grabbed the opportunity.
What are some of the biggest challenges that face educational publishers in South Africa?
We all know how extremely important a good education for our children is. It affects all our lives and is setting the scene in which our country will perform in years to come.
Educational publishers have the opportunity to present a given curriculum to pupils in an accessible and digestible format. In a country as diverse as ours, it is challenging to ensure that each pupil is addressed in a way that speaks to him or her to ensure that nobody is left behind. We can motivate and encourage children to be the best they can ever be. To be successful in that is surely our biggest and most important challenge.
What would you do to solve the country’s education crisis if you were our minister of education?
I would investigate initiatives in countries such as Thailand, Turkey and Uruguay where they intend to provide all textbooks electronically on tablets or laptops, because I believe this would alleviate a great deal of the distribution problems as well as cost issues in the long run that we suffer.
At Via Afrika Publishers we have already been working in this space through the company’s digital arm, Via Afrika Future, which has been spearheading educational digital innovations that accompany the traditional Via Afrika offerings.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be many things — an archaeologist because I loved things from the past; a nurse because I wanted to make people feel better; a lawyer because fairness and human rights were important to me; and a civil engineer because I have a thing for a beautifully designed and constructed bridge.
Why do you love your job?
It allows me the opportunity to bring all my childhood dreams together. I can learn from past best practices and apply them in the workplace; I can nurture and guide employees; I can ensure that all human rights are being protected in a spirit of fairness; and I can build bridges between people and between pupils and their future.
What would you like to change about your industry?
I think our industry should be more representative of South Africa’s diverse population. It is still a career choice of predominantly women from minority groups. We need to encourage all pupils to consider this as a career opportunity, especially because the products we put in the market are used across all sectors of the population.
What would you do if you could not do this job?
I think I could do anything that presents an opportunity to me. One of my greatest strengths is being adaptable and able to embrace change. Nothing lasts forever, so who knows what I might be doing five years from now.
What qualifications do you have and how do they help you to do your job?
I have a degree in languages, history and education. This equipped me well to move through the ranks of educational publishing. I also have an MBA, which gave me the all-important insight into what is required to be successful.
What qualities do you need to do this job?
A sense of humour is crucial in whatever you do. The ability to change quickly, because the world in which you operate changes. Other qualities include commitment, the ability to motivate people, having agile decision-making skills, being a risk-taker, the ability to take a long view of things and knowing when to push and when to give up.
This article was first published in the 20 July edition of the Sunday Times: Business Times & republished on BDLive.co.za