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The woman behind it all | A Q&A with CEO Annabell Lebethe

By Creative Feel

The Southern Music Rights Organisation (SAMRO) is Africa’s leading Collective Management Organisation that administers Performing Rights on behalf of composers, authors and publishers. 

SAMRO licenses establishments such as television and radio broadcasters, live music venues, retailers, restaurants, promoters, digital service providers (DSPs) and shopping centres. This ensures royalties are equitably distributed to the correct rights-holders when the member’s music is performed.

Creative Feel decided to find out more about the organisation and the woman leading SAMRO behind the scenes, CEO Annabell Lebethe.

Creative Feel: What does SAMRO do and who are you, as the CEO, representing?
Annabell Lebethe CEO SAMRO

Annabell Lebethe: SAMRO is a member-led organisation that seeks to protect the copyright interests of our members who are composers, authors and publishers. We think that this is a very noble assignment that members have entrusted us with, in that our responsibility is to make sure that members are able to accrue economic benefit from that copyright. We have the responsibility to protect and make sure that any works of members is duly compensated.

As the CEO of SAMRO, I oversee the implementation of strategies and make sure that the organisation is meeting the objectives of a particular strategy as set out by the board. We want to increase our licensing revenue to over R1 billion, optimise our business model, create efficiencies and ensure that our sole source of income is not just from licensing revenue, but looking at other initiatives and projects that could equally increase our members revenue base.

To find out more about the actual woman behind SAMRO, Creative Feel asked the inspirational CEO some rather personal questions.

CF: How did you grow up? Please tell us about your family, your education and your journey to becoming the CEO of SAMRO, a very important and difficult job in South Africa.

AL: I grew up in a typical Soweto household in Mzimhlophe as the third of four siblings. I was fortunate enough at that time to have my parents send me to a multi-racial convent school and I believe that set me off on a good path of life and education. I spent two years in boarding and completed the later part of senior high school in Holy Family College.

Annabell Lebethe CEO SAMRO

My career started out as a town planner, and then moved on to project management in the development management space and research. I got into the arts by purely being at the right place at the right time with the right people. My first ever project in the sector was looking at SMME development in the arts. I never thought it would be the start to a wonderful journey of over 20 years and it has really sustained me to a great extent as an administrator and somebody behind the scenes.

I then went to work for a programme that was in partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture called Create SA focusing on skills development in the arts industry. From there I moved to the Department of Arts, Culture and Recreation. In 2009, I was appointed as the CEO of the National Arts Council. All I knew then was that I wanted to make our organisations, and the sector, work. I wanted to be part of a cohort of black professionals in the arts as administrators who can lead and manage these organisations in a way that is expected. I was and still am really committed to that vision.

Our responsibility is to keep these organisations afloat and to sustain them as we found them and lead them in a better place, letting the creatives do what they do best while we take care of everything else. I was then appointed as the CEO of the Market Theatre Foundation – which was my career highlight and I still find such an honour to have been found worthy of that calling. I also held the position of holding CEO at The Performing Arts Centre of the Free State in Mangaung, in addition to several other leadership roles before I joined SAMRO as CEO.

In 2018, I completed my Masters research in governance in the arts entities. I firmly believe in the importance of adhering to best corporate governance practices to ensure the effective and efficient operation of institutions.

CF: What do you see, at the moment, as your most important task regarding SAMRO? SAMRO has gone through difficult times as we all know and what do you consider needs to be done first?

LB: The most critical task for SAMRO is to continuously strive to improve its service delivery to our members, who are our biggest stakeholders. The other important thing is to ensure that we license all music users and effectively process royalties to our members. We constantly have to be talking about the importance of compliance and what is contained in the Copyright Act. We acknowledge licensees such as broadcasters, restaurants and live venues who are doing right in this regard. However, a significant number of licensees still fail to comply and neglect to pay license fees, thereby violating the rights of our members. It is our duty to ensure that they comply and adhere to the copyright regulations.

We have bigger plans of growing our revenue, we also have to use technology to be more efficient as an organisation. It’s a huge area of focus specifically as it talks to optimising our business model and doing things without incurring additional costs. There is also the impending enactment of the Copyright Amendment Bill as a risk management area of focus for us as an organisation. We are doing all we can to ensure that the legislators and policymakers hear the plight and understand how they would, in essence, be reversing the gains of the past 50 years if they were to proceed with the act and amendments as they are currently proposed.

CF: And privately at the weekend, are you active with sport, hiking or other outdoor activities? Are you busy with cultural activities and enjoying get-togethers at the weekend or are you still working away on a Sunday? Please share with us a typical day in the life of Annabell Lebethe. This is just to share some information about the ‘private’ Annabell who is so much liked and admired!

AL: I am a bit of both actually, I’ve just gotten back into running. I recently attended a concert called the RMB Starlight Classics – which I found truly incredible. I am a mom to a young boy and try as much as I can to balance and protect the time I have with him over weekends. I love reading and I’m also a homebody and see the weekends as a time to rest.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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