Picture Tree Branches Out

When we heard that Picture Tree was becoming 51% Black-owned by increasing shareholding from 26%, we were suspicious. They already have a good BEE rating, so why change? We needed answers. This was a job for Nancy Drew, unfortunately she wasn’t available, so we stepped in. What we found was a beautiful story…

Everyone in the industry knows Picture Tree. They’ve been around longer than a Loeries hangover. Over the past 21 years the company has seen Gary King at the helm as Executive Producer. Gary has now decided to share the majority of his company with his employees. A producer with a heart or a mad man? We met with him at a coffee shop with a lovely view of a small parking lot surrounded by face brick…you guessed it, we’re in Joburg!

What is Gary Thinking?!

Sharing the majority of your company if you already have a good BEE rating seems like crazy talk for most business owners, but for Gary it makes total sense. When transformation was first discussed within the CPASA (Commercial Producers Association of South Africa) over a decade ago, Gary identified the importance of this kind of change within his own company and immediately took action.
One of the first moves he made was signing over 26% of Picture Tree to a Black Employees Trust and the company is now ready for the next step. Gary: ‘It has become time for me to share more of the responsibility and therefore more risk with the people that have made the company over the past 20 years. People like executive producer Scott Njumbuxa, producer Johnny Mabeba, production manager Nonhlanhla Masondo and accounts manager Devi Kuni.’ They have grown and stood alongside Gary through the good times and the bad and have formed part of Picture Tree for most of its existence. Gary has surrounded himself with a team that he’s not only mentored, but now trusts and admires. This has all lead to him sharing the managerial and decision making responsibilities, leaving them with the majority of the company. It’s refreshing and damn inspiring to see this kind of transformation successfully put into action. Gary goes on to explain how he has always seen Black Economic Empowerment as a positive and powerful tool within the industry. After all, the more diversity there is within a company, the more diverse voices are contributing, which can only lead to creating more relevant South African narratives. Can we get an Amen?!
Because of the plans Gary already started putting into place almost 20 years ago, he hasn’t had to avoid management transformation, but rather build toward it. Now that the time has come to reposition the power within the company, Gary feels inspired to promote managerial collaboration. Damn, we kind of want to start holding hands and sing kumbaya, but in a good way, like a really good way.

Meet the Family

But who exactly are the new owners of Picture Tree and do they really know each other that well or is this just some warm and fuzzy smokescreen?

Scott Njumbuxa has been with Picture Tree for 20 years and has recently been promoted from Producer to Executive Producer (commercials). He also replaced Gary’s position within the CPA a few years ago as an Executive Member. Scott: ‘I always said to myself I would never work in the commercials industry, because of attitudes. So many producers are seen as hardcore with no human element to their makeup. But Picture Tree is different. It’s a homely company, where people will treat you fairly. That really stands out in an industry like this.’

Devi Kuni has managed the accounts department for Picture Tree for over 20 years and refuses to be interviewed by us on her own…clearly she’s read some of our editorials. She calls Production Manager Nonhlanhla Masondo over for support. Nonhlanhla first joined Picture Tree 13 years ago (Devi interrupts: ‘14 years ago’) as a receptionist and the two genuinely seem as if they actually enjoy each other’s company. Colleagues who like each other?! We know, we’re confused too…

iDidTht: ‘Do you guys hang out outside of work hours?’
Devi and Nonhlanhla: ‘Both laughing hysterically.’
Nonhlanhla: ‘We hang out all the time.’
Devi: ‘Yes, we hang out a lot.’
Devi and Nonhlanhla: ‘Both laughing hysterically.’

Producer Johnny Mabeba joined a SETA work placement programme 12 years ago. Gary, who was lecturing there at the time, asked Johnny to join Picture Tree as a trainee in production and they’ve never looked back. Johnny: ‘The diversity at Picture Tree is not in our skin colour. It’s in our backgrounds and where we come from. And that kind of diversity really matters when it comes to collaboration and what we can all bring to the table. Scott is my brother, Gary is my mentor, Nonhlanhla is my friend and Devi, well she’s our accountant, so she’s the Gestapo.’

iDidTht: ‘If you had one wish for the industry, what would it be?’
Johnny: ‘Bring back our budgets!’
iDidTht: ‘Spoken like a true producer…’
Johnny: ‘Hang on, are you guys writing this down?’
iDidTht: ‘Don’t worry, nobody will see this.’

The Power of Collective Decision Making

With 6 in-house directors, producers, production teams and research as support, Picture Tree has all the bells and whistles and the reputation to back them up. Over the years, the company has become a content creation hub, churning out everything from feature films, documentaries and TV series to commercials. Here are just a few of iDidTht’s faves.

SAT ‘Curiosity’

Vehicle 19

Showmax ‘Taxi’


All in the Family

So let’s put this team to the test and find out what they really think of each other…Approach this section with caution.

1. Most likely to die first in a zombie apocalypse?

Johnny: ‘Devi.’
Nonhlanhla: ‘No, that would be me hey, definitely me. ‘
Devi: ‘I think so too…’
Scott: ‘Nonhlanhla.’
Gary: ‘Nonhlanhla.’

2. Most likely to give all their money to charity?

Johnny: ‘None of us!’
Nonhlanhla: ‘Scott’
Devi: ‘Gary’
Scott: ‘Gary’
Gary: ‘Scott’

3. Most likely to win an Olympic medal?

Johnny: ‘Scott.’
Nonhlanhla: ‘Gary. He used to be a gymnast.’
Devi: ‘Gary.’
Scott: ‘Gary’
Gary: ‘Jeepers, none of us. We all came 4th.’

4. Most likely to get arrested for running around naked?

Johnny: ‘Gary.’
Nonhlanhla: ‘Johnny.’
Devi: ‘Johnny.’
Scott: ‘Woah, none of us.’
Gary: ‘Johnny.’

5. Most likely to cry in a sad movie?

Johnny: ‘Gary.’
Nonhlanhla: ‘Me.’
Devi: ‘Nonhlanhla.’
Scott: ‘Nonhlanhla.’
Gary: ‘Well, I cry in sad movies, but I guess Nonhlanhla.’

6. Most likely to bring cake to work?

Johnny: ‘Gary.’
Nonhlanhla: ‘Devi or me.’
Devi: ‘Me. I’m forever bringing them cake, nobody brings me food!’
Scott: ‘It’s a toss-up between Gary and Devi.’
Gary: ‘Nonhlanhla or me, no Nonhlanhla.’

7. Most likely to arrive at work first?

Johnny: ‘Scott.’
Nonhlanhla: ‘Scott.’
Devi: ‘Scott.’
Scott: ‘Me.’
Gary: ‘Scott.’

iDidTht: ‘What sets Picture Tree apart from other production companies?’
Devi: ‘It’s definitely a family.’
Scott: ‘It feels like home.’
Nonhlanhla: ‘It’s homely, you never feel like you’re at work. The people around you are people you can hang out with.’
Johnny: ‘I miss them over weekends.’

As outrageous as it sounds to the average nine-to-fiver out there, these guys really love Picture Tree and so do we! It’s clear that after working together for over a decade, they are really a family. We wish this new trailblazing managerial collective all the best!

*Header photo shout-out, thank you Jurgen Marx

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Executive Producer: Scott Njumbuxa

Produced by the iDidTht Content Studio
Credits: Writer – Anne Hirsch / Art Director – Julie Maunder

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