Interview With David White, Hennessy General Manager Southern Africa and Marketing Director 

We had an interview with Hennessy MD, David White at the unveiling of the revamped Ernest Oppenheimer Park basketball court, located at the center of Johannesburg’s inner city. This is a collaboration with renowned local visual artist Seth Pimentel, also known as African Ginger, to breathe new life into the Ernest Oppenheimer Park basketball court.

This is the second time now in South Africa, How are you feeling about it?

I’m feeling pretty good about it. Today feels, if you like, more genuine because we’re right down in the middle of the CBD. This is true urban regeneration. Zoo Lake was brilliant, don’t get me wrong, it’s an iconic corp. So you’re out in the park there and it doesn’t feel perhaps quite as genuine and community-based as today feels.

What informs some of the spaces that you guys are going after?

It’s about being true to the spirit of the brand and our consumers, so that the people who drink Hennessy, they live in Bramfontein, they’re in and around the CBD area. This is the heartbeat of Hennessy. It’s true of Hennessy in the USA, it’s true of Hennessy in South Africa. And as I said in my speech earlier, yeah, this is a genuine give back program. It’s our consumers, our drinkers who have built Hennessy to the size that it is, the importance that it is in South Africa today. And this is just one small token of us showing our appreciation for those consumers and trying to give a little bit back. So it’s genuine and it’s aligned with the brand spirit.

What’s with the bias? Because it seems as if Hennessy loves basketball. Why not soccer? Why basketball specifically?

Well, you know, that’s about the lifestyle and the culture, right? I mean, it’s less about basketball, the sport per se, than the lifestyle that goes with the NBA and also the Basketball Africa League, which has just started three seasons ago. So, it’s about the fashion, it’s about the art, it’s about the energy, it’s about the clothing, it’s all those elements. All of that is on evidence today, right? We’ve got a great three-on-three tournament going on, but you’ve got everything else happening around the court as well. Music, energy, art, passion. That’s what this is about, not basketball.

What are you looking to achieve from this? This is your second project, what are the key points you’re looking at and saying listen after all this is said and done when we look back at this initiative this will be a happy point for us?

Look, there’s a lot of buzzwords in corporate culture about CSR, sustainability that’s ultimately what it’s about but it’s as I say genuinely trying to give back to the community what we’re looking to do is leave a legacy of Hennessy… Hennessy over the years, Hennessy over the decades. I made reference earlier to the street art, the wall art that we’ve got in and around the Bramfontein area. We’re looking to leave proper infrastructural improvements in these impoverished or overlooked areas sometimes. So this is, I’ll be gone in however many years and Hennessy brand will be wherever it is in five, 10 years. People might start drinking another product, who knows, I hope not. But this court will be a legacy of today and the strength of Hennessy in the marketplace.

How does Hennessy plan to sustain this so that it’s not just a today thing, tomorrow can I come back and it’s a safe place to be and the infrastructure is still alive and surviving?

Yeah, I mean look we’ve taken a realistic view for now, let me say that, which is when the core goes in, we commit to at least three years of maintaining it in its current format. So if we take Zoo Lake as an example, it’s what now?…15 months since Zoo Lake went in. Aready two or three times we’ve made sure the artwork is fresh, the paints touched up but everything is as we would want it as Hennessy and as the community would want for a proper court. So per court we make an initial commitment for three years, as our sponsorship evolves with the NBA, with the spirit of the BAL, I would hope that that commitment will go longer than three years per court, I don’t want to over claim but I have ambitions for us to have 20, 30 ports of this ilk around the continent. So maybe 5, 10 of those in South Africa, and I’d like to think we’ll still be involved 5, 10 years from now at least. That’s not a promise I can make today, but it’s a direction of travel, and a mid-term commitment that I hope becomes longer term.

What are some of the insights, do you have some of the highlights of what that partnership has actually done in Zoo Lake?

Specifically, I’d need to consult my notes but I know that if I look at the five courts we’ve done around Africa on average we estimate three and a half thousand people are playing on those courts each month. We both know the popularity of Zoo Lake, so it’s probably a disproportionate number of that three and a half thousand. We know how much engagement we’ve had from consumers in terms of feedback or appreciation for what we’ve done there. I’m sensing it today as well you know people are coming up to me I’ve never met they’re shaking me by the hand they’re saying thank you for what Hennessy is doing here. So it’s anecdotal, I’ve not got hard empirical evidence but you know the community leaders are here, the guys from the municipality are here, they want to partner up with us and do more of these initiatives as we go forward. So it feels genuine, but that’s anecdotal feedback I’m giving you, not hard facts at this point in time.

Can we have a conscious effort to have girls on this court, at least one team, you know, mix it up?

Yes! I know the BAL for example has all kinds of initiatives about I think it’s called BAL She or Women in Basketball. So it’s definitely part of NBA Africa’s perspective. You’re right. It’s a bit of an oversight today I haven’t struck me until you just mentioned it. Yes going forward we’ll absolutely make sure we get the right female participation as well. It’s a… Hennessy is a gender-neutral brand. Basketball is a gender-neutral sport. We absolutely will fulfill that question you’ve just asked.

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