Stephanie Weil is the Chief Executive Officer of Miss SA, a brand that welcomes young South African women of all backgrounds, appearances, belief systems, and sexual orientations. Under Stephanie Weil’s leadership, Miss South Africa has grown into an organization that develops contestants into champions for women’s rights as leaders and brand ambassadors. Weil’s Miss Sa platform encourages talented young women to face their inherent strength and embrace their future. Her Network was able to speak with her and learn more about her work. Read and Be Inspired.
It’s an honor to have this conversation with you and we’re excited to share it with our readers. Let’s start with how you got here, tell us about your background and how you became the CEO of one of Africa’s most respected beauty pageant.
My mother was the late Suzanne Weil who was recognised throughout the country as a PR guru. She was a real dynamo – she managed to get both Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder to perform at Nelson Mandela’s 80th birthday party. She was a real visionary and really inspired me with both her incredible work ethic and her vision.
I worked in the music industry before joining her company. After she died, I was determined to grow the company in her honor. She was a real inspiration to me and taught me the value of hard work. She was passionate about what she did but she was a real grafter. If toilets had to be cleaned at an event, she would do it. She started working on the Miss South Africa pageant in 2013 and was instrumental in giving it a “new look” for the new millennium. Because of this, it has also been special to me. The young women who take part and who I have journeyed with have also inspired me.
The pageant has been owned by various organizations and people in its 60-year-plus history. When Cell C’s contract came to an end, there was an opportunity for Weil Entertainment to buy the pageant in 2019. It had always been a project that was close to my heart and was a passion of mine. The young women I have met who have entered truly inspired me – their stories, what they achieved and how Miss South Africa profoundly changed their lives. It motivates people to dream big. The brand is iconic and part of the South African landscape. How could I not have bought it four years ago? From then on, the intention has been clear – diversify and reimagine this industry and create countless opportunities for young women.
In 2022, for the first time in its 64-year history, you had an all-female team is organizing, producing, and directing the live Miss South Africa pageant. Is that going to be the same this year? and is that how it’s going to be moving forward?
We were delighted that last year, for the first time in its 64-year history, an all-female team organized, produced, and directed the live Miss South Africa pageant and is currently overseeing its debut offshoot reality television series Crown Chasers. The infusion of girl power has dramatically changed the way decisions are made, and the way things are run. Female empowerment, diversity, realizing potential, compassion, purpose, sound mental and physical health, and advocacy continue to be part of the Miss South Africa Organisation.
However, that doesn’t mean that men are excluded from our team. What would we do without our brilliant creative director Werner Wessels?
What inspired the inclusion of Mothers and Married Women to the pageant given that there’s already a Mrs. SA pageant for married women? Some people would say, it’s a strategic inclusion given that Miss SA remains Miss, but we’d love to hear your inspiration behind this.
The Miss South Africa competition has been through many incarnations to ensure it stays relevant, current and fresh and to make sure the Miss South Africa Organisation keeps up with the changing times.
As women, we are so many things. We can be business owners, leaders, innovators, influencers, mothers, daughters, philanthropists, role models, ambassadors and queens all at the same time. Showcasing the multi-diverse nature of all of this is now at the core of the competition.
Miss South Africa is no longer just a one-night pageant, but rather a year-round business, and a brand that provides both a leading voice for women’s rights and a platform to effect social change. We are committed to helping entrants fulfil their inherent potential rather than merely glossing up their external façade. Our contestants are not just trained as pageant contestants, but also upskilled and shaped into champions for women’s rights, thought leaders, brand ambassadors and savvy career women with the tools to fulfil their chosen destiny.
When Miss Universe changed the entry requirements to allow married women to compete, we followed suit so now, women of all shapes and sizes, with or without children and married, single or divorced, can enter the competition. Married women and mothers can go to university, start businesses and become leaders and influencers, so why shouldn’t they be able to wear the Miss South Africa crown?
All women should have agency over their lives. Somebody’s personal decisions should not be a barrier to their success.
Tell us more about the reality series which is expanding this year beyond the behind-the-scenes coverage.
Last year, fans were introduced – on the official Miss South Africa app – to Crown Chasers, a behind-the-scenes look at the build-up to the 2022 finale. This year, Crown Chasers has been developed into a full-blown and thrilling reality show showing the Miss South Africa competition as it’s never been seen it before. In the series, those competing for the crown will be placed in real-life Miss South Africa scenarios that include several challenges, based on the four pillars of Miss South Africa – duty, championship, empowerment and beauty. All the finalists will move into Miss South Africa HQ from where they will be given tasks that will test their ability to show off their interpretation of these four pillars. Their entrepreneurial and business skills will be put to the test; they’ll be asked to find innovative ways to encourage tourism, to show support for female-owned businesses or to showcase aspects of their culture or heritage. A challenge winner will be selected each week by a judging panel.
What qualities do you look out for when hiring the right hands to work with you to execute such a phenomenal event?
The first thing I look for is passion – if you have passion and love for what you are doing then everything else falls into place.
Do you have mentors that support you in your professional or personal life and what are some learnings you’d like to share about mentorship and its importance?
My mentors have been the women who have shaped my life – my grandmother Gertie Awerbach, who was a well-known cookery writer and columnist in her day, and my mother Suzanne who was a doyenne in the PR, events and marketing world. I have also been motivated by the inspirational women I have met while working on the pageant. It was an honour, for example, to walk with both Demi-Leigh Tebow, Zozibini Tunzi and Lalela Mswane from their first time at auditions until their triumphs on the world stage. And all these fabulous young women I am going to travel with again this year!
Looking back at past winners of the coveted crown and their achievements, does the Miss South Africa Organization support them post-reign, and how?
Every single Miss South Africa I have worked with; I share a very special bond with. One of the big changes we have made in recent years has been the support we offer them is the crafting of their own brand identity and purpose throughout their reign. This ultimately helps them define what their 5-year plan looks like, and with this we assist them in stepping into that potential as they hand over the crown. We support all former winners and will continuously do so into the future, this for me is how we will ultimately achieve an elevated female nation.
What are some tips you’d like to share with our young readers looking to go into the world of pageantry?
I take my hat off to any young woman who wants to wear the Miss South Africa crown; it is a non-stop role with great opportunity for growth that requires unwavering commitment from all the finalists and the ultimate winner. However, my only tip would be to ensure authenticity in everything you do – from your entry to your personality. There is only one person like you and we look forward to celebrating all that you are.
What would you like your legacy to be?
That I made a difference in the lives of young women and hopefully can look back at an empowered female generation of the future.