Alumnus profile: Niel Schoombee

Posted on October 12, 2020

For many years, the talented singer/songwriter, alumnus Niel Schoombee, ‘lived’ his passion in the entertainment industry. Besides creating the highly acclaimed 5-person male vocal group, Hi-5, he gained numerous prestigious awards, in SA and abroad. He wrote over 700 songs for many multi-platinum selling artists for which he received various Ghoema and SAMA nominations over the years and finally won the Songwriter of the Year title in 2019. Many of his songs were translated into Dutch and were released in Europe where he was also privileged to enjoy platinum-selling success. Currently living in Brisbane, Australia, his new position as co-owner and director of Starexpress Cleaning & Property Services, has taken him completely out of his ‘comfort zone’. He nevertheless sees this as a huge new growth opportunity. Join him on his exhilarating ‘global’ journey…
Q: Briefly summarise your career since graduating from UP, with special mention of specific highlights/milestones.
A: After obtaining my BCom degree at UP, I furthered my studies at Unisa, where I also lectured in the Tourism Management Department at the time. Once my contract expired, I took off to the US to do an internship at Disneyland, California, where I worked in the Character Department, entertaining kids by characterising various well-loved animation characters in parades and live events.
Subsequent to my return to South Africa, I decided to continue to ‘live’ my passion in the entertainment industry, so I joined a few theatre productions and started a 5-person male vocal group called Hi-5. This hobby became my full time job for nearly seven years as we performed all over South Africa as well as internationally.
Highlights include winning the singing/song writing competition Crescendo in 2003 and AfricaVision in 2005, both events with songs I had written. We represented South Africa at the Eurovision song contest in 2005; performed at various high-profile events such as the Miss Teen and Miss South Africa pageants, and were nominated and won various music awards. We also performed in the Royal Albert Hall during the Nataniël and Friends concert. Another highlight was performing alongside world-class acts at the beautiful Son Amar Dinner Theatre on the Island of Mallorca, Spain, where we resided for nine months and formed part of a musical dinner show.
I then joined Select Music, an independent record label, which transitioned into the Afrikaans music label for Sony Music South Africa in 2013. This gave me the platform to write more than 700 songs for many multi-platinum selling artists for which I received various Ghoema and SAMA nominations over the years and finally won Songwriter of the Year title in 2019. Many of my songs were translated into Dutch and were also released in Europe where I was also privileged to enjoy platinum-selling success.
In 2011, I was invited to attend a big music event in Amsterdam, titled Toppers, where one of my songs was performed by a Dutch group. I was so inspired by the ‘sing-along concert’ idea and the fact that 240 000 spectators were singing along to their favourite songs, that I introduced the concept to South Africa. With my team’s assistance and support at Select Music, we created Krone, which started as a simple idea but grew into a sold-out spectacle, entertaining more than 30 000 music lovers in 2019 alone. I had the opportunity to create, produce and direct all the Krone concerts - an unforgettable highlight in my career!
Currently I’m the co-owner and director of Starexpress Cleaning & Property Services in Brisbane, Australia, where I live.
Q: To what extent did your studies at EMS benefit you in your career and contribute to your success?
A:  While I studied Hotel and Tourism Management, I completely diverted into other industries. In the process, I realised that one’s journey and prospects should not be defined by any specific qualification. Even though I did not end up in the hotel industry, the basic principles of business and organisational management provided the basic structure of everything I worked on. Most creative souls tend to have their ‘heads in the clouds’ and are not very aware of the ‘real world’. We don’t always know how to properly manage ourselves, our milestones and our time. Thanks to EMS, I got a handle on those skills and a solid foundation on which to build.
Q: Given your academic career at UP, what advice can you pass on to current students?
A: Life is short and given the fact that you spend on average nine hours a day working, choose a career that you enjoy. If you are unsure about exactly what this might be, just start by studying in a general direction and field that piques your interest. As you grow as an individual, your true passions will eventually find you.
Also keep an eye on world trends and the way careers and the workplace change almost daily. We live in a time of uncapped possibilities; you simply need to find the gap in which you will fit. It will not happen overnight, so give yourself time to explore and experience until you find that something that makes your heart beat faster.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the foundation of a successful company/organisation?
A: There are so many ways one can answer this question, but in general, I believe the foundation lies within the team; the people who have to do the real work, get the job done. If an organisation has a strong and competent team and management that support happy and motivated team players within a space for personal and professional growth, the very foundation for success is set. Communication goes hand in hand with this principle.
Q: Which publications (magazines/newspapers/blogs, etc) do you enjoy reading?
A: I’m not a big magazine fan, however, I love reading blogs or listening to podcasts. My passions lie in the music and entertainment industries, so I mostly follow up on global music trends and industry news. Some of my favourite blogs include Stereogum, Consequence of Sound, Music Business Worldwide and TED Talks.
Q: What really inspires and motivates you personally?
A: I would say mostly the challenge of ‘change’. We live in such a fast-paced and ever-changing world where nothing stays the same! It is survival of the fittest and realising that one can either adjust, or stay behind, is daunting, yet very exciting to me.
I realised that it is never too late to challenge yourself into facing new ventures while embracing change and growing into it. It is truly inspiring to discover you had the ability and the drive within you all along...but you only realise this once you are challenged into it.
Q: If you could have a face-to-face meeting with an inspiring person – in any domain – who sets and example in transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same, who would it be and what would you like to discuss?
A: A guy I truly find inspiring is Elon Musk. I would like to discuss with him how he envisioned his journey in the beginning and how that vision has changed along the way. I would love to ask questions such as: ‘Did you ever doubt that you were going to be a success in your high-risk enterprises?’, ‘What turned out to be the most important key factor in your success?’ and ‘How would you advise developing countries to stimulate your kind of thinking?’
Q: Going forward, what are your professional/personal goals?
A: Bearing in mind that we only recently immigrated to Australia, I’m still finding my feet, adjusting to a new culture, way of doing things and ‘fitting in’ while making this our new home.
Also to enjoy the journey of finding all those other South African expats, making lasting, new friends and introducing the Aussies to what a true South African ‘braaibroodjie’ and ‘malva pudding’, should look and taste like.
I never want to look back with any regrets, but instead to stay focused on the future and new possibilities.
Professionally, I took over an established cleaning business, completely out of my comfort zone. My focus currently is to grow the company into a national franchise.
Q: COVID-19 has turned the world upside down: in your opinion, how/to what extent is the pandemic like to impact globalisation/major global events?
A: I don’t think anyone can actually calculate or even guess the real damage COVID-19 has caused to globalisation...and the daunting part is that we are not remotely in the clear yet. Mother Nature has pressed the reset button and in many ways, things may never recover to the way we knew them.
The impact of the pandemic will largely depend on the way it is dealt with going forward. Decisions by world leading governments will determine how long it will take to get back to a semi-normal lifestyle again. Until borders can be opened and people are allowed to travel without quarantine restrictions again, global events are basically on hold – and may be for a long time to come. We will have to rely on Zoom meetings and staying connected in many other out-of-the-ordinary ways.
As different countries are dealing with recovery measures in different ways, the future remains unpredictable. We can only hope and pray for a miracle vaccine!
Q: What are some pros and cons for SA expats living/working in Australia?
There are rules, structure and justice. When you bend the rules, they bend you, creating a culture of discipline and law-abiding citizens. Alas, this South Africa lost a long time ago.
There is barely any crime, which creates a feeling of safety and freedom. Enjoying the lush, green and clean open parks and beaches, watching children on their bikes, playing by themselves in the spaces created for them, women jogging alone at dawn and dusk, not having high fences and alarms, not having to look over your shoulder every minute...remind me of what South Africa could have been.
In the workplace there is a culture of assistance and service. As there is always someone willing to assist, you rarely have to wait.
The Australian economy continues to grow and the unemployment rate is very low. Irrespective of your skills or education, you can have a good, solid income, and financially easily do well for yourself. There are unlimited opportunities for anyone on the lookout.
Aussies are a welcoming, friendly bunch of people, especially to foreigners. After all, the nation was built with expats such as we are.
Access to healthcare is universal and of a high standard. The government really looks after its people. I am amazed by the level of support by the great number of support organisations for the elderly, the disabled and disadvantaged.
You are basically ‘reborn’ into a new world and have to get used to doing most things differently.
You basically start from scratch! You are without your personal and professional network that you built up over years.
Generally speaking, Australia is expensive.
Getting a visa and permanent residency is not easy and takes time.
Obtaining loans and mortgages as a foreigner is tough.
It is not your familiar surroundings; as a result you can easily feel isolated and alone.
- Author Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences

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