Returning to his homeland after a decade in overseas roles, Lucy Clark catches up with Jon Chadwick as he settles into the top chair at Maxus Australia.
After 11 years building a high-flying media career around the world, it was in Istanbul in 2011 that Jon Chadwick suddenly realised he wanted to come home.
On a business trip while he was working for Mindshare managing its Nike account, Chadwick had what he calls his “Istanbul Epiphany”. “I was in a great hotel in the middle of one of the most amazing cities in the world, and I just had a feeling that I didn’t really want to be there,” he recalls. “It was a moment where I realised that all the travel and adventure I’d been doing was coming to a natural end in terms of my desire to do it.”
Chadwick returned to Australia last October, taking over from David Gaines as CEO at Maxus Australia. He brought more than a decade of international insight with him.
“My perspective has changed,” he says. “When I was five, I remember riding to my grandparents’ house about a kilometre away and I thought it was the distance of Sydney to Melbourne. My perspectives on the industry have changed, like they did back then, in terms of geographical depth and breadth. I think I have a more pragmatic view of where Australia sits in the world.”
Chadwick left Australia back in 2001, bound for the role of media director at JWT in Vietnam. “The move to Vietnam was the biggest shock of my career,” he recalls. “I was young, working in a market that was under-developed and culturally very different. I hadn’t even left Australia before – I was 25 and didn’t even have a passport.”
From Vietnam, where he helped launch Mindshare into the market, he moved to Mindshare Singapore. Then in 2007, he moved to Europe as managing partner at Mindshare in central and eastern Europe and Russia, tasked with growing the agency’s local network.
In 2008, he took on the job of leading Mindshare’s global relationship with Nike. He says: “Another seminal moment of my career was moving to London right in the crash of 2008. It impacted on the industry immediately and was very challenging.” The Nike work took him to the States in 2010 to set up a Mindshare hub in Portland, Oregon, near Nike’s HQ.
As a result of these global roles, Chadwick sees importing and exporting as vital to Australia’s advertising market – and the rest of the world’s.
“There is a huge amount of opportunity for Australia,” he says. “There is a very rich talent pool and a very good penetration of technology here, so I think we have a good opportunity as an export market. There is also a natural hunger for Australian-based talent to travel because we are so far away from the rest of the world.
“But we should continue to import and diversify our talent pool. Diversity is key to creativity.”
Working with Nike, Chadwick experienced a new meaning to ‘innovation’. He explains: “Innovation, back in the day, was about idea development. But in the US I experienced innovation in terms of actually making things, such as Nike’s Fuel Band. Companies see digital not so much as a way of enhanced communications, but as building meaningful utilities that change people’s lives.”
Returning Down Under with a fresh perspective, Chadwick says there is a hint of nervousness in Australia – and a lot more competition. “I’ve noticed there is a natural cautious nature in the market,” he says. “It’s very competitive now. You can have great client relationships and happy staff, but you can be sure that there’s a competitor out there trying to take your business.”
Despite what others might say, Chadwick is adamant Australia’s adland is not behind other countries. “Looking at the work being done here on data, I’d say we’re one of the strongest in the world,” he says. “And if you look at Australia’s share of global expenditure versus our share of global awards like Cannes, we do very well.”
Taking the Maxus reins, Chadwick spent his first three months listening and learning, then the next three months strategising and planning. He is now busy executing his plans.
“The strategy for us this year is bringing the right people to the right roles, then we’ll shift into a more aggressive behaviour,” he explains.
This has seen Chadwick grow the Maxus headcount by 20% already, including Claire Taylor-Rowe as Maxus’ first chief strategy officer.
The agency has three objectives: to be the strongest Maxus office globally, to break into the top 10 agencies in the market, and to be seen as one of Australia’s most innovative agencies within three years. Chadwick’s plan to achieve these goals? People. “You get the right people delivering the right product and everything else follows.”
Sydney born and bred, with an inherent love of all things Aussie, especially the sport, Chadwick is enjoying being back in Australia – but admits he hasn’t ruled out overseas work for good. “That travel, that nomadic bug, is very difficult to shake,” he comments.