Ten Years On From The First 30 Under 30: Chris Howatson

Ten Years On From The First 30 Under 30: Chris Howatson
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In 2010, B&T published a special 30 Under 30 issue of the magazine, an Australian first revealing the 30 brightest marketing communications professionals under the age of 30.

Individuals could put themselves forward or be nominated by someone they worked with, and we were overwhelmed by the 150 initial entries we received – a mere fraction of the 400-plus we receive these days.

After a competitive shortlisting process, a panel of judges had the difficult task of whittling it down to the final 30 who made the cut and were announced as our first ever 30 Under 30 winners.

Ten of these individuals were already principals of businesses (mostly agencies). There were eight suits, five strategists, four creatives and three client-side marketers.

Unbelievably, a decade has passed and to mark the 10-year anniversary of B&T‘s 30 Under 30 Awards, we decided to track down our original winners and share where they are now.

We’ll travel to New York, San Francisco, Massachusetts, London, Singapore and across Australia. The talented 20-something year olds have become highly successful CEOs, MDs, group heads, investors, founders, creative directors, heads of marketing and, perhaps most importantly, parents.

First up, we didn’t need to travel too far, as we came across a familiar face in the shape of CHE Proximity boss Chris Howatson.

chris howatson

Then: group account director, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

Now: chief executive, CHE Proximity

‘Howie’ was credentialed from an early age when he won the AFA’s YoungBlood of the Year award for excellence in advertising at the tender age of 19.

Former client Domenic Capomolla, CEO of Simply Energy, said at the time, “Chris won over the Simply Energy senior management team with exactly the traits that the best leaders seem to possess: humility, the power to listen (rather than talk) and the ability to inspire, rather than demand.

“Chris gained insights into our business to effect change by using good, old-fashioned due diligence, rather than rely on the marketing arrogance we have found to be typically the domain of many agencies.”

What did it mean to you at the ripe age of 25 that you were chosen as one of our 30 Under 30 winners?

I was thrilled. It was a wonderful feeling to be included. But what I was most grateful of was my agency, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne, who had put me forward. Peter Biggs was the CEO at the time and was incredible at recognising people and providing opportunity.

How do you think being nominated as one of B&T’s 30 Under 30 in 2010 affected your career, if at all?

I wasn’t involved in writing my entry, hence why it was such a delightful surprise. What this moment taught me, however, was the importance of narrative – being able to connect many dots into a compelling and motivating story. And secondly, the value of recognising others – how the simple act of calling out someone for their efforts is the most motivating of all incentives.

What’s been the biggest change to your life since then?

I’ve learnt so much; the challenges of leadership, balancing your energy across the ups and downs of advertising, how to manage and persuade the spectrum of personalities. But perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learnt is outside of work, and that is how to be a dad.

What words of wisdom would you have shared with your 25-year-old self back then knowing what you do now?

Get a haircut!

What are you most proud of?

CHE Proximity. Building and leading a team of intelligent, creative and hard-working people, each of whom come to work for exactly the same reason each day – to create ideas that not only sell our client’s ‘stuff’, but set a benchmark for what the next generation of advertising looks like.

What do you see as the biggest challenges that face young people in advertising, marketing and media these days?

The complexity of our business is truly greater than it has ever been. For some people who are adapting to that, it’s overwhelmingly frightening, and has resulted in a lot of negative industry chat. Our standing. Our efficacy. Our future.

When people get scared, it also leads to protectionist behaviour and a closing in rather than an opening out. There are sections of our industry who are using their scale to prevent or discredit others doing what they do.

The challenge for young people is to block out this noise and just focus on what the opportunity is. Ignore anyone who gets in the way; trust and believe in your team and achieve what you set out to.

Conversely, what’s the biggest opportunity for those under 30 now?

They and all of us, regardless of age, are on the cusp of the next era of progress.

Think back over the course of human history at the moments of epic technological change. The invention of the car. The television. The home computer. The on-demand supply chain. How each of these innovations changed not just the industries they were part of, but those adjacent to them.

It might seem a stretch when thinking of these defining examples to what we’re facing today, but this is what’s happening around us right now. And while our jobs in advertising will always be to sell, the way we go about selling is obviously changing at a similar rapid rate.

We are the generation that gets to define this next curve of progress, and create the work that will inspire the generations to come, just as we have been inspired by Bernback, Wunderman, Ogilvy, Clemenger, Patterson, Greenberg, Wieden and Droga, to name a small few.

What can the industry do better to attract and retain young talent?

Our industry just needs to find its confidence again. I believe a big part of that is a more expansive definition of creativity that legitimately expands our role beyond comms, and into whole of brand experience.

I very much agree with Nick Law’s view that modern creativity is both narrative and systematic thinking. The faster we treat both forms of creativity as equals, the faster we’ll attract the geniuses who will create the work that attract the next wave of geniuses.

Entries for B&T‘s 30 Under 30 Awards for 2019 are now open. For all the details, click here. Tickets are also available for B&T Bootcamp, a day of speed mentoring and masterclasses aimed at up and comers in the industry. 

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