Where Did The Industry Top Dogs Start Making their Moolah?

Where Did The Industry Top Dogs Start Making their Moolah?

Whether they be the CEO, the most experienced marketer or the founder of their own business, they all had to start somewhere.

In #ThrowbackThursday style, B&T decided to investigate how some of the industry’s most illustrious career folk made their first pennies. From shark feeders, law clerks to the humble checkout chick (or dude), some of them had interesting experiences to share as they first forayed into the daily grind.

Got a first job story you want to tell us about? Tweet us @bandt and let us know.

Richenda Vermeulen, founder of agency ntegrity.

My first job was as a Magician’s Assistant at a shopping centre when I was 15. Many staff in the shopping centre fell in love with the magician. This sometimes made being his assistant awkward (“I don’t know his phone number”) or awesome (extra chocolates from Darrell lea!).

Ant Melder, creative director at M&C Saatchi Sydney

I was 17 and working at a below-the-line agency in the UK as a studio junior/general dogsbody.

Actually, ‘dogsbody’ is bigging myself up a bit considering my duties involved making tea, photocopying stuff and washing the MD’s car.

I wanted to get into the creative department and was waiting for my in. Meanwhile, I spent vast swathes of my life looking through stock shot books for images that art directors were never quite happy with (“Hmm, these shots of a lady holding a baby are OK Ant, but could you look for a few more with a more serene expression on the lady’s face? And a cat in the background?”) 

One time, a client stepped in dogshit outside the agency and guess who was handed the mop and bucket?

Another day, while searching for a transparency up in the loft, I was standing on the wooden beams until I over-reached, lost my balance and moved my feet. I fell through the ceiling and landed, in a dramatic cloud of dust and plaster, in the room below. “Well, you wanted to get into the creative department, Ant”, said one of the art directors.

Nitsa Lotus, general manager of whybin\TBWA Sydney

I worked in my dad’s donut shop (technically I wasn’t getting paid so does this count…?). I was 14 years old (yes, illegal).

I ended up spilling the entire contents of a strawberry milkshake over a customer by accident (I slipped over as I was making my way back to the counter).  Funny now.  Definitely not funny at the time…


My real official job? I was a junior law clerk at 14 traipsing the streets of Sydney during my school holidays – I wrestled with a man at Martin Place station once who tried to steal court documents I was on my way to file.


I was an usher at Hoyts Bondi Junction – when they only had one screen. It was at the end of my first year of university, so I was 19.

That was the summer when Crocodile Dundee came out (yep, I’m that old). It was so popular we played it 4 times a day, every day for the entire summer. It was on TV the other night and I can still recite every line. Repeat after me; “That’s not a knife.”

Image via Mlkshake

Image via Mlkshake


My first job was a newspaper delivery boy when I was 11 (to 15). I grew up in Edinburgh so I fell over on the ice a lot in winter. It was the beginning of my love affair with journalism, reading the Scotsman and Daily Record as I went.


First job was at McDonald’s when I was 15. The manager asked me out on a date and he was the most beautiful lovely guy named Bruce, who dreamed of studying horticulture. I went on one date with him and got scared ’cause he was so nice and instead dated and fell in love with a complete bastard who broke my heart.

Just think I could be on a farm right now with gorgeous Bruce the ex Macca’s manager if I hadn’t been so stupid! Oh and I also got caught wiping a table sitting down – that was the beginning of the end really.

Adam Vincenzini, founder and managing partner of social media agency Kamber

Basketball card shop, 14 yrs old. When basketball was at its peak of popularity in the early 90s, I had a job at a shop called Card Cowboys. This job essentially entailed watching sport on TV, occasionally serving customers and playing arcade games.

I was at an especially annoying point in my life when I worked there, so much so that a limit was put on how much I could speak per hour. If I exceeded that limit I’d be assigned ‘punishment’ tasks such as cleaning counter tops, counting and re-counting product, and banned from the playing on the arcade machines. The lesson I learnt through this experience is when it comes to talking, sometimes less is more…although I still have trouble adhering to that practice.

Adele Te Wani, director of brand activations agency 31ST:SECOND

Check out chick at Foodtown in New Zealand (I was the fastest scanner!). I was 16. Wow, that’s an eternity ago. $3.67 an hour – big bucks. I had my Foodtown uniform so short that I couldn’t bend over or reach up!

Craig Flanders, CEO of ad and creative agency Spinach

In the early eighties the economy was tight. I was still living at home, and my father enthusiastically encouraged me to take the first job I got offered straight out of Uni. That turned out to be a sales rep for the world leading marketer of Acoustic Ceiling tiles for commercial buildings. And because they threw in a second hand Commodore as a company car, the deal was sealed for an annual salary of $18,000.

Having to deal with hardnosed, hard swearing procurement people in big building companies one minute, and pony tail wearing, latte sipping architects the next, set me up well for a career in the ad game which came a few years later. But the lasting habit that has stuck with me ever since my first gig, and one my colleagues often comment upon when we’re out visiting clients, is that whenever I enter any office, the first thing I do is look up.

Karen Spear, director of shopper marketing at Zoo republic

I was a Diver at Oceanworld Manly in Sydney when I was 16. I learnt how to hand feed sharks.


Bec Brown, founder of Bec Brown Communications

I was the ultimate multi-tasker. At 17 I had three jobs as I went through uni… McDonalds drive-through chick, running a baby-sitting syndicate in the local neighbourhood and singing jazz in a nightclub (the owner thought I was 18 and I never thought to tell him otherwise…)

Matt Taylor, founder of digital comms studio, The Explainers

My first job was handing out flyers for comic book sale when I was 19. It was one of those jobs which sounds brilliant on paper – dress up in super hero costumes for your comic book store and hit up local malls handing out flyers for the sale – and the best bit was half the pay was in comic books. It was Canberra and summer and really hot, which made my thick black batman costume turn into a microwave around my head.


Illustration from Matt Taylor

Obviously we chose our costumes based on character preference rather than physique, because people were yelling at each other “Hey … come check out the scrawniest Batman ever!” and my mate Henry’s Robin outfit had tiny Lycra pants that were a bit too revealing to say the least. Highlight was having beer bottles thrown at us by roller-bladers at Belconnen skate park, then a string quartet played the theme from Batman while we had a spontaneous fake brawl for the kids waiting to see Santa during pre-Christmas shopping. Then I went back and spent the other half on my pay on comics anyway. Good times.

James Crawley, Copywriter at creative agency Common Ventures

I was a grunt in a ribbon making factory. Sounds kind of awesome and magical, right? No. Soul destroying is more the term I’d opt for.

I had to trawl through 25 sheet Excel documents and manually enter ‘y’ or ’n’ from hand scrawled notes. I did have free access to a massive jar of Liquorice Allsorts – which now disgust me.

Andrew Davenport, managing director, The White Agency

Office Junior at a Furniture Retailers in Manchester, UK when I was 16. I spent more time taking naps in the Carpet Showroom (large rolls of carpet make the perfect hiding spots) thanks to too many big night’s out then I did actually working. My work ethic has changed dramatically since then, promise!

Chris Freel, national agency sales director at Fairfax Media

My first job was as a Bingo Caller at Blackpool Pleasure Beach when I was 15. My nana ran a seafood stall at the mighty Blackpool Pleasure Beach. I grew up with my nana and throughout my childhood religiously attended bingo with her and my mum on a weekly basis. I am convinced it gave me the grounding for a strong focus on numbers. Bingo night was something I very much looked forward to so a few years later when an opportunity arose to call Prize bingo at the UK’s second largest amusement park, I was there in a shot. I worked there for three months over my Summer holidays and something odd happened on a daily basis.

Possibly the most amusing recollection involved a group of Octogenarian regulars. Doris, Joan and Ethel were regulars and I got to know them quite well (they were the only regulars and often the only customers). Without fail, legs eleven would always result in cooing and whistling from them (character building stuff for a 15 year old). One particularly quiet day a couple of rowdy Glaswegian fellas came in and started to shout and act a bit boisterous, throwing the cuddly toys and prizes around and giving me abuse. Before I could call for security Doris and Ethel were out of their seats, walloping the bewildered Scots with their handbags. My 80 year old bouncers had saved the day and for the rest of the week they got their tea for free.

Nikki Borkovic, marketing director at TubeMogul

I worked at an Oportos Chicken Shop when I was 15. Often at the end of the night I would bring home about 10 chickens for the family. I was a bread winner at a young age.


Retail assistant at my mums gourmet deli – Robbie K Gourmet when I was 13.

I was paid with fish n chips from the next door shop for afternoon tea every day (how ironic, as now I pride myself on being a health and wellbeing PR specialist).

Fish and chips

Brian Merrifield, creative director at creative agency, Common Ventures

My first job was on checkout at K-Mart. It was great part-time job and an awesome way to meet girls. One time my supervisor gave me a stern talking to because I wasn’t considering my job at K-Mart as a life-long career.

I was attending design school at the same time. After graduating I quit, moved to Wellington and got a job with the best agency in New Zealand. I saw him after getting my new job (he had been promoted to a store manager). He asked where I was working. I said “Saatchi & Saatchi” to which he simply said “Whoa!”

Vince Frost, founder of design agency Frost* Collective

My first job was at the checkout at Sainsbury’s in the UK when I was 16.

I took great pride in trying to input peoples shopping as fast and as accurately as I could (this was before barcode and scanning).  This pissed off my fellow co-workers who kept telling me to slow down because I would make them look bad. My queues were the longest but quickest through.  The idea of pacing myself never entered my mind and still doesn’t today.

Rachel Black, marketing manager at MCN

First job was as a check-out chick at BI-LO in Adelaide when I was 15 or 16. BI-LO was really on the low (like, low low) end of the supermarket food chain – Foodland was across the road and was significantly cooler.  I loved counting change, Nick from the Fruit & Veg section, and scanning. I loved scanning shit.

BI-LO was near a mental health facility, the residents were allowed to wander if they weren’t dangerous. So we had an eclectic group of people rolling through daily, most of them seeming to really enjoy warm 2L bottles of coke and burping loudly on the bench at the end of the checkouts – kind of like a choir.

There were some legends amongst them, that made a pretty crappy job highly entertaining. Also, it’s amazing how many people buy 50 packs of Horizon or Longbeach ciggies. Truly amazing.

Nick Randall, national sales director at Fairfax Radio Network

I worked at a pub in Richmond when I was 18. I rigged the meat raffle so that I won and that night when I went back to my car it had been stolen.  Karma I think they call it.

Rochelle Burbury, principal at Third Avenue Consulting

My first job Assistant unit publicist on “The Blue Lightning” film  – shot largely in Broken Hill about (predictably) a blue opal heist when I was about 20/21.

It starred John Meillon, Sam Elliott, Rebecca Gibney and Robert Culp (who had very large and very white teeth I recall). I worked on set as the film was being made helping generate publicity and generally having a ridiculously good time at the pub in Silverton. I happened to have my 21st birthday on set in Broken Hill and the amazing, late John Meillon surprised me with a dozen red roses and later, along with the crew, taught me how to drink Flaming Sambuccas…What happens on set, stays on set.


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