While most year 12 students were studying hard for final exams or planning where to go for “schoolies”, Aden Hepburn was designing websites for local businesses in his final year of school.
Yes it’s another instalment of our celebratory content series in which we’ve been catching up with our original 30 Under 30 winners from 2010. If you missed the earlier profiles, check them out here.
On-time entries for our 2019 30 Under 30 Awards close in under two weeks (22nd February) so get cracking!
Under the spotlight today is VMLY&R ANZ Boss Aden Hepburn, who shares the role with Pete Bosilkovski following the merger of the two agencies last year. Known for his expertise in digital, entrepreneurial spirit and passion for the industry, we sat down with Aden to find out his take on the awards and attracting and retaining young talent in Australia.
Then: head of digital/interactive, Ideaworks
Now: joint chief executive officer, VMLY&R ANZ
As a year 12 student in 2002, Aden Hepburn started designing websites for local businesses. By the end of the year he couldn’t keep up with the demand.
The following year Hepburn completed an advanced diploma in website design and development, and quickly scored his first agency role: a “web designer” position.
As with most small agencies, it was all hands on deck and apart from quickly progressing to lead the design team, he was writing code, working on digital strategies and pitching large multi-national clients, all in his first year! He then moved to Ideaworks in 2005.
Hepburn started his own blog, Digital Buzz, and after just over 12 months of late nights, the blog was ranked in Ad Age’s Power 150 blogs and had become the #1 marketing blog in Australia.
Former colleague John McLachlan, who led operations for Ideaworks gave his take: “In the digital field, Aden has proven himself to be greatly knowledgeable – through physical application and also his leading industry blog – highly capable and above all passionate about everything he undertakes… Overall, the level of maturity and confidence that Aden exudes belies his years.”
What did it mean to you at the ripe age of 25 that you were chosen as one of B&T’s 30 Under 30?
At the time, it was the biggest thing in my career and perhaps my proudest achievement. I think I knew it would be an honour, and I’d get a paragraph in the magazine I could frame for my grandparents, but I probably didn’t realise the gravitas it came with at such a young age, and ultimately the future opportunities and networking that would result.
How do you think being nominated affected your career, if at all?
It’s definitely been a door opener. While hard to point out any one thing, making this list 10 years ago absolutely elevated my profile both inside and outside the agency. It provided greater respect from agency peers, leaders, clients and positioned me as a young gun in the wider industry… but that’s probably when the hard work started and expectation built to reach my full potential.
What’s been the biggest change to your life since then?
Being given the opportunity to launch VML into Australia in 2012 was the biggest change in my life at the time. No one can prepare you for the responsibility and energy needed to build an agency from scratch, nor the sense of pride and family you create with those key leaders and people you build the business with. We started with about 8 people in 2012 and built it to 120+ people in 2018 before announcing our merger to create VMLY&R last year.
What words of wisdom would you have shared with your 24 year old self back then knowing what you do now?
Own the detail but don’t get stuck in the weeds… I think I’m still learning that, but it’s something to strive for early on in your career.
You can’t do everything even if you think you’re the best at it. Trust the people around you, coach them and partner to elevate yourself and those around you through the success of your work and relationships.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my leaders and the people I work with every day. Sure, we’ve won some unbelievable clients, many awards and created things plenty of agencies wish they’d had, but there is nothing more fulfilling than working with great people and watching them grow with you. Teaming is perhaps the most important thing in our industry, a high performance team will beat a group of high profile experts every day of the week.
What do you see as the biggest challenges that face young people in advertising, marketing and media these days?
It’s probably progression. Everyone in this industry is hungry to progress up the ranks and no more so than the next generation coming into the industry right now. But not every position or agency has a perfect pathway and timing for young guns wanting to accelerate to the next level. With that hunger can come frustration but I can personally vouch that patience creates bigger and better opportunities in the long run.
Conversely, what’s the biggest opportunity for those under 30 now?
Changing our direction. There has never been a more exciting time in the industry than right now as it resets and reshapes itself for the next 20 years. People under 30 are in the box seat to shape the entire industry at its most important time, and all its going to take are a few great people to find and unlock new value for the entire industry. Brands now exist in a completely digital world and with that as a starting point, everything is now possible.
What can the industry do better to attract and retain young talent?
I think the industry needs to actually market itself, in the right places, to the right people. Personally I fell into the industry not really understanding what it was until I was already deep into it.
Gruen is the very best gateway to that right now by far, but so much more needs to be done to inspire the next generation of talent. And with our industry becoming so broad and all encompassing, we need to bring into the industry a much wider and non-traditional talent pool via a more flexible working model, or all those amazing brains will end up chasing the Silicon Valley dream straight out of uni.
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.