12/25/2014 04:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Greg Whitham: Inspiration Never Comes When It's Convenient

This is part of the #CareerAdvice series - featuring successful professionals who share their advice to people who would want to take their career to the next level.

How does one design a career path that leads to that perfect 'dream job?' Greg Whitham, Head of Ogilvy Digital at Ogilvy New Zealand, shares the importance of honing one's collaboration skills, learning in the process and his experience from architecture to eventually becoming the head of the digital marketing for leading advertising firm in the world.


Greg Whitham, Head of Ogilvy Digital at Ogilvy NZ Limited

Can you tell us a bit about how you started your career? What are some of your best moments in your professional life?

I started my career in the 80's in Architecture. I am currently the Creative & Strategic Director of Digital at Ogilvy & Mather New Zealand. Curiously, at no point did I ever consciously change careers.

The late 80's and early 90's were an interesting time in the Architectural profession. The rapid influx of CAD & Computer 3D animation meant there was suddenly a chance for me to get off the drawing board and back onto the computer - a love affair I had had since my parents generously bought me an Apple II many years earlier.

Our business initially revolved around 3D animation presentations for large developers, but this soon moved to interactive CD-ROMS, and then finally online. Every time we had a client ask us "Do you guys do..." we said "Yes - of course we do".

Then we would sit down and work out how we were ever going to deliver what we had just assured a client we could do. It was a formative time in the early digital marketing industry as everyone was still figuring out what the possibilities might be.

Truth is, I never even considered myself to be a 'Digital marketing specialist' until a prospective client called me to say 'I want you guys to work on my brand since you're the experts in marketing for the construction sector'.

All I had really been doing was what I loved doing; playing on computers, figuring out how things could work together, and observing how and why people engaged with digital interfaces.

From an initial staff of 1 the business grew until we were no longer an Architectural practice, but a Digital Marketing agency that happened to do a little architecture on the side. Then around 7 years ago, the opportunity came up to work across digital at Ogilvy & Mather - a chance I took and haven't looked back.

If you could advise your 20-year-old-self today, what would you tell him?

Opportunity isn't going to present itself to you with a big fat 'Hey Buddy, this is a great opportunity' label on it, so pay attention. Be present. If it sounds interesting follow it up. It doesn't matter if it's 'outside your job description'.

In 25 years time you are (mostly) going to only regret the things you didn't do - not the things you did do. So question everything. Be more open to change - it's good for you. Put yourself out there and get into situations that make you sweat more often.

Fear has always been a great incentive to you so make it work in your favor. And finally... it might be 1988 but seriously... you are going to look back in time and question how you ever thought that haircut and those high-waisted jeans ever looked good on you?

What has been the most valuable advice you've ever gotten when you were facing challenges in your career?

The one thing I know I have said to myself before I've commenced any major challenge has been 'How hard can this be?'

Everything can be broken down into smaller chunks. You are never going to be able to eat an elephant in one bite - so just tackle it one spoonful at a time.

It's easy to get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenge you might be facing so workout a methodical process and then just focus on each task in sequence. Nothing builds your confidence faster than realizing that bit by bit, piece by piece, you can work through some incredibly complex challenges.

What would you advise the millennial just starting with their career or aiming to take their careers to the next level?

Stop worrying about your future career and focus on your vocation - what do you really enjoy doing?

It's more than likely that the most rewarding careers in the future haven't been invented yet. So keep exploring, questioning, and trying new experiences until you know with total conviction what you are really genuinely interested in.

Don't worry if that ends up being something that doesn't fit neatly into a job description. In my experience people that have a real passion for what they do end up modifying their work to allow their real strengths the freedom to grow.

And if you're stuck in a job that doesn't give you any opportunity to do what you're good at - get out and try something or somewhere else.

There is no limit to the amount of times you can reinvent yourself so be open to change and stay alert for the opportunity to do so. Write stuff down - inspiration never comes when it's convenient so capture it wherever you can.

Cultivate your collaboration skills - it's a sure bet that whatever the 21st century brings career wise - it will be those that can leverage the strengths of others that will get ahead the fastest.

And finally, remember that just thinking about stuff won't get you very far - you have to get spectacularly great at getting out there and doing it.

Follow Greg Whitham's career journey by connecting with him on LinkedIn.

Watch out for the next post of the #CareerAdvice series and be sure to connect with me on Twitter @jonharules, LinkedIn and my blog, Digital Marketing in Asia.