The alternative careers of the bigwigs of adland

Even the seasoned stalwarts of Asia’s advertising scene have dreamt of doing something else at some point. Haven’t they? Perhaps not. But if so, what?

Farmer, sailor, accountant, lawyer, pancake-maker?

Mumbrella asked a few of the industry’s movers and shakers what their dream job would be if they weren’t in advertising.

And here’s what they said…

Charles Cadell, Asia Pacific president, McCann Worldgroup


I would be teaching world history. Preferably to people who have as much interest in the subject as I do. A long time passion, I increasingly feel that the amnesia to the lessons that history provides is a significant reason we face so many of the challenges in the world we do today. As a topic it is vibrant, alive and now and provides critical context and perspective to the otherwise overly rushed and short-term approach of us all. What’s more, it is replete with the most engaging stories, characters and brilliance one could hope for.

Lara Hussein, MD, M&C Saatchi Malaysia

The Lara Hussein Show?

I always wanted to host my own women’s talk show. It would cover anything and everything to do with women’s issues; a sort of Malaysian Oprah. Now that’s a real dream… The idea of meeting different people, giving, helping and just being in a position where you can make things happen, and put a smile on someone’s face.

David Mayo, CEO, Bates CHI & Partners


I have done a lot of interesting jobs in my life; grave digger, despatch rider, mini-cab driver, barman, journalist, groundsman, pump attendant, arbourist, HGV driver. I have worked on Fleet Street, in galleries, ad agencies, production companies… I even had a pitch at Brick Lane Market in London for three years.

I’ve learned that the most rewarding and stimulating jobs are generally not the highest paid, but the ones with the most human interaction. That said if you can mix human interaction with plenty of money, the best job NOT in advertising has to be Terry Savage’s job as chairman of Cannes.

But let’s face it, advertising is terribly important, so it’s a moot discussion and an impossible dream!

Philip Brett, president, South and Southeast Asia, TBWA


I guess I would carried on to do what I trained for, which was to be a criminal barrister. Looking after all kinds of anti-social elements and trying to persuade authorities to see the good and give them another chance. Kinda like my current job really!

Tan Kien Eng, CEO, Leo Burnett Malaysia


I would be cultivating the land with permaculture principles. Beneath my hopeful and positive mindset lies a bleak outlook of the future fuelled by my observation of greed, ego and conspicious consumption. This will eventually lead to further destruction of mother earth. Which explains why I remain nestled in the tropics, because in the coming future the tropics will be the last bastion of nature and ecology.

Fiona Bartholomeusz, MD, Formul8


If I hadn’t sold my soul to advertising, I probably would have been a boutique developer. I love buying old apartments/properties, gutting them and renovating them from the ground up. You’re talking to a person who visits quarries to choose the right graining for marble, picks every door handle, visits a site twice a day and causes her contractors to have nightmares about the projects they’re on! It’s no wonder why our agency has actually have ended up working with the top developers in Singapore and Malaysia as it fits quite nicely with what I’m passionate about.

Matthew Godfrey, Asia president, Y&R


The conundrum with this question is that advertising is my dream industry and therefore I consider myself very lucky. Of course there are many other adventures that sound equally invigorating. A designer for an Italian car company, a stand-up comedian or even a stay-at-home dad. But if there really was a dream job that I truly should be doing, my advice to myself would be to quit and go try it. Life’s too short to simply be dreaming from a vanilla cubical.

Lou dela Pena, CEO, Publicis Singapore

Lou dela PenaI would love to be an executive producer of the films I am very passionate about. If I think of Blue Jasmine, Sense & Sensibility, Merchant Ivory, What’s eating Gilbert Grape, Election, Juno and a few more – watching them are great experiences in themselves. I would have loved to be a significant part of developing these types of films – from inception to funding and of course production and marketing. That would be one dream job too.

Gil Chua, president and CEO, DDB Group Philippines


I joined the ad industry as a working student. And I’ve never really imagined myself being in another field outside the advertising industry. But maybe in my next career I will be a diplomat or peace negotiator. You never know.

Valerie Cheng, global executive creative director, Shell Lubricants, and chief creative officer, JWT Singapore


Something to do with animals – like a conservationist for elephants or gorillas. I’ve always loved being with animals since I was a child and always felt a privilege when they connect with you. Of course so far, the only connections I’ve had are with dogs and cats. It must be very magical to work with larger, wild animals, and to help right the wrongs humans have done to species that are under threat.

David Guerrero, chairman and chief creative officer, BBDO Guerrero


I still feel I have my dream job. But as it happens I’m currently trying out another one. Esquire Philippines asked me to be guest editor for their next issue. And that was certainly a dream role when I first left school and joined the post room at Hearst Magazines in London. How’s it going? Well not bad. I’ve been meeting with the editorial team discussing content. Reading work by a lot of other writers and preparing to interview some of the most prominent people in the country. We still have deadlines. But we don’t have direct client comments. On the other hand there is just as much – and perhaps more – pressure to get things right. How did I do? Wait till next month. Like advertising: it’s all about the work, the work, the work.

Joseph Tan, CEO, Lowe Indonesia

Joe Tan

I’d open a quaint shop selling collectible vinyls and cool turntables. I love the artistry that goes into album artwork and the pure analog sound. I would call my shop sunday@33rpm, and I’d serve the most amazing flat white while you are testing out the vinyls.


Cheelip Ong, executive vice president, 180 China

I always had a love for movies. Like a great ad, they captivate your imagination and engage with your emotions. So if I weren’t in advertising, I am likely to pursue a career as a film director, where I could continue to be creative and bring original stories to life.

Paul Heath, CEO, Ogilvy Asia Pacific

Paul Heath

As usual there’s always a handy David Ogilvy quote to help answer questions like this. On this he says: “The secret of long life is double careers. One to about age sixty, then another for the next thirty years.”

I’m actually very happy with my career in advertising and have always found that living with no regrets is a secret to happiness (if not a long life!). As a child I always wanted to be an airplane pilot. Now I sit inside the plane, just don’t get to fly it. That’s probably good news for the passengers…

What would I do if I wasn’t doing this?  Well, I have an eye on the “next thirty” years and plan to spend it as a farmer – my wife’s family has a farm in Brazil with cattle, horses, sugar cane and eucalyptus forest. I’ve just finished building a house there and look forward to that in due course.

Warwick Olds, director, Riverorchid

Warwick OldsMy dream job would be to work as St Peter. I’d wait for various folk, such as selected accountants, auditors, various carefully flagged clients (not least of whom would be procurement managers), certain journalists, and most of all lawyers to come up to heaven…and then despatch them instanter for a meeting with Beelzebub!

Got an interesting alternative career you’d like to share with us? Let us know and we’ll add it to this piece.


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