When reflecting on one’s own career, it can be hard to look forward and plan your next move. It’s often only looking backwards that offers the introspection and clarity needed to connect the dots and see a clear path emerge.
In this series of interviews, we’ll be speaking to figures from across the industry and exploring how creative professionals got their first break. Today, we hear from Emma Arenås and Johan Hedin, production manager and creative team leader at Chimney, respectively.
Neither Emma nor Johan took a clear or simple path into their roles today. Emma’s formative years were spent aspiring to a career in sport, whereas Johan spent over three years studying economics before making the change to creativity.
Here the pair reflect on their journeys so far, how Chimney’s culture is benefitting their own development, and the advice they’d give their younger selves if given the chance…
“I guess if you’d told either of us we’d be working together at a creative company when we were much younger, it would have been hard to believe”, laughs Johan Hedin.
Chimney Stockholm’s creative team leader hadn’t always been so keen on a career in creativity. Originally, he’d pursued economics - until the influence of his father put him onto the path towards an artistic role. “My Dad was a career copywriter who’s probably seen it all in terms of Swedish advertising”, he explains.
Likewise, Emma Arenås’ passion was initially in the world of sport. “I was supposed to study an athletics program but it didn’t work out - I can’t put my finger on it exactly”, she says, “but I just had this overwhelming feeling in my stomach that it wasn’t for me. A week or so later, I saw an ad for a course in media and design. Everything else built up from there”.
The pair’s paths intertwined at Chimney, where they’ve formed a mutual respect for each others’ roles thanks to experiences from both their past and present. “When I came to Chimney I was perhaps more of an unstructured creative in the stereotypical sense”, notes Johan, “but with the role I now have as team leader I’ve had to learn those principles of organisation, clarity, and efficiency - which often helps me understand Emma’s perspective coming into a project”.
That feeling of empathy is mirrored by Emma’s own experiences. “When I first started studying design at the Berghs School of Communication in Stockholm, I was learning to be an art director”, she recalls. “It was only through that process that I learned my skills were more in the practical side. But, like Johan, I’m able to draw on that experience to see where a creative is coming from on a project”.
Having each worked at the full-service creation studio Chimney for a few years, both Johan and Emma have picked up a sense of the company’s culture - and invariably put something of themselves back into it.
“I think I’ve been working here for long enough that Chimney’s culture has become second nature to me and I don’t notice it at times”, says Johan, who has been with the company for four years now, “but there’ll be occasions when I’m chatting to friends who work elsewhere and it dawns on me that, hey, maybe this isn’t so normal”.
For both Johan and Emma, there is a very clear culture present throughout the company. “I’d probably define it something like this: ‘Chimney finds a way’”, explains Emma. “We’ve gotten into the habit of taking on ambitious briefs and finding a new way to make them happen, sometimes against the odds. That means clients will regularly set us challenging tasks, which results in a fun work environment - no two days are the same!”
“I’d absolutely agree - and there’s something else you notice after being here a while as well”, nods Johan, “and that’s how many others there are growing within the company alongside you. I’ll look across the room (when I am in the office, that is) and see people who have worked in three or four different roles here. Chimney gives you the space to experiment and grow, and there’s a lot to be said for the culture that fosters at a creative company”.
Longevity and experimentation, then, are two qualities that have come to define both Chimney and its employees. “There’s a colleague at the Stockholm office who's been here for 20 years - a few of our colleagues here were just starting school on his first day!”, laughs Emma.
Having settled into their roles at Chimney, both Emma and Johan have been reflecting on the advice they’d give to their younger selves at the start of their career journeys.
“One thing I’d definitely say to myself is ‘find a mentor’”, says Emma. “I didn’t have one at the start of my career and I regret that - knowing what I know now, having a mentor would have been fantastically helpful”.
For Johan, having a role in which he deals with new applicants has given him a unique new perspective on the job-hunting process for career-starters. “I never knew this when I was looking for my first job”, he says, “but I’ve found the best thing a job seeker can do to make an impression is this: find a company you are really passionate about and want to work for, and simply get in touch. Just send an email, explain who you are and what you love about the company, and that you’d love to chat over a coffee at some point. Even if there’s no job potential right away, you’ve guaranteed you will be top-of-mind when something does become available”.
Looking back on Emma and Johan’s careers so far, both have tried things out and experimented before landing in roles which suit them. As Emma puts it, “you might not realise it, but you’re already following your path. Either that, or you’re carving one out for yourself!”