Harry Handojo, production and asset executive at Cheil Australia, grew up as a shy and curious kid - the perfect mix to set the grounds for his later interests in the creative sphere. However, as a youngster, he never really foresaw where he would end up today. Instead, he focused his mind on collectibles - something that he’s still into today. Marbles, Tazos, Pokemon cards, Tamagotchis and many others were the collectibles young Harry was after - and some of them he still keeps safe with him.
Harry describes himself as “the product of two cultures”, as a first generation Indonesian Australian. He grew up in Australia with his immigrant parents, and “like many Asian parents, they instilled hard work, education and a work stability” in both him and his sister. The work ethic his parents taught him never got in the way of his choices, but fostered in him even more curiosity for what might be out there. His first degree in university was a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication, majoring in photography. After a few years of work, Harry decided that wasn’t enough and pursued a second Bachelor, this time in Advertising and Media, to marry the two degrees.
While doing Advertising in university, Harry embarked on his first professional journey in the industry - his internship at an experiential agency. There he dipped his toes in the work through his first professional project, which was a Marks & Spencer campaign aiming to widen M&S’ presence in the Australian market.
“The business objective was to find a way to promote their new line of women’s work wear that can also translate to after-work casual wear. My task was to come up with a number of ideas on how we could stage the wear, in making it translate as both work and casual attire.” M&S ended up loving Harry’s approach to the project, as well as his concept so much that it became a reality. “We also invited mothers, women in business, and female influencers to help promote the activation,” he says.
This was also the project that “hit the right spot” for Harry and shifted his perception on himself, his career and the overall industry. As soon as he got the chance to co-produce and co-lead his own project, and he saw his idea take off, he knew that this was what he wanted to do moving forward.
His first ‘proper’ jobs (beyond his internship) were in retail and as a waiter at a function hall, before working for Woolworths, Optus and Cotton On, so his first steps in the industry were coincidental to say the least. “I had ‘recent graduate’ listed in my LinkedIn profile and the talent acquisition specialist at Cheil reached out to see if I would be interested in coming in for an interview for a role they were looking to fill.” Quite straightforward.
But his work in retail didn’t completely go to waste - he does believe that working in multiple sectors of the retail industry and also going to university allowed him to gain a plethora of different experiences and skills. “I also learned a whole lot by working with a diverse range of people with varying personalities and dynamics,” says Harry.
When he looks back at the earliest days of his career, he goes to a quote by General Hurley: “The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.” Patience and hard work to Harry are the two golden rules of the industry, and surrounding yourself with people that will uplift and inspire you sure does help to keep them intact. The people are precisely Harry’s favourite thing about his job, because they are what provide you with the diversity that is so necessary for creative development. That diverse range of dynamics and point of views are exactly what helps one understand that “everyone works differently” and all those different types of work come together to create something great. Harry’s one piece of advice is clear cut: “Do work that will not only help you grow in your skill set, but also allow you to develop personally.”
The range of people that Harry is faced with on his day-to-day job are both his inspiration and his biggest challenge, because of the difference in creative process. However they are also the source of the biggest learnings from the job, and this is what Harry strives for to this day: “I want to learn everything and anything about creative services and how I can apply this to my everyday life.”
However, the one thing he realises is a flaw of the industry is that it still might be a bit of an old boys’ club. “After graduation and while I was in college, I found it challenging to get a foot through the door. Many of the entry level or junior positions advertised required a minimum of two years of experience, which I could not comprehend for an entry-level role! It was counterproductive and limited all potential opportunities.” Luckily, Cheil were the perfect fit for him from the get go. “The industry should reconsider these types of requirements,” says Harry. “I believe skills can always be taught. It should be a matter of culture, personality and if the candidate is the right fit for the position. This is what we should be considering in the hiring process.” These are exactly the things that can open the door for newcomers and possibly those that traditionally were left out of the communications industries.
“Gen z-ers currently occupy a little over one-quarter of the global population and there is that stigma that, because we are young, we are more ignorant and have a lack of experience.” That sort of prejudice is, to Harry, what makes adland more exclusionary than other industries. He, however, is one of those gen z-ers that breaks through the prejudices. Currently, besides continuing to do his work with a passion and strive, he is also the head of Cheil Lions, the junior advisory board. “As Cheil Lions and young leaders we exist to make a positive difference. Together, our purpose is to help establish insights and recommendations to overcome obstacles within our agency and to explore new opportunities by stimulating healthy and high-quality conversations.”
That sort of positive influence is what inspires Harry every day to continue on his path. What motivates him in his work is the potential for impacting other lives each day, no matter the scale. “It can be as little as just grabbing someone a coffee so they feel appreciated, or help them find new and innovative ways to make their processes at work more efficient. It’s the little things that count in life.”