In terms of the creative industry as a whole, I’d say that I have a pretty unusual job. When asked to name a typical ‘creative role,’ nobody would say an ops consultant. Instead, it would be things like graphic designer, photographer, or even social media marketing specialist.
Despite this, I’d like to think that my job is fairly important. After all, without the operations running smoothly, any business will struggle, even creative ones.
But how does somebody become an ops specialist in the creative field? The terms ‘creative’ and ‘operations’ don’t often mix. As such, it’s not a field that people just fall into. At least, not the really good ones (if I do say so myself…). Almost everybody in my line of work will have some kind of interesting back story. And here’s mine:
I struggled in school...
I was pretty much bottom set in all my classes and on top of that, I was also bullied at school because I was one of a very few ethnic minorities. This did not help with my confidence. I became very shy and would avoid large crowds. Art was the only subject I was good at and it became a kind of escape. As a child, I was always happiest when spending time in my bedroom drawing in my sketchbook. I would do this for hours at a time.
At about the same time, I got immersed in Hip Hop culture. This enabled me to ensemble a "crew". Basically - a tight-knit group of friends that shared my love of breakdance and hip hop music. We had a fascination with New York City, as this is where Hip Hop originated from. I discovered a book called Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant that showed the amazing "pieces" (in other words, art done by graffiti artists) on NY subway trains. I was able to use my art skills to replicate the work done by the NY graffiti artists in my sketchbook. My graffiti skills together with my breakdancing abilities gave me some minor fame in my school and gradually helped me come out of my shell a bit.
I had decided quite early on that I wanted to be a Graphic Designer. I wasn’t alone in this ambition. My school career advisor said that it was a very popular career choice. I wasn't the only one that wanted to design record cover sleeves. As an alternative, he recommended that I do a new Foundation Course in Print that covered design, typography, and printing at Berkshire College of Art (although I was born in London, we moved to Reading when I was 4 years old).
If I did the foundation course first, then a BTEC and BTEC Higher in Graphic Design, I would have an added advantage when I went for those competitive jobs. However, before I finished my foundation course I was offered a job by a local book design firm and started my career in the creative industry at the tender age of 17!
My first creative role
I got sacked after three months! Even though I lived a couple of miles away I was always late. That was the kick up the backside that I needed and so I started to take my career more seriously. My next role was with a local business-to-business advertising agency called Richardson Carpenter Advertising.
The agency had two founders. They both called Eric and so to avoid any confusion Eric Carpenter was called Chips, as in wood chips! Eric Richardson was the creative director and looked after the studio. He had invested £16k (which was a lot of money in the early nineties!) on an Apple Mac. However, none of his team wanted to use it and preferred to stick with their magic markers.
At college, I had to share a very basic ‘Macintosh Plus’ with a dozen other students, so I did not get a chance to properly learn how to use it. Eric was looking for a junior designer that was happy to make use of his £16k investment. I was more than happy to oblige and very excited to have a Mac all to myself.
I will never forget Eric's words to me during my interview "Manish, the guys in the studio don't get it but believe me the Apple Mac is the future!" I’m sure that many people in the creative industry today would say he was right!
Finding my niche
As Macs were slowly brought into more and more creative agencies, I was able to leverage my experience to find better-paying jobs in London. However, it dawned on me that I was not a very good designer compared to my colleagues. And who wants to be mediocre at their job? Instead, I had to find a different niche. This is something that I still recommend to many of the agencies I work with today - find your niche and stick with it if you want to be successful!
In time, I discovered that I was very good at managing creatives. This led to studio management roles. Over the years, as I gained more experience, I moved to bigger roles. Eventually, I ended up at Design Bridge, which was at that time one of the largest independent design agencies in the world. I rose to the ranks of Executive Operations Director before leaving to set up my open consultancy practice, which is what I do today.
But so what?
Almost everyone in the creative industry has some sort of back story. Why does my experience as a somewhat mediocre designer and subsequent journey through the creative world make me a better ops consultant today?
Although some may perceive me as more of a management consultant type, in reality I'm still a "creative" at heart. Given the opportunity, I would have preferred to have become a brilliant Creative Director than a brilliant Ops Consultant (although you will have to work with me and you can see for yourself if this claim is right!).
I’d like to think that I really understand the creative industry from both points of view. I’ve been there on the creative side from a young age, and design will always be a passion of mine. As such, I know what it takes to produce outstanding creative work. That’s not to say that you can’t be a good ops consultant if you’ve never worked in a creative role- I’m sure there are many out there. But I do believe that it’s what sets me apart from the rest.
While I’ll always retain that creative spark, I’ve also got plenty of experience working in the niche of creative operations. This mix allows me to empathise with creative agency owners and truly understand what success really means to them. Often, this success means the balance between creativity and profitability, even if an agency owner doesn’t know it yet! I’d like to think that my pretty unique mix of experience means I’m the natural choice for agency owners who want to work with someone who really ‘gets it’. I can work with you to come to the answer for your agency in a way that actually makes sense for everyone in it.
So, the creative industry has always been the one I was going to work in in some way or another. The boy sketching in his bedroom may be a bit surprised to see the role that I’m in now, but I truly do love using my unique knowledge and understanding to help creative agencies on a daily basis.
P.S… you may wonder if I can still breakdance. Well, I can still get down to do some of the moves, but I struggle to get back up so avoid it!