Neale Whitaker is Editor-in-Chief of Belle and Good Food magazines at ACP. He is also a published author and a regular judge on Channel Nine’s top-rating renovation reality TV series ‘The Block’. Originally from the UK, Neale has lived and worked in Australia since 1999.
Describe yourself in 3 words: Sentimental, loyal, passionate.
What is your life motto? No motto, but honesty and respect have always served me well.
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I’ve been career-focused since leaving uni in my early 20s. I’m 50 this year, so you could say roughly 30 years! I’ve had successes and disappointments. To consider myself successful now suggests complacency.
There’s always the next challenge – and the next level of success.
How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? How many hours are there in 30 years? I’m still pursuing it. I have more than one dream.
Describe how difficult the business really is? These are challenging times for many businesses and media is no exception. Publishing is no longer just about print and paper. You have to factor in digital, online and social media. You can’t stand still. A modern editor is a content manager (although I dislike the term) and a brand guardian. You need to be savvy on many levels.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? How many can I choose? I will continue to make mistakes and learn from them for the rest of my life. The first time I didn’t really listen to my heart was a tough time. Instinct is everything.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? My great mentor is the British editor Felicity Green, for whom I worked in the early 90s. Felicity taught me invaluable practical lessons such as the power of a well-cropped photo, but she also taught me to have confidence in myself. Another ex-boss advised me to smile more, because it would change the way people responded to me. It worked. Unfortunately it’s something I still forget to do.
In your mind, is formal training essential? In many professions it’s mandatory. Can you imagine a doctor or lawyer without formal training? I have never had formal training, I have always learned on the job. But I’m lucky to work in an industry where that was possible. In media, relevant experience can often be as valuable as professional qualifications. Probably more so.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? I have had mentors but I haven’t gone out looking for them. The starting point was always finding the right role and the right company to gain the experience I wanted. The mentors followed from there.
What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? Be open to all opportunities but don’t try to run before you can walk. And don’t assume you will land in the right job straight away. There might be two or three false starts before you find the perfect fit. Learn from each one. I spent six years in public relations before I finally landed my dream job as an assistant magazine editor. Lateral thinking and diversification are good.
What kept you going when you felt like giving up? Other than alcohol? An unshakeable belief in my abilities and a work ethic drummed into me from an early age! I have never believed the world owes me a living.
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? They are factors, but never underestimate the value of tenacity and determination. We create our own opportunities.