From rags to riches to business recognition for adman Addis

Alan Dale, left, and Kelly Addis

When he was growing up, Kelly Addis dreamed of being a rock star. His first job as a butcher’s apprentice at Onehunga Foodtown was pretty much diametrically opposed to rockstardom. But now, almost three decades on, he’s living the dream, heading up award-winning Melbourne ad agency BoilerRoom. And last weekend he was honoured by his alma mater as one of three inductees into the Onehunga High Business School Hall of Fame.

Addis left Onehunga High in 1981 as a 15 year old, without any qualifications, with intentions of becoming a butcher’s apprentice. And he says he could still be chopping meat had it not been for his OE.

“I tripped off overseas, as you do, but when I came back in the mid-1980s there was little work. Someone suggested a bachelor of business studies so I shot off to Massey in Palmerston North. While at uni I surprised even myself by winning an Advertising Agencies Association scholarship and got an interview at Saatchi’s in Auckland. At the time Saatchi’s was a hot-bed of advertising creativity with the likes of Andrew Stone, Nick Bayliss and Cindy Mitchener all working there.”

He stayed at Saatchi’s for a year before moving on to various agencies and settling at McCarthy Moon, which won NBR’s agency of the year under $30m, in 1998, with its work on the Drake Recruitment account leading to the agency being invited to handle Drake’s global business.

Addis moved to Melbourne on the Drake account and managed to soon after won the business for Telstra’s youth brand Communic8. He left McMoon to set up BoilerRoom in early 2001, which was named as the emerging agency of the year in 2004  by B&T magazine and as the country’s 25th fastest growing company in 2005 in Business Review Weekly’s Fast 100.

Addis, now 43, sold the business to publicly-listed Commquest in 2007 but was able to buy it back almost two years later when Commquest – rebranded as d2 Digital – put BoilerRoom up for sale.

His story parallels that of Kiwi entrepreneur Tony Falkenstein, whose largesse and vision was responsible for the founding of New Zealand’s first secondary school business curriculum. He left Onehunga High at the end of 1963 after scraping through School Certificate and then twice failing University Entrance, before starting work as a pastry cook at Eve’s Pantry in Epsom.

It was Falkenstein’s company Red Eagle that in 2002 underwrote $300,000 to get Onehunga High’s business school up and running. Some five years later he provided a further hand up with a donation of $1m in shares in listed company Just Water International Limited.

The business school now recognises three or four former students who have achieved significantly in their fields of enterprise in an effort to inspire current students and this year Addis joined actor Alan Dale and Auckland Chinese Community Chair and lawyer Arthur Loo, QSM as the 2010 inductees.

Onehunga High principal Deidre Shea says to succeed in today’s business world people need skills and knowledge.

“By honouring the likes of Kelly Addis, Alan Dale and Arthur Loo we can practically demonstrate to our students not only the benefits of a business career but also the responsibilities that come with it.”

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