The Digital Dozen – Oliver Whitten, COO, Adform
The Digital Dozen is a series of profile interviews with thought leaders in the technology industry. Here we speak with Oliver Whitten, COO of Adform, about his career path and ask the question on everyone’s lips... what's your favourite doughnut?
What would you say is your greatest achievement?
I can’t point to a single achievement, but I’d say the balance of work and a happy family life is a daily achievement, and one that is generally unsung for many in our industry. Working parents may have achievements through the day at the office, but these are quickly put into perspective by the big victories at home... like getting a wriggling toddler into pyjamas. Its managing both that’s the real achievement.
Which quality do you most value in others?
The kind of quiet, modest confidence that comes from knowing your sh*t, but not wearing it on your sleeve.
What profession did you want to go into as a child?
I wanted to be an archaeologist. I was a big Indiana Jones fan.
Name the best piece of advice you could give to someone just starting their career.
Strive to learn as much as you can, build lasting connections, and be patient. Good things come to those who wait (and those who work hard).
What has been your best idea yet?
Building diverse teams. I’ve always tried to hire a wide range of profiles, building a team with differing backgrounds and experience into each organisation I’ve managed, and think it’s a real key to success. Nothing stunts innovation like homogeneity.
Who do you admire most in business?
I recently listened to a great NPR podcast called ‘How I built This’ and probably the one that stood out was Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia. I loved the story because he built his business from his passions; which were rock climbing, surfing and exploring. Also, because however big the company got, they didn’t lose sight of what mattered to the founders, they piled their profits back into the environment and still today they let their employees go surfing when the waves are good!
How would you define success?
What do you think will be big in media in ten years’ time?
A couple of things jump out. The first is automation, we are just at the beginning of a journey with artificial intelligence (AI) in advertising and we can already see huge potential. As all media becomes digital and connected, which it absolutely will, there are too many possible permutations of ads, environments, data points, people, etc. Automation will be the answer to solving the increasingly vast computational challenge of getting the right ad to the right user, at the right time, and in the right context. Secondly, I’m pretty fascinated by virtual reality (VR). Again, I think it’s just getting going and while I don’t quite buy the ‘Ready Player One’ view of the world yet, undoubtedly we’re headed for increasingly immersive media experiences. Finally, I’m quite fascinated by where voice will go and am pretty sure keyboards will feel as clunky as typewriters in a few years!
What one book would you recommend everyone reads?
‘A little history of the world’ by Ernst Gombrich. It was actually written as a textbook for school children in the 1930s, but I love it.
The language I’d love to be able to speak is…
Well, as I’m working for a company founded in Copenhagen, Danish would certainly be helpful right now, but longer term it would have to be Mandarin.
Name one thing you wish you’d invented.
And finally, the question on everyone’s lips... what's your favourite doughnut?
I must be a traditionalist, but to me there is really only one kind of doughnut; sugar and jam.