Andrew Hardwick’s passion is a hard edge stroke that emerges from his figurative entrepreneurial canvas. But this businessman who claims he wears his heart on his sleeve and in the right places has a soft spot for people and on doing good in the world. Put together, his qualities and experiences, good or bad, blend into a magnificent masterpiece that portrays his colourful business journey.
Hard Edge Managing Director Andrew Hardwick has always exhibited an enterprising spirit since his childhood. The youngest in a brood of four, Andrew brings to mind the days when he would do chores for his brothers and charge them for doing those tasks. This knack for business is something that may have run in the family as Andrew traces it back to his father, whom he illustrates as entrepreneurial and visionary.
Growing up on a farm, Andrew narrated how their father, an inspector in the Fisheries and Wildlife, envisioned a farm where school children from the city can learn more about nature and how to protect it. The farm was set up, complete with cattle and sheep. It was one of the first host farms in Australia, and it could accommodate around 70 people. In the 500-acre property, the entire family did their piece to help establish the farm and run it. “The family all worked very hard to build that because we didn’t have a lot of money behind it. We would obviously be helping to build things, as well as do all the work on the farm,” Andrew recalled. “Our farm not only educated people on the environment. My parents also did a lot to help the disadvantaged and disabled over the years by giving them experiences they never had. I’m very proud of my father’s vision and what we achieved as a family.”
But when it comes to having his own business, such as having a business card to hand over to people, Andrew had it while he was still in high school. Living on a farm in a country town did not present him with a lot of exposure to various opportunities. In spite of this, he didn’t wait for opportunities to come knocking on his door. Instead, he sought them out by speaking to a lot of people who could pave the way to his entrepreneurial path.
“I’ve never been the most talented, but I’ve always been passionate. And I came to learn. I always was attracted by the potential of things,” Andrew declared. At one point, he was producing a magazine for Ford during nights and weekends, while holding down a full-time role as a Design Executive.
Starting a business at that young age was quite daunting as it was never without struggle. Generating enough income was one thing that Andrew cited. “The difficulty was to capture enough work to go out on my own and survive, as I had no capital behind me.” Determined, Andrew conceived his venture by convincing his manager to let him produce their magazine, with him out-of-house. Along with the Ford magazine, his agency, Hard Edge, was born right in his one-bedroom apartment. “I started my journey the same way Bill Gates did. I just haven’t quite got all the zeroes yet.”
Andrew began his creative agency single-handedly. “I’ve always been alone in business as far as I started it by myself. I’ve never had a business partner,” said Andrew. Going unaccompanied through his entrepreneurial journey was gruelling for him. “I guess the next bit of difficulty was probably around experiencing isolation because I went from being very social, seeing people at work every day and managing people, to being by myself,” he disclosed. There was a stage when he felt quite depressed from the lack of human interaction. Even so, his beliefs and passion helped him push his way into this tough world.
It doesn’t help that he belongs in a dog-eat-dog industry where competition is fierce. As Andrew puts it, “My industry is very competitive. So, finding work is very hard. And it’s a type of work that a lot of time people don’t place value on and don’t necessarily want to pay a lot of money as well. It’s a constant battle to be finding work and making sure it’s profitable. That obviously brings with it things like cash flow and so forth. I’ve taken risks along the way to try and grow my business.”
The pathway to Andrew’s business journey indeed has rocks and potholes. But he kept going as he poured his resources into his venture. And it’s not just the money. He also devoted a lot of emotional investment to get it working. From finding a building for his agency to raising his company’s profile, running a business has taken a toll on him financially, physically, mentally and emotionally. “I’ll never forget the day I got a call from the real estate agent to say that my offer on the agency property had been signed. Twenty minutes later, I heard from my biggest client that I had been successful in the tender to retain their business. That day could’ve ended a lot differently.”
“To be honest, I’ve never done it very easy. I’ve not had many times where I could breathe easy, with all the emotional stress and so forth,” he revealed. It was heartbreaking when things begin to look up well and then end up not as expected. “There are many examples of things starting to go right, whether you had a good meeting or you win a pitch and get a new client. Then it hadn’t turned into what it had the potential to be or what it should have been. For that, it is such a kick in the stomach. When you finally feel like you’ve broken through and tasted that success, and then it just doesn’t turn into anything or it fizzles out, that’s probably the thing I find hardest.”
Although Andrew does not regard himself as a follower, he also does not profess himself as a natural-born leader in some ways. “The constant learning around being a great leader can come with hardships in itself,” he said. As he made his way up, it was still an arduous climb. “Being the owner and managing director is a very lonely place as well. So, I think the hardest thing is that I always felt like I was going through it by myself,” Andrew iterated.
Finding EO along his business track was like stumbling on a goldmine. An unexpected circumstance led him to Rob Cecconi, president of EO Melbourne some years back. Andrew was organising an event on innovation with Mercedes-Benz, his biggest client at that time. He encountered Rob when he was looking for speakers for that event.
“He painted such an inspiring picture of EO. So, he nominated me. I applied and was accepted. It changed myself and the way I ran and approached business. I would be in an entirely different place without it,” Andrew maintained. He believes he would have been an absolute mess had he not found EO, especially with the pressures thrown at him from all sides. The support of his forum has been a great help to him. EO has taught him to look at things from various perspectives and find options to move forward. “It has given me the confidence to look at things differently and try other things. I realised that there is always another way or a better way,” he affirmed.
EO also enabled him to hear the experiences of other people and pay attention to them. “Listening to people is always the best way to learn,” Andrew avowed. “Listening to other people’s experiences always provided an insight that I hadn’t thought could be there. I think that’s my best practice. Looking back, I’ve always done that.” Out of other’s experiences, he picked not only ideas or thoughts, but also lessons that he could apply to his own life.
Surrounding himself with good people, whether they are suppliers or clients or advocates, has evened the rough surfaces of his business trail. Andrew asserted, “I’ve been able to go this far in business by purely realising the value of people and staff.” Along with that, he underscores the importance of being kind, appreciative and giving to people. And he does that to his team because he considers his business, which has survived all those ordeals, and the people within it as his biggest wins.
Like most business owners, Andrew wants to take his venture into new areas and new businesses. But unlike many, he wants that growth to come largely from the people within his enterprise. “I have quite a holistic view of my business that I don’t have the ego or the need to be the person who thought of it or has to be the only person to benefit. It’s important to me that this business is bigger than me, and that it engages and rewards and gives the people in it the ability to pursue their dreams as well. I guess that’s my vision.”
Apart from spreading his wings in different areas and having new businesses, Andrew keeps his eyes on contributing to society and community. At present, he does a project with Swinburne University on changing the behaviour of young people in road safety. As if that is not enough, he wants to do more good to the world.
He may not have achieved success the way others imagined it to be, but Andrew continues to work hard, believing he will realise his vision. Despite owning a 12-year-old strategic, creative agency, Andrew still thinks he has a long way to go. Nevertheless, his passion, hard work and kindness have gotten him to where he is today. Add to these the qualities of humility, inquisitiveness, confidence and putting things in perspective, which he found useful in running a business. But these qualities weren’t honed overnight. Time and experience helped mould Andrew to be the business owner that he has become.
As Andrew looks at the canvas of his entrepreneurial life, he absorbs all the positive and challenging events alike. He may want to make a few modifications, such as softening the times he had been hard on himself and hardening the moments he had been weak to succumb to disappointments. Overall, he finds the masterwork exquisite and pleasing. “You get a bit of a hold of it in a sense that you start appreciating things. You need to stop and smell the roses. I think being kind to yourself is key to anything to be able to do that,” he imparts.