Name: Ian Hickey
Company: Tomorrow Agency
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Ian Hickey started Tomorrow Agency 38 years ago by “total luck”.
In his third year of a photography diploma at RMIT he started working for a publishing company, the business went broke and he took the opportunity, with a fellow student, to buy its dark room and lease the building it had been in.
This was the early days of H&S Photography (which later rebranded to H&S Photography and Design and then Tomorrow Agency). The pair of uni students got lucky and had an instant client, although it was far from glamorous – Hickey started his career photographing cows for Dairyman.
“That gave us a business. We had a client and a dark room and interestingly we had an acting agency move into the building too and we picked up business doing all their headshots,” he says.
“There was no clear plan or direction, it was just us knowing how to take photos and we were away. It was more luck than anything.”
Hickey quickly progressed from taking pictures of cows to photographing luxury homes in Toorak and Brighton. He became the first person to put colour photos in real estate windows in Melbourne.
The business went from two clients to 100 in a year and since then Hickey hasn’t looked back.
“Our business grew out of thinking about what else we could do for the real estate industry,” he says.
“Then I met Rod Fitzroy and took on his business about 32 years ago and he’s still one of our biggest commercial clients today. He got me into commercial real estate and I got to understand that industry. So we now have nine commercial real estate agencies as clients and we’re the absolute leaders in that part of the industry.”
Tomorrow Agency is now an industry leader, looking after the images, brochures, newspaper ads, videos and marketing of major real estate agencies, and now turns over $16-18 million a year.
Hickey spoke to SmartCompany about building a niche in the market, retaining clients and securing the company’s future.
Five out of seven days a week Hickey exercises, believing business success alone doesn’t make a successful life.
“Four days a week I exercise in the mornings, so it’s either going to the gym, running, swimming or riding. Riding is always on Wednesdays and Saturdays and I also play tennis on Monday nights,” he says.
But aside from his exercise routine, there is no typical day.
“I still do account service, so I’m involved in the commercial real estate side of the business and I also run a few residential projects. I still act as the managing director too, so I do all the top end legal and banking stuff.
“I get a lot of help from my wife Janine. She handles the HR and the day-to-day running of the business. If the kitchen sink breaks down and all that, people go to her.”
On the day we spoke Hickey had been working at a video shoot for a new residential project since 8am.
“We were using some new technology, a drone, and it was following a girl walking next to the Yarra River. I stayed for a few hours and now I’m back in the office,” he says.
“My next meeting is at 4pm in Geelong and that’s a pretty typical day. I have no regular routine, but I’m out a lot on location, I have about 20 meetings and I’m still very hands on.”
Hickey says the rate at which technology is changing is “beyond belief”.
“The first major change in technology in my life was the fax machine because I used to take proofs of ads into my clients in the city where they’d look at them and make changes and then I’d take them back. So when the fax turned up in the late 70s I thought they were the greatest invention. I bought three of my clients machines because I knew they’d pay for themselves.”
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