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Dan Monheit takes sole ownership of Hardhat as it gears up for new era

Dan Monheit has taken sole ownership of independent agency Hardhat after 18 years with his partner, Justin Kabbani, as well as becoming CEO, Mumbrella can reveal.

“We started as a couple of 24, 25-year-olds straight out of uni with no experience, no money, and literally no idea what we were doing. Somehow, probably just through sheer grit and determination, we’ve managed to build a pretty bloody good business producing important, impactful, and I would say often groundbreaking work for some really, really amazing clients.”

Monheit, now sole owner and CEO of Hardhat

“One of the things that happen at a point like this is you start actually thinking back about all the things that you’ve done and it’s like, oh my God, we did the first ever website for Aeroplane Jelly, and back in the days of mobile apps, I remember doing apps for FMCG clients that would literally pull hundreds of thousands of downloads and doing crazy immersive 360 experiences and slot cars that control with people’s brains. And it’s like, shit, there’s a lot to be proud of.

“So yes, it’s a new chapter and it’s a new start, but what we managed to do together was pretty bloody good.”

Monheit said that after 18 years, Hardhat is now growing “faster than ever”, on track to finish the year 20% up in 2021.

“Things are good, the phones are ringing, the work is rolling in, but also at the same time, we’re not the same people we were when we were 25, believe it or not.”

Co-founder and MD, Kabbani is set to now leave the agency to pursue other avenues, with Monheit now taking the newly created CEO role.

“For people that know Juz, they know he is a super talented, hugely creative guy, and he has got the biggest heart of anyone I know or are likely to ever meet. But he has got interests and investments in things far beyond this little industry we know and love, and I think he just felt like they were calling his name.”

Kabbani

“At the same time I’m looking at what we’ve done, and I’m looking at the traction around this built-on behaviour proposition. I’m looking at what we’re doing, driving behaviour change, and the results we are having especially with challenger brands and these challenger mindsets, and for me, just doubling down on what we were doing was the easiest decision in the world, because it just feels like there’s so much momentum.”

He said the decision felt like a no-brainer. “There is one level of commitment, which is just turning up to the same thing you’ve done every day of your life, and just keep turning up. And there’s another level of commitment where there is actually a pause put in there and you actually have to think about it and reconsider and what are you going to put on the line to actually pursue this.”

“In the moments where I wobbled, it was pretty easy to just look around at the agency and the team, and really the leadership team we’ve built over the last couple of years which is just world-class, and there’s just too much momentum, too many brilliant people who are completely on the bus for this to be anything other than an amazing success.”

As for the new era of Hardhat, he said the strategy is “more of the best bits of what we’re doing now”.

“After all of these years, one thing that has been made abundantly clear to me is that every brief is a behavioural change brief. Sometimes it says it at the top of the brief and sometimes it’s implied. But at the end of the day, clients pay us to change behaviour, otherwise what are we all even in this for?”

The founding pair in 2005, shortly after launching Hardhat

He said the agency will continue to be built around two key disciplines of creative comms which is about desirability, and digital CX, which is about ease.

He also added the agency will continue to champion challenger brands, as nobody has more to gain from behavioural change than them.

“They can’t afford the status quo, their success and our success hinges on the ability to make change. You live and die by your ability to make what’s not currently happening, happen.”

“It is our home base, it’s our sweet spot, it’s our people, and it is by far when I look back at our body of work, where we do the most interesting, most impactful work.”

The past year has seen the agency expand to Sydney, adding two new ECDs in Andy Segal and Chris Hince and a head of strategy, Ken Chan.

Monheit said he was pitching as head of strategy for a while, and since Chan has come in, “he’s been tearing it up, so it was quite a joy to relinquish that role to him”.

The digital CX world deserves more fame around it than it gets, he concluded. “It is such important work. It is work that literally makes or saves our clients millions of dollars a year, and there is such an absence of personalities and content and thought leadership, and really anyone with anything interesting to say in this space.

“So we want to keep doing the brilliant work we’re doing in that space, but also work out how to make sure that for our client’s sake, it gets the talkability and the recognition that it deserves. Somebody needs to champion that work, and hey, we are somebody.”

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