Dynamic Duos: ‘Instant Cousins’ Mark Coad and Andrew ‘Billy’ Baxter

In this week's Dynamic Duos, industry veterans Mark Coad and Andrew 'Billy' Baxter share how two cousins from regional Victoria found themselves in some of the most influential positions in the advertising industry.

Mark Coad: 

Well, specifically we met on 13 December, 1967 – the day I was born. Billy was a whopping 2 days old then. Our mums are sisters and we were born in the same hospital. I can’t say I recall that first meeting, but we did grow up as young cousins in two very close families. We went our own way through schooling and university – but always kept in close contact.

Having grown up and studied in regional Victoria, I moved to Melbourne in early 1990 with a degree under my belt and a career ahead. The only person I really knew in Melbourne was Billy, so we moved into a share house together.

At the time, I worked in the media department of Y&R and Billy was a sales rep for Gillette and spent much of his time on the road in his company supplied maroon Ford Falcon wagon, flogging razors to retailers. Second fastest car in the world – surpassed only by a rental! We proved that on several Gillette company-funded road trips

Y&R won the Nintendo account and needed a junior account executive. I helped connect a few dots – and Billy did the rest. He started in that role circa 1993 and over the years I have played my part in taking some responsibility for imposing him on the advertising industry.

I’ve admired Billy’s career since the early days. He spent close to a decade at Y&R and went on to run some of the largest advertising groups in the country, most recently Ogilvy and Publicis. Barring those initial couple of years in the early 1990’s – strangely we’ve never worked together again

We’ve remained in close contact across all these years as close mates and cousins in equal measure. Our kids have grown up together being of similar age. Our relationship is built on many things, and we have much in common beyond family. Our career paths have travelled a similar road in an industry we’ve both loved.

I’ve really respected all Billy has achieved – even in his younger years. He was an excellent sportsperson (he’ll tell you he still is!). A very good AFL player who played many years at a senior level, and a long serving captain of his cricket team. His working career has been as great as his sporting achievements, and he worked his way to the highest levels. He is now using the connections he has made and the experience he has gained to do a lot of work in consultancy and board/advisory roles.

In my mind, he certainly is one of our industry greats.

Andrew Baxter: 

We were born two days apart in adjacent hospital beds. Our Mums are sisters, and the page 3 headline in Melbourne’s Herald chronicled the arrival of “Instant Cousins”. No one knew that 25 years later we would be planning, creating and buying ads together on that very page in the same newspaper, working for Young & Rubicam Melbourne on clients like Nintendo.

In our primary school years there was always great anticipation for the regular family catch ups with the Coads. There were plenty of funny stories swapped and practical jokes played, all topped off by that infectious Mark Coad laugh! Melbourne’s outer suburban streets were our playground back then; kicking the footy, playing cricket, or riding our self-made BMX bikes down to the local shops to buy footy cards, lollies and hot chips (and the occasional pack of ciggies!).

It was Mark who help me convert my old dragster into a BMX style bike, with second hand forks and handlebars, and knobby tyres bought at the East Burwood K-Mart. Amongst us all, he was the smart one. He could fix things like the bike, and he was identified early in primary school as being academically gifted. Although he liked to play that down!

Even back then Mark was easy to get along with. Laid back and comfortable in his own skin, quietly determined, and always with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

In the early 1980s, quite a few of our immediate and wider family were involved in the advertising industry. In hindsight we listened to their stories more subliminally than actively. And I don’t recall either Mark or I ever thinking we’d one day pursue it as a career. Business yes, but advertising specifically? No.

So, we both did a Bachelor of Business at different Uni’s, and soon after we moved into a unit together in Melbourne’s inner East. A couple of years later, Mark took a terrific job in the media department at Young & Rubicam Melbourne, and found himself working under brilliant mentors in Mike Porter and John Peters. I was working in sales for Gillette, but itching to move into a marketing or advertising role. When Y&R won the Nintendo account, Mark suggested I apply for the new Account Manager role, facilitated the introduction, and five interviews later I had the job.

We worked together at Y&R for a number of years, alongside a young team of whom a dozen would become the who’s who of Melbourne advertising. We worked and socialised hard together. The brands we worked on went from strength to strength. As did the levels of practical jokes within the agency, more often than not led by one Mark Coad! His favourite – sneaking into someone’s office, leaving a full carton of our Pura client’s milk open in the back of their filing cabinet, and returning the next day to ask what that horrid smell was!

Mark had a big couple of years leading into our 30th birthdays. He had met, proposed and married the love of his life, Kirsten. I had been lucky to be close at hand for all three moments. The proposal was classic Coad. After an afternoon pub crawl from Sydney Uni to The Rocks he popped the question under the Sydney Harbour Bridge! It was a brilliant surprise to all at the time, but no surprise in hindsight. They were brilliant together, and still are.

After those Y&R years, we never worked together again. But we remained the closest of mates as our careers ran in parallel. I’d proudly read of his successes and hear his clients and team heap unsolicited praise on him. “Best boss I’ve ever had”, “we love working with Coady”, “he runs a great agency” and the quintessential “he’s a great bloke”

It’s a testament to his leadership style that has remained incredibly consistent – building a strong culture, hiring and developing top talent, forming terrific relationships with clients, and future-proofing a core media offering that delivers results for those clients.

There are many agency leaders who have succeeded at one agency, but not many who have done it at four. From Y&R Melbourne, to OMD, to phd and now IPG, the successes have flowed. He truly is an industry legend, and I couldn’t be more proud to be his cousin and mate.

Mark on Andrew:

Most memorable moment with Andrew:  Not sure I can distill 55 years together into one memorable moment. We’ve grown up together, worked together, played sport together, partied together, lived together and travelled together… but I’ll give you one funny memory. As kids, I taught Billy how to ride a horse. We were out one day galloping along – and Billy thought he had it sorted. That was, until the horse saw a fast-approaching fence that Billy hadn’t spotted. The horse hit the skids, Billy sailed over the hand-bars and face planted on the other side of the fence…. sans-horse and with his teeth full of grass! I laughed, he didn’t!

So many memorable moments!

But – the most impactful moment. It was Summer – around 1994. Billy was keen on a young lady and was looking for opportunities to get to know her. He knew she was in Anglesea over Summer, so he made the necessary plans to visit. He needed a wingman, and asked me to step in. I did what friends do, and spent New Year’s Eve in Anglesea. Billy never made the catch – but I ended up dating one of her friends. Kirsten and I have been married for 26 years now and have 2 amazing kids!

Describe Andrew in one word: The most fitting description of Billy is ‘Billy’.

We all know him and what he brings. He’s driven, he’s connected, he’s successful – he’s all those adjectives. But to those who know him best, these attributes are just, Billy being Billy.

Andrew’s most annoying habit or endearing behaviour: His most annoying habit is also his most endearing feature. There is nobody I know who is more connected and more networked than Billy. He knows bloody everyone! So, in our twenties – we’d go out a lot. I can leave a pub in 30 seconds… “bye everyone, see you next time”. Billy however, used to take at least 20 minutes to weave his way out, so he could talk to and acknowledge everyone on the way! I’d be out the front having grabbed a cab, with the metre running. “For F&^ks sake Billy – let’s go!”.

It happened every time – and you know why? Simply because he puts such a high value on personal relationships.

Love you mate.

Andrew on Mark: 

Most memorable moment with Mark:  There have been plenty of memorable moments including him being the Best Man at our wedding. Even if he did pull the “shit, I think I’ve lost the rings” trick when asked for them by the celebrant!

But many of the memorable moments involved cars. Throughout his 20s, Mark had two cars he was very proud of – a brown Kingswood, and then a red Mitsubishi Magna. He drove the Kingswood until it literally could go no more. His love of old Kingswoods continues to this day, with he and his son recently restoring one together.

When his original Kingswood went to car heaven, he turned his eyes to a red Mitsubishi Magna. Around the same time, I picked up a silver car of the same make and model, and we jokingly formed the “Mitsubishi Magna Precision Driving Team”. But Mark always insisted that red meant his was faster! He attempted to prove this theory on a Sunday afternoon drive along Melbourne’s relatively traffic-free Eastern Freeway. We roared through the gears, side by side in the outer lanes. Mark’s car did nudge slightly in front, and I pulled back a little once I looked down at the speedo! As we passed under a bridge, the blue lights of a highway patrol car flashed into action, and Mark was nabbed, but not me!

Describe Mark in one word: Loyal. When you’ve been in the media industry for three decades like Mark has, you’ve ridden the ups and the downs. It can sometimes test your loyalty to the company you work for, your team, and your clients. But he has remained not only true to himself, but incredibly loyal to all of the above. To only work for three holding companies in 30 years, to have so many long-term friendships from the people he has worked with, and to have had so many decades plus clients, is a testament to that. And it’s the same with his friends outside of work – his old uni mates and sporting mates, the friendships made through his kids’ schools, and his family. They’re age-old, meaningful, my word is my word sort of friendships, and a hell of a lot of fun!

Mark’s most annoying habit or endearing behaviour: His most endearing trait is that trademark grin and laugh. You can’t help but do the same back. But snoring is the habit his family could do without!

Early on in our careers, we snuck over to Adelaide on a Saturday with a couple of mates, one of whom had a horse running at Morphettville. We boarded the plane later that night a little worse for wear after an early visit to the Casino, plenty of beers at the track, and then some more at a pub on the way back to the airport. Mark sat next to me on the way home, and instantly fell asleep before they’d even shut the front door of the plane. He soon had the snores going. And if snoring was an Olympic sport, Mark would represent Australia! Well, we finally landed in Melbourne, and the plane taxied into the gate, and stopped. Mark stirred slightly, stopped snoring, looked at me, then looked out the window, and asked why we hadn’t taken off yet!

If you and a colleague would like to submit your story to Dynamic Duos, please email lmcnamara@mumbrella.com.au.


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