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Nancy Bugeja On Designing Your Own Life & Business



Nancy Bugeja is CEO of HM, a purpose-driven creative agency globally recognised for meaningful work that gets results. A firm believer in ‘building the plane you fly,’ Nancy co-founded HM over 27 years ago and has since worn many hats, now describing her role as ‘a hands-on CEO, multidisciplinary strategic designer, brand strategist and marketing professional.'


She’s also Editor-In-Chief of Fluoro, curator of information and facilitator of stories in art, fashion and design culture. Mavens spoke to the globally-awarded business director, creative, mother and mentor to learn more about her career journey and plans for the future.


Tell us how HM came about. How has it changed over the last quarter of a decade?


I founded and co-own HM with creative director Miguel Valenzuela, in 1996. We met at senior high school, and ended up studying Graphic Design together. One evening, as we left tertiary for the day, one of our Typography lecturers — the great designer Jack Larkin — stopped us and offered some advice after noticing we were the only two people in our graduating class who didn't raise our hands when he asked, ‘Who's planning on further education after this?’ Truth be told we had no idea what our next move would be. He encouraged us both to get into the workforce, gain experience and develop as designers that way. A pivotal moment for us, and little did we know then as two 21-year-olds, how life-changing that advice would be, and how far we’d take it!


I went on to study business through a government-funded program that supported young people with a business idea. Mine was a graphic design studio Miguel and I would operate together. I gained a mentor from that experience out of the lecturer John Breen, who taught me the fundamentals of business, most importantly the value of the process of planning. HM was born in 1996 (FKA housemouse) as a graphic design studio and has evolved into a full-stack creative agency.


Today I live and work by the idiom, “build the plane as you fly”. To me this is a reminder to be confident to take action and learn from real-time experiences.

It also highlights the importance of being flexible and adapt to unforeseen challenges or opportunities as they arise. And of course, learn from mistakes. It helps me to operate mindfully. It’s probably why I’ve continued to thrive despite the many trials and tribulations along the way!


I’ll need a whole new chapter on ‘how things have changed’ but if I may say, everything has changed, and not much has changed, at the same time!?


Starting with what hasn’t changed: I believe I possess the same drive, passion and curiosity that I started with. I have always been client-centric, from day one.


I have evolved dramatically from a graphic design and business graduate to CEO.


Some stand-out changes include becoming a mother which impacted me professionally immediately. I went from a life where I’d work 14h straight days to 3-4 days a week. It inspired our new model which we were planning 6 months before COVID. I wanted a model that was flexible and brand new that met my needs, also allowing me to offer the same flexibility to my employees.


The beauty of today is that I can recruit people into my model, not one typical of the industry and as a result I can be my authentic self everyday. I am truly happy, working with incredible people who are happy, trusted, empowered and free! Free from the 9-5, the stress, and free to live as they choose, as I do. It’s fair and very rewarding to have evolved to this level.


Other inevitable changes like technology advancements have been huge. I still remember the day we made the decision to switch from Quark Xpress to InDesign. We embraced the Zip Discs, labeling each and every one of them with a ‘RETURN TO:’ label because they cost so much. And there was the phasing out of the expensive film separations to CTP (computer to plate)! We embraced AR for a while and today we’re exploring AI.


What role has your publication Fluoro played in your creative career? Where do you plan on taking it in the future?


Fluoro was originally born over a decade ago, nurtured within the walls of my agency.

For me, the industry I operate in is incredibly dynamic and constantly changing. I am dedicated to exploring the interconnections between various design practices and principles through the platform of Fluoro.


I also believe it nurtures a more inclusive and interconnected global community, fulfilling a personal aspiration of mine.


With a mission to enlighten our readers – a global community of creatives – through stories and human expression, Fluoro serves as a platform for curators, artists, designers and other creatives, both from the past and present. It allows them to present their thoughts, ideas, unique narratives, and experiences through their chosen creative outlets, as a result enriching our cultural landscape.


Its contribution to my career has been huge. My own skills as a creative have been enhanced with my work interviewing people from all over the world. I’m constantly connecting with other professionals, artists and creators through Fluoro. The inspiration and innovation feeds my creativity constantly. Fluoro has also been an excellent portfolio piece, a perfect example of my agency’s capabilities in branding, business and marketing strategy, content creation, communications, audience experience and execution.


I have set my sights on the evolution of publishing, embracing the symbiotic relationship between digital and print. I’d like to maintain a mix of long-form stories, in-depth interviews, and captivating image galleries from exhibitions worldwide. By presenting archives alongside contemporary art, design, and fashion, I hope to inspire and educate my readers, fostering a deeper appreciation for the artistic journey that transcends time.


The future looks bright for Fluoro. At the heart of it is our online journal at www.fluoro.life presenting leading stories in art, fashion and design culture supported by our social media accounts. Conscious publishing of high quality content is our priority over frequency. Limited in runs printed bi-annually, Fluoro’s print editions are designed to be collected and will present timeless leading stories in art, fashion and design culture as poster art. Content is carefully curated and masterfully crafted. We also offer creative services as brand specialists and curators of stories. We tailor campaigns and create brand experiences with a deep understanding of brand and product. Our ideas resonate deeply, evoke emotion and drive engagement in sync with leading institutions in art, design and academics. Dinners, talks, and a gallery are in the future plans.



How did the pandemic change your life and business?


The pandemic changed so much for me. Like for most of us, it forced us to face unprecedented challenges. I had so many humans relying on me when it hit Melbourne — a brand new baby born a week or so after the first major lockdown; two other small children who I had to homeschool; a team I had to lead; an extended family I couldn’t see when I probably needed them most. It was nuts.



The life-changing aspect of the pandemic can be seen today and it’s mainly in our new business model we originally referred to as the #HM-everywhere-era. It’s now permanent. The team work from wherever it’s most conducive. We don’t have fixed anchor days. Our experienced team operates on a foundation of mutual trust and well-defined expectations. This approach has proven successful as it offers a liberating sense of freedom. A sentiment we've extended to our team, resulting in great work — a testament to the nurturing culture we've fostered.


What have been the biggest lessons from your career to date?


For me, health and family comes before everything – but you can have it all.


As long as you have the right network, you can design your life and your business in whichever way works for you.

That said, your happiness is their happiness and vice versa. A business needs to work for everyone involved. For a long time I focussed on nurturing a culture that matched the expectations of team members and the industry. I wasn’t considering my own or my family’s as the owner. I onboard people differently now. I’m truly happy.


Some others:

Breathe deep.

Time-block.


Eat well.


Exercise.


You recently spoke to Word—Form about the importance of fearlessness in your career – what fears have you overcome and how has this helped you as a leader?


Like most leaders in business the fears range from inadequacy to public speaking! There is always something to fear. Rejection, conflict, letting go, change. The list goes on. But today rather than sit with any fears, I address them as promptly as possible. My strategy skills come to play.


This mindset has helped me as a leader to make brave decisions. I embrace and encourage innovation and new ideas. I think also leading this way is a positive example as it sets an optimistic tone and shows courage.


Being fearless means I take responsibility for my decisions and hold myself accountable.

Being fearless can also sometimes be confused with recklessness but it’s more about acknowledging fear, understanding its implications, and channeling that energy into positive action.


You’ve always been a generous mentor, both with programs like Assisterhood and in an unofficial capacity too. Why do you think it’s important to make time to mentor, and be mentored?


I believe it's my responsibility to give back to an industry that has provided me with opportunities to thrive and contribute. I've never turned down an official offer to participate in mentoring programs.


It’s been said, you are who you surround yourself with. Mentoring and being mentored has connected me with so many wonderful people. My network increases steadily and I get to engage in deep conversations with people who are striving for more. There’s nothing more exciting. Sharing and discussing my experiences and witnessing their positive impact on others is so rewarding. A recent example stands out: a talented, passionate senior designer and I engaged in a couple of sessions. Years later, an unexpected ‘thank you’ email arrived, where she shared the outcomes of our conversations — how they contributed to her growth — resulting in not just professional success but also personal milestones including motherhood and owning her own studio.


I was so moved to witness the effect a conversation can have. It was so deeply fulfilling.

Nancy Bugeja is the CEO and cofounder ofHM. Nancy believes that bold creative ideas can be universal and have the power to transcend cultures, audiences and technologies. She is globally regarded and awarded for her communication design, brand strategy, intuition, creative idealisation, facilitation and leadership and has captured the essence of her experience in her additional role as Editor-In-Chief of the newly relaunched Fluoro, a platform which fulfills her passions for art, fashion and design culture.

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