2 Dec 2022

Old Grammarian story: Rob Bell (1987)

This Old Grammarian has built his career in the DotCom era by bringing media companies into the digital age.

After initially studying commerce and working in the banking industry, Rob decided to make a drastic career change and travelled to London to follow his dream of becoming an author.

He landed a job in marketing at the beginning of the DotCom era and then went on to work at Sony Music and Universal, moving from London to Hollywood a few years ago.

Rob is currently the Executive Vice President of Digital Distribution at NBC Universal in LA.

We asked Rob about his career and his memories of Grammar.

Tell us about your time at Grammar.

I look back at my time at Grammar, and I remember the great friends I made (some of whom are still close friends today) and the fun we had – not all of it strictly within school rules!  At school, I enjoyed rowing and soccer.

I loved the whole world of school; at that time in my life, it was the most important thing there was, and it was a microcosm of what larger life is – how to navigate relationships, the elation of when things are good but also how to deal with disappointment, learning your boundaries and the things that motivate you.

What ignited your passion for your career choice?

It was a happy accident.  I had no idea what I wanted to do after school – I got the mark I needed to get into a Bachelor of Commerce at Melbourne Uni (which in the late 80s was seen as a desirable course), so I did that.  After finishing my degree, I was offered a summer job and went on to be offered a graduate position at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). However, I was keen to travel the world, and luckily, they were prepared to defer the offer for a year, so I took the job.

After travelling and completing a year in the grad position at PwC, I took a role in investment banking at Macquarie Bank in the mid-90s because it seemed like the next step, and they were the company everyone wanted to work for.  However, I realised at age 29 that I wasn’t into finance or banking and was desperate to return to London (which I had loved as a backpacker), so I resigned and headed to London, telling everyone I was going to become an author!

I didn’t write my novel but was lucky enough that it was the “DotCom” era, and I got a job doing marketing (which I knew nothing about) at a Cool Music Dot-com, which started my digital media career. I was lucky enough to survive the DotCom crash and get a job at Sony Music when digital music and iTunes started, so I specialised in that. Then I was lucky enough to get head-hunted by Universal and develop my skills in music to film and TV.  The rise of streaming and companies like Netflix has meant that I have been able to build a career out of transitioning traditional media companies into the “digital age”.

Can you share some key defining moments in your career/life?

Chucking in my lucrative investment banking job in 1999 and heading to London was one of the best decisions I have ever made (although I would be much richer if I had stayed a banker!)  London was amazing in the late 90’s/early 2000s, and I threw myself into it and made the most of it.

I was able to start a new career path that I love, and finally, at the age of 31, I came out as a gay man (which I had struggled to do at home in my 20’s) and then met my husband, so overall London was where it all happened for me!  Moving to LA four years ago was also significant, as I work for a Hollywood Studio, and it always felt like I should spend some time at the “Mother Ship”.

As an older (middle-aged!) man, the move to the US was not as magical as the one to London in my 20s, but it has been a fantastic experience and living in the US, even during the last few years, has been really enjoyable.

How did Ballarat Grammar prepare you for your career?

I received an excellent education at Grammar and felt it set me up well for gaining my place at Melbourne Uni and everything that followed.

What are your future career goals/aspirations?

At my stage in life, I am starting to think of when and how I might retire!  Although with current economic conditions, I may still need to work for another 15 years, so perhaps I do have another career move left in me!

My main issue is what country we will live in. We are currently in LA but don’t want to stay long-term in the USA, London feels like home as we were there for almost 20 years, and then there is Australia, which is my home and a nice place to think about “ending up” in.  My husband is from South Africa, so I suppose that gets a look-in too.

What advice would you give to current students or recent leavers?

Don’t panic if you don’t know what you want to do when you leave school or even when you finish Uni.  Just follow what seems to be the right thing to do at the time and know that you have time to figure all this out and that you will get there eventually.

You could change career direction two or three times before you are 30, which is an exciting prospect!  If you can work it all out when you are 18, great, but if not, have fun with it and experience as much of life as you can!  And make sure you travel!

To share your story or if you know an Old Grammarian who has an interesting career or achievement, please email [email protected]