Legendary ad man Bob Isherwood overcame the odds of a humble upbringing thanks to an unexpected scholarship from RMIT. Years later, he returned the favour.
When Bob Isherwood left school at 13, he didn’t imagine that one day he’d end up as Worldwide Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York. Growing up in the 60s in working class South Melbourne, Bob left school early and took a job as an apprentice motor mechanic. But he was deeply unhappy.
His friend Alex Stitt (who later became an influential animator) was studying at RMIT, and suggested Bob apply. The head of RMIT’s Art Department, artist Victor Greenhalgh, saw Bob’s application and decided to help him. “Victor went to extraordinary lengths to get me in,“ says Bob. “For some reason he took this tremendous chance on me, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks.“
But then there were the tuition fees – Bob simply couldn’t afford them. “Suddenly I won a scholarship which paid for my tuition, and I seemed to win it every year,“ says Bob. After graduating, Bob moved to London where he joined Young & Rubicam and quickly rose through the ranks of the advertising world. After joining Saatchi & Saatchi in Sydney, he was appointed Chairman of the worldwide Creative Board, then Worldwide Creative Director.
Throughout his career, Bob often recalled the opportunity he’d been given by Victor Greenhalgh and the unexpected scholarship he’d received at RMIT. One day, Bob was back in Melbourne at a function at RMIT when he found out the scholarship that paid his tuition all those years ago didn’t actually exist.
“I found out the teachers used to put money together themselves to pay for disadvantaged students. Apparently they used to do a lot of that back then, as there weren’t many formal scholarships,“ says Bob.
“I felt so touched by that. So I decided to start my own scholarship program for underprivileged kids at RMIT. I put it in Victor Greenhalgh’s name, because I wanted what he’d done for me to perpetuate,“ says Bob, who is now based in Nashville, USA.
By this time, RMIT had an established scholarship program. The Victor Greenhalgh Scholarships support Communications students facing financial hardship at RMIT.
“There’s a great line which says, ’A teacher affects eternity, they can never tell where their influence stops.’ This rings true to me,“ says Bob.
“Victor had no idea where his influence would end with me, but his support enabled me to become a leader in my field. And that enabled me to create the scholarship program which carries his name. So who knows where his influence will end? Who knows what the students who get these scholarships will go on to do? Who knows what that will mean for the world?“