Here are little more details to know me better
Behind every person, there is a story about their early years, what did they learn through their years in school and college, their working years and what has driven them to excel & succeed. Here's mine to help you know me as a person.
Where I studied
I did my early schooling in Chennai, India and went for my Electrical & Electronics engineering in PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore. At PSG Tech, I did not just learn about engineering fundamentals but more importantly I had learnt some great life skills having been a part of various student bodies and also served as a Secretary of Tech Music, which was one of the best clubs in PSG Tech.
I then did my Masters in Business Management specializing in Marketing from Faculty of Management Sciences, Anna University. Here's where my interest in marketing took shape. I was fortunate to have a fantastic professor who kindled my interest in marketing - Dr. Ramesh Kumar, Professor of Marketing at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, India( who has retired now). I am in touch with him still, even after three decades since I graduated. We have contributed marketing articles together in leading business dailies and magazines. It's my way of going back to school.
In addition, over the years, I had a chance to interact with many world-class professors in the area of marketing and I continued to learn from them, ever since. One of them is Dr.V.Kumar who was elected as a “Marketing Legend” and was featured in the “Legends in Marketing” series,of Jagdish Sheth (editor), as one of the 8 Legends along with Phil Kotler, Paul Green, Jerry Zaltman, Jagdish Sheth, and Jerry Wind. It is from Dr.V.Kumar, I learnt the importance of Customer Lifetime Value(CLV) and that has influenced a lot of my professional work and marketing thinking.
Where I worked
After finishing my Masters in Business Management, I joined Crompton Greaves, as a management trainee, which was then, one of the leading engineering companies in India. However, my interest and passion in marketing and advertising, took me to Result- McCann Erickson, which was one of the leading advertising agencies in India. I then moved to Contract Advertising, which was a part of J Walter Thompson and a WPP company. I was in the direct marketing division of Contract, which was then called Contract Direct. I worked in the Bangalore, Chennai and Mumbai offices of Contract but this stint played a defining role in my career.
Most often, I find most work profiles of people not having the key people who played a role in their growth and success. Their profiles talk a lot about themselves but never about the people who played a major role in influencing their thinking, learning and values. I have always believed that the people one works with, makes a big difference to where one stands today. In that list, I had a chance to work with some great minds and passionate leaders in the business - Ram Seghal, Ishan Raina, Umesh Shrikhande,Jayant Murty, John Kuruvilla, Ravi Deshpande, Rohit Srivastava, Mohit Hira, Colvyn Harris and Jagdip Bakshi to name a few. It shaped a lot of my thinking and work ethic. I rebranded and launched Contract Direct as iContract in 1999, as internet was becoming the core of many businesses and marketing was becoming digital-centric. iContract went on to become one of the iconic CRM & Digital agencies in the country at that time, having won for India, its first Cannes Direct Award for ICICI Bank.
As a senior leader, having spent more than three decades, I believe we must also evaluate ourselves in the kind of people whom you have groomed and nurtured, ones who have become successful leaders in their own right. It is a good benchmark to reflect and know, if you have made a difference to them at all over time. Not often this is measured or looked at. I have had the privilege of having groomed successful professionals to name a few: George Anthony, Bimal Nair, Samir Shanbhag, Leroy Alvares, Sriharsh Grandhe, Harita Desai, Pooja Jauhari, Payal Kumar, Parag Sen, Vineet Kumar, Anand Siva, Sridhar Gopalan, Nagaraj Kulkarni, Vikas Shah, Bharath V, Harish, Neeraj Pratap to name a few. This is not a comprehensive list and apologies if I have left many names. But, many of them here, have either gone and founded a company on their own, or headed a company in senior positions or have become investors themselves or have gone overseas to run companies or followed their passion and purpose. This is what gives me great satisfaction, as to what I may have done for them, over the years.
The one question I have always asked myself - Have I created enough bench strength for the company or the industry that I spent time with? The answer to that just gives me enough validation, if I have added value as a leader - both to the company that I worked for or to the individuals who worked with me.
When I look at any resume or any individual who I want to work with, I start asking these questions to myself, now.
When I started my career in 1991, little did I realize I had the skills that I have now. The work, the roles that were thrown to me or in some cases that I grabbed, made all the difference to what I do everyday now.
When I joined Crompton Greaves as a Management Trainee, I learnt the art of perseverance and tenacity to sell and get things done from my boss, T.T.Sridhar. He would never take no for answer and would push me to the corner to get things done, even if resources were not fully available or allocated. The job allowed me to travel across cities, to factories, work with distributors, set-up alternative distribution channels, sell to customers etc.
When I moved to Result- McCann Erickson( Result Integrated Marketing Services), I learnt the true art of creative and strategic thinking from Srikant Sastri. He was just phenomenal in his strategic thinking, by dissecting brand problems to its core. In an era when there was no internet, I had a chance to work on managing a Consumer Service Cell for Nestle Milkmaid - completely offline(by mail, not email!). I understood the importance of content, when it was not a buzz word, as we launched Book Publishing for brands, which included the likes of Nestle Milkmaid, Robin Liquid Blue, Maggie Noodles etc. And these books were available in book stores with tips to make interesting recipes with Milkmaid, Maggie or removing stains etc. as these were category-first brands, then. We had to teach customers to use these brands for different occasions and situations. We also released the first direct-to-home video catalog for Maggie, where VHS Video tapes could be ordered for making new recipes with Maggie Noodles. Such was the learning that one questioned everything from product to distribution to promotions to communications. It made me re-imagine and re-look at every brand or business problems upside down. This was a learning that I have carried all my life.
When I moved to Contract Direct, Bangalore, it was like jumping from the frying pan to fire. I was asked by Nitin Gupta(ex-Unilever) to go and set-up a branch for Contract Direct in Bangalore. I did not know the enormity of the task which I was taking-up but my naive thinking and ignorance just helped. I had to go get new business, build strategy, run operations, hire people, bill for work done, collect monies etc. and this was like 15 years of work experience rolled into one in just 5 years!
Over years at Contract, I had great support from John Kuruvilla, Jayant Murty, Umesh Shrikande and that made a huge difference, as they allowed me to make mistakes and learn. In 1999, when I moved to Mumbai, it was a life-changing decision and that was the time internet had just started to disrupt businesses - it was then called ".com boom". My experience of working with technology started then, as we had no clue what we were getting into. We started online advertising for clients, personalization when that was not even a buzz word like it is now, analytics when it was a word that was not in use or in vogue for retail loyalty programs, financial services, B2B brands etc. I was then instrumental in rebranding Contract Direct to iContract. I had a great bunch of guys like Bimal, Samir Shanbhag, Leroy Alvares, Allwin D' Pio, Vineet Kumar, Steve Menezes, Nishad Ramachandran, Sriharsh Grandhe, Parag Sen etc. around me who never knew how to say "No". We just dived-in and got things done. It taught me the importance of aligned people and value of working in a team that believed in what you do and was not afraid to fail.
Hansa Cequity - From Starting up to Scaling it up
I was one of the Co-Founders/Co-Promoters of Hansa Cequity, which was started in late 2007/early 2008. Creating a company from scratch, was an experience by itself which strengthened my strategic, operational and people skills. It needed enormous grit, resilience, energy and passion to nurture and grow Hansa Cequity from a start-up stage to taking it to a considerable size and scale before exiting successfully in 2021. The company today has continued to grow in reputation and scale post my exit which is a true testimony to how start-ups should be built with strategic client focus, a keen eye for talent development, profitable growth mindset and driving excellence at its core. I was responsible for setting up the foundation for Hansa Cequity's commitment to innovation and excellence in data management, marketing-technology thinking, data analytics frameworks, analytics strategy, analytics deployment, developing martech platform and partnerships which has not only become a part of company's DNA but has also has been recognized by industry peers. Hansa Cequity has won several awards and recognition as a leader in its field which gives me immense satisfaction and fulfillment for having steered the company towards a purpose and mission.
Along with my team, we worked towards positioning Hansa Cequity as a pioneer in the Analytics and MarTech area and today it has become a cornerstone of modern marketing using data and technology in India.
The Journey of Hansa Cequity - The How's and The Who's
In 2007 end, I founded a company along with Ajay Kelkar who had done some great work in Britannia, Marico, Shoppers Stop and HDFC Bank. We were backed by Shekar Swamy and Sundar Swamy of R K Swamy-Hansa very early in our venture. The company was first called Cequity and then became Hansa Cequity - which is today one of India's leading Martech and Analytics firm. Also, what I learnt amongst many things were - how to put a value to my own contribution, acquiring clients, managing delivery, building and inspiring a team, what does it take to raise capital, manage capital, deploy the capital prudently, manage PE investors which was something Shivaprasad Krishnan taught me during the course of building this company for more than a decade and half . The joy and pain of building a company ground up was very volatile, where right from setting-up the foundation to even finding a place to work across cities to managing cash flow to understanding who the right and wrong hires were for a young company to winning clients and delivering consistently to them, I must admit, was a roller-coaster ride.
One thing that I learnt was, I first had to have a belief and conviction in what I wanted to go out and do. Also, I learnt that I may not have all the answers at the start or I may not be the best person to do that job and I may have to find solutions to problems as I go along. Not often many people who work with you understand this, as they believe that if you are a leader, you will have all the answers for them. But, that is the pressure of a start-up or a young growing company. Right from setting-up a technology infrastructure, to an analytics team to a Marketing Automation team to a BPM process to a Consulting team to a HR team to a Finance team - everything had to be done from scratch. I learnt the art of business management and what it takes to run a business profitably in the early startup years with Jayakumar.M, who was then our vCFO(Virtual CFO) without whom we would not have made it to the finish line. Then as we grew I learnt a lot from Hrishikesh Redij who brought his finance management experience and people skills to Hansa Cequity finance team.
Ajay's never-say-die attitude really helped as he would just go and commit while we had to get things done. We had our point of view differences as co-founders but both of us learnt that our business, clients and employees came first. Working as a co-founding team versus working as peers in a company, are very different. I gained a lot here, as both Ajay and me found solutions in a mature manner and that's a learning I have taken for life from Hansa Cequity.
At Hansa Cequity, we had a great bunch of clients and a good team right from the start. No start-up can survive without clients in its early days and we were fortunate to have clients who were great believers in what we set out to do. This included clients like Tata Sky, Mahindra Auto, Aegon Life Insurance, Aditya Birla Capital, Westside, Club Mahindra, TVS Motors, TVS Automobile Solutions, Aditya Birla Retail, Axis bank, Landmark to name a few. Finally behind every client were a set of people at the client's end who backed us to the hilt in our early starting up years which included Vikram Kaushik, Vikram Mehra, Harit Nagpal, Pallavi Puri, Girish Varadarajan, Jaishree Shivaram, Rajesh Jejurikar,Madhav Nene, Anand Bundellu, Sanjoy Gupta,Uma Talreja, Sheran Mehra, Ajay Srinivasan, Ajay Kakar, A Balasubramaniam, Samir Vora,Yateesh Srivastava, Srinvasa Raghavan, K.Srinivasan,Aniruddha Haldar,Rajiv Anand, Manisha Lath Gupta, Sagnik Ghosh, Natarajan Srinivasan(Nats), Mahesh Kumar, Manish Monga, Praveen Bhat, Jairam Shridharan, Mahadevann Iyerr, Ajit Joshi,Deepshika Surendran to name a few.
We had a great team beginning with Nagaraj Kulkarni, Dr. Manoj Mohandas, Apurva Aggarwal, Shweta Gopalakrishnan, Kaushik Janardhan, Karthik Krishnaraj, Anand Siva, Sridhar Gopalan, Nishad, Niranjan, Sampath Rengachari, Satish, Bhavin, Vikas, Prashant, Santosh, Arpita, Jithu Umpathy, Sooraj Keswani, Chetan Bhangdia, Hephzi, Bharath, Hitesh, Rohan Patil, Jiju George, Amit Chand, Ajit Anantaraman, Hrishikesh Redij, Manish Nanda, Shweta Ram, Priya Kapoor, Priya Singhal,Harish, Vijay, Rajeev Aurangabadkar, Nitin Walia and Neeraj Pratap. We had team that may not have agreed with me all the time and I may not have agreed with them too! But, they supported me at every juncture of my journey over the last decade and a half. Not all of them have been mentioned here( and apologies for this). But at every stage, I learnt the importance of right people at every stage of a company's growth and the critical need for right skills to get things done. It's here, I also learnt lessons, on when to empower or not empower, when to take control or not control, when to trust or not trust while taking critical decisions, how to assess a good or a bad professional, how there may be not be very accurate correlation in my judgement between education, experience and commitment, how attitude and drive makes a big difference etc. - something no business school could have taught me. Be it running business review meetings, tech review meetings, delivery meetings, product meetings, finance review meetings, client presentations, sales meetings, fund raise process - I learnt all the nine-yards in my stint with Hansa Cequity, before I handed over the reins to a solid management team that I had been grooming carefully and finally transitioned it successfully to them.
The experience of ensuring a seamless transition that is successful and smooth, is where I learnt the art of patience. I was fortunate to have Neeraj Pratap, CEO of Hansa Cequity who did a phenomenal job of being my understudy for many years and taking over from me to run the company successfully. He, in fact, is managing the company much better than how I had set it up. It also meant working in the trenches diligently and hand-holding & mentoring at every level before I handed over the baton to a talented and good management team, which is something books or a regular job may not have taught me. Also, it taught me to think first about the lives and future of all employees who were working for the firm. I had to place their interests before mine at every stage of building the company. I can say with honesty that in some cases it worked for me and in some cases it did not work in my favour but putting company and employees' interest ahead of mine was something that tested my integrity and value systems as a leader and a colleague.
Founding and running a company has helped me get a 360 degree view of all sides of a business, taught me a lot of personal lessons which I value all my life and I continue to apply all the learnings in what I do currently and also in various projects or program initiatives that I run.