ENGINEER. INTELLECTUAL. VISIONARY. MENTOR. REFORMER. ADVOCATE.
These are the things that came to my mind when I was asked to write about Suparna. These aren’t words, though words are good. They are images integrally connected by the bridge of emotions when I think of her – wordless beholding.
I feel humbled to be given this opportunity on the occasion of International Women’s Day, to write about someone for whom I have immense respect and admiration. I have known Suparna for more than 10 years now. During this period I have had the privilege of many, many interactions with her. The sum total of those interactions ranging from fiercely passionate perspectives to gut instincts and sometimes even chills running up and down your spine when you aren’t able to crack the idea. They give me an amazing understanding of her real and true self – a cluster or family of archetypes (and not stereotypes) that are uniquely Suparna forming her inner-net of influences that express and inspire us singly and at times blended.
As an ENGINEER, I have always seen her finding great satisfaction by exploring how things work. Eminently pragmatic, results driven, and delivery oriented, I can recall a plethora of instances where she helped us convert the creative energy into practical expressions for addressing everyday challenges to large-scale visions on the brand. A great team player, she always placed high value on collective work that is focused on an outcome and was happy by adding a specific piece to the whole. As a fellow engineer, my biggest learning from her has been to not carry around the weight of the world, accepting that things take time and that the world is messy and complicated.
As an INTELLECTUAL, she is very passionate to explore the power and riches of her mind, and anyone else’s who finds herself/himself in her company, on brand marketing and beyond. A boundless resource, an inner archive of information and knowledge who can reason on all levels – logical, ethical, and moral. I have experienced this from her directly on no less than a brand like Fastrack which is so counterintuitive on many counts. She is a lifelong learner who is always discovering new pieces to fit into the whole. My learning from her on this dimension is that being cerebral is not how articulate you are or how many facts you’ve acquired but how well you are able to integrate knowledge and experience into an overarching understanding and appreciation of things.
As a VISIONARY, she is a brilliant strategist and can imagine possibilities that reach beyond any defined scope. While working on shaping the point of view for brand Sonata, I distinctly remember her wisdom to read between the lines of current conversation, coming context, and the ideal setting to synthesise and hone a deeply intuitive connection with what needs to emerge. And also, her remarkable humbleness in acknowledging her gift of foresight on the business and beyond as given rather than owned. A wonderful learning for me here was that a vision of what could be may never grow into a multi-crore business or cause a revolution, but ideas about new possibilities, however modest, are nonetheless powerful because they represent creative ways of reimagining everyday life.
As a MENTOR, she is someone in whom trust can be placed without reservation. I recall a workshop with her and the massive team of hers on a very chilly day in Bangalore extending past midnight, where she was at her energetic best guiding and encouraging us for what some may have deemed the call to adventure with Gen Z on the brand. I saw in her a great listener who can hold a large container of seemingly unrelated pieces, and highly gratified by supporting and partnering with every one of us toward the realisation of the higher-order goals of that exercise. As a mentor, she made all of us see hope in what we were chasing. And that’s one of my biggest learnings.
As a REFORMER, she is a big fan of Satyajit Ray’s vision of social freedom and equality. On this count, my understanding is that she isn’t someone who believes in throwing the baby out with the bath water but rather seeks to improve the existing systems of the world. Imminently practical, I know she strives for gradual rather than sea change and finds great satisfaction in outcomes. My crusading learning from her through this is that grass is not always greener on the other side. It’s greenest where it is watered and when you cross the fence, carry water with you and tend the grass.
As an ADVOCATE of brands needing to have a purpose and having worked with her closely on some of the causes, I always found her passionately representing the energy and willingness to go the distance to fuel the entire team to a greater call. During our many positively argumentative sessions in finding the stand that Fastrack can take, I learnt many nuances from her on how meaning is tethered in the satisfaction that comes from adding value to the audience we serve on a large scale and to having large-scale influence in support of the collective common good.
I believe good leaders follow people – to make them dream more, learn more, do more, and become more. Thank you for making all those happen all these years. May more people continue to be inspired along the path you take!
(The author is Group CEO, MullenLowe Lintas Group, Chief Strategy Officer – Asia Pacific and Head of Global Planning Council, MullenLowe Group. Suparna Mitra is CEO – Watches and Wearables Division, Titan Company).