On Friday the 6th of September, The Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) honored Madhukar Kamath with this year’s AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award. AAAI’s Lifetime Achievement Award is known to be the highest honour to be given to individuals in India for their outstanding contribution to the Advertising Industry.
The entire advertising, marketing and communications industry knows the vital role Madhukar Kamath played in transforming a traditional advertising agency into one of India’s most successful and diversified communication companies, and how he instrumental in the Omnicom acquisition of the Mudra Group along with its integration with the Global DDB Network.
In his award acceptance speech, spoke about the most important lessons he learnt, thanked some advertising legends and a lot more.
Read on as is…
Let me share a few quick stories, rather snippets. For those of you who tweet. It is #lifelessons….First a confession….when I entered this profession, my ambition was to be a Senior Account Executive in 5 years and retire as a branch manager. That’s the truth.
Bright eyed and awe struck, I looked up to legends like Subhas Ghoshal, Subroto Sengupta, Bal Mundkur, Alyque Padamsee, Mani Iyer and so on … and then as I grew in this business, over the years, I was inspired by AG Krishnamurthy, Mohammed Khan, Bobby Sista, Arun Nanda, Ravi Gupta, Sylvester DA’Cunha, etc.
I applauded and admired Ranjan Kapur, GoutamRakshit, Anil Kapoor, and some in the room like Piyush Pandey, Sam Balsara and the thorough gentleman that he is, Ramesh Narayan, to just name a few… To receive this honour today and by default join their ranks is truly humbling….Thank you AAAI.
It is AG Krishnamurthy, he was the true wind beneath my wings. For over a decade, he allowed me to grow personally and professionally. It’s been an honour to succeed him at Mudra and MICA. I must also shine the spotlight on the legendary Keith Reinhard, the Chairman Emeritus of DDB. Keith, though being one of the key architects of the creation of the holding company, Omnicom in 1986, stayed behind in agency operations. He is singularly and selflessly responsible for keeping the Bernbach legacy alive and spreading it around the world. Just to watch him, interact with him and even be in the same room as him, is an experience that no money can buy. To both of them, my salutations…
Next up, three of my other bosses in my long career. They will go unnamed. From them I learnt what not to do as you grow in your career.
One… never bury your head in the sand like an Ostrich. Do not wish away problems or the pangs of growth…Face the realities…
Two… Learn to ‘let go’ as you go up the organization. Don’t hang on…
And three….never be in a situation where you need to walk and have to constantly watch your back. Look ahead.
I learnt from their mistakes. A silent prayer for the departed souls of these three gentlemen, in gratitude…
Perhaps I am blessed, or just lucky? To have had some truly life changing opportunities come my way.
Four opportunities in particular that stand out, first, the opportunity to go and acquire and perhaps rescue my alma mater.Second, the opportunity to lead the organisation where I grew up, both personally and professionally.Third, to have a role in building an educational institution of repute and to contribute to the talent pool for the entire Marketing Services Industry. And finally to be given the responsibility to lead the Industry body and help shape its future. It’s been a rather busy but certainly a full life. Interestingly, every one of these opportunities have arisen from a specific challenge.
Along the way, I’ve learnt to take the road that is not predictable. My personal life also illustrates this. In 1988, I decided to join a little known, much derided home grown Indian Agency called Mudra. I chose it over a well-polished, much applauded and decorated multinational organization, that offered me instant fame and yes, more money. I liked the entrepreneurial spirit, the native wisdom and the never say die spirit, epitomised in the Walt Disney line, which AGK adopted for Mudra, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’.
Out of the blue, in 2003, I get a challenge thrown at me. Can you come back and succeed the Founder, Chairman & Managing Director of Mudra, AGK was retiring. Naturally I said yes. I had a half day overlap and a hand over that lasted just 30 minutes perhaps the shortest in history.
What followed was rocky….close to 50% of the business and profit base vanished in 12 months entirely due to extraneous reasons. That story is for a different day! I drew inspiration from the entrepreneurial zeal that had grown Mudra and Keith Reinhard who had shown that building on a legacy, also opened up numerous opportunities. Over the next 8 years with the influx of new clients and talent and businesses we built the Mudra Group, to become India’s largest home grown Agency conglomerate. I succeeded in reviving a long lost conversation with DDB. And finally working closely with the CEO of Omnicom, John Wren, I helped make the Omnicom acquisition of the Mudra Group happen in 2011. Again under the radar.Quietly. Well, there is an exciting story there too. Some other day, perhaps. Or after several drinks… Lesson learnt was that building on a legacy is as important as looking to create one.
Next, a challenge that irked me. I was asked to merge and hand over the then Mudra Institute of Communication with a different Institution. I defied the advice. Over, the years, with the help of stalwarts like another legend, Gerson D Cunha, the ex-Election Commissioner Mr. Vittal, the former Director of IIM, Prof Khandwala, Prof Ramesh Sarin from XLRI, to name just a few, Directors like Atul Tandon etc, and a new Governing Council which had Santosh Desai, we transformed the Mudra Institute of Communication into MICA. Today, it is an independently run Business School that specializes in Strategic Marketing & Communication Management. Profitable, self-funded and having a very healthy corpus.With a fantastic Alumni base.Apart from numerous CXOs in the Marketing, Media and Communication Industry, three of the top ten agencies have MICA alumni as their CEOs. I am grateful to the opportunity to head the Mudra Foundation and the Governing Council of MICA, for well over a decade 14 years to be exact.
Finally and interestingly, going against the norm and tradition, the Presidentship of the Industry body the AAAI was held back from me, and I was asked to contest an election. I had to win it the hard way. I was fortunate to enjoy the goodwill and support of a large number of Industry leaders. But what was more important was that the entire executive committee helped me in my endeavour to lay the foundation for the future of our Industry and also bring to an end the warring factions of competing award shows. Fundamental changes were made. The constitution was changed. Sundar Swamy helped me immensely in that. We built an inclusive future. For Media Agencies, Digital Agencies and more to follow.I could not have done that without many of you in the room. Thank you.
The lesson learnt over the four decades underscored the importance of constantly reinventing and staying relevant. Decade after decade as the Industry changed. As market forces changed, the very construct of operations changed, remuneration structures changed and so on. I treated it like a long distance run where it was necessary to stay the course and not look at it as a sprint.
Finally I put to practice what I have always preached. Leave at the right time. Build succession plans. Have backups. Plan B if need be. Make way for fresh thinking. Trust youngsters. The current CEO of the Mudra Group today, Aditya Kanthy was not even born when I began my career in 1976.
All my milestones and achievements and the award today is entirely due to the dictum I faithfully followed of ‘surround yourself with talent better than you’. I was fortunate. Yes that’s the right word. I only wish I could name each and every one of them here. I dedicate this Award to all those who worked alongside me, be it in Mudra, MICA, the Advertising Industry, the Media fraternity, fellow organizers of Ad Asia in Delhi, the talented leaders at the Advertising Standards Council of India, the Indian Newspapers Society, the Indian Broadcasting Federation, the Audit Bureau of Circulations and finally the NGO Plan India, which has allowed me to be a part of the mission to touch the lives of 10 million children and take forward the gender equality agenda. You are my extended family. I will always be grateful to you. Thank you.
Madhukar Kamath Chairman Emeritus DDB Mudra Group