Quirky socks, skydiving & marathons

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“To know what life is worth, you will have to risk it once in a while” – Jean Paul Sarte. These exact words define Sunil Lulla’s feisty, yet grounded personality. Skydiving may be a daunting foolhardy stunt for many, but for the chairman and managing director of Grey Group India, it is just another tick mark on the list things he enjoys doing.  

Plummeting thousands of feet in a free fall towards the earth, with the wind roaring around him, followed by a slow drift downwards after his parachute opens, is something that gives Lulla the much needed excitement to keep him going.

Clearly fond of taking risks and trying out new experiences, Lulla’s recent comeback in advertising after nearly two decades proves that he has the zest for treading where few have gone before.

Having graduated in commerce from the University of Mumbai with a management degree from SP Jain Institute, Lulla’s early years were spent in sales at Forbes, Forbes & Campbell. He then hopped onto advertising, as an associate account director with Hindustan Thompson Associates (now J Walter Thompson India). Clients such as Hindustan Lever (now Unilever India) loved him and it was not too long before he was promoted and sent overseas to work as the client service director at JWT Taiwan. 

When the offer came to spearhead the music channel MTV India, which was a late entrant in the Indian satellite television space, he took up the challenge most willingly. Once again, his savvy marketing skills ensured that MTV India zoomed its way to becoming the numero uno in its category, ahead of the much older and well entrenched Channel V.

Lulla’s experience spans across communication, media, consumer goods and the digital space with companies like Diageo, Microland, Sony Entertainment, Miditech, the Turner joint venture Real Broadcasting as well as the Times of India’s television venture – Times Television Network where he was MD & CEO.

A people’s person to the core, folks in the industry are not surprised that he takes the trouble to greet almost everyone on their special days, whether it is their birthdays or anniversary or the passing away of a relative. Some special ones also receive gifts or a special condolence card. And this includes juniors, seniors and peers alike.

Just like his professional portfolio, his diverse set of pastime includes cooking, playing squash and possibly the most unusual of the lot - collecting socks. Lulla unarguably has one of the wackiest collections of socks. It was in the mid 90s that he got into the habit of collecting feet innerwear and today he is the proud owner of almost a hundred pairs.

Totally defying the safe dressing habits of executives, Lulla takes pride in his sartorial sense, and is sporting enough to show off his multicoloured, multi-patterned socks to those who wish to see. He enjoys spending time with wife Vinodini, who is active in the social services space and his daughter Ayesha, who recently graduated in Psychology from the University of Mumbai.

As someone who loves sports, for Lulla there are no lulls in life. He can often be seen running marathons locally and internationally – testing his limits time and again. The zeal to strive tirelessly in life’s long race and to be doing exactly what you envision is not everyone’s cup of tea. But Lulla has made that a fine art: continually strive for excellence.

Beat the clock, get your time down is something he constantly endeavours to do at every outing when he beats the roads pounding away at the tarmac in long strides. Running the half marathon just as 2014 dawned, he managed to clock a time of 1 hour and 54 minutes, his best so far. Recently, he completed the Goa River Half Marathon of 21 km despite being injured. He even ran the Norway marathon in late-June, a few days before he announced that he was going back to advertising and leading Grey in India.

Clearly, Lulla is a man who likes going the distance.

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