'I encourage all my people to think like entrepreneurs.' - Sam Balsara


The "he needs no introduction" line is one that in today's world of hype over substance is oftentimes abused. But there are always exceptions. Sam Balsara, Chairman and Managing Director of Madison Communications most definitely falls into that category. Sam as he's known in the industry is not just one of the most influential voices in the advertising fraternity, but in fact his name is synonymous with the growth of the Indian advertising industry itself.

Known for his quiet aggression, many within his organisation also swear by Balsara's strong leadership qualities as well as hands-on approach.

Careful is one word that immediately comes to mind about the man - in thought, in words and in action. Weighing his words carefully, Balsara says, "The story of my life is really all about the growth of Madison. From a mere three clients and very few resources, we've grown to a 1000 crore (Rs 10 billion) company." That this home grown media agency has caught the envy of many a rival affiliated with global advertisers & marketing groups speaks for itself.

"When I started, I never really thought I had any business acumen. I also did not dream too big. But, today it's been a rather satisfying journey," says the understated Mr Madison Media.

So, here goes, Sam Balsara, on building his company, his philosophy and his family.

Tell us a little bit about your early life?

I was born and brought up in a small town called Balsar. I have some beautiful memories of the place and incidently that's where I get my surname from. My father owned a hereditary business. He was a forest contractor and dealt in timber, but that business folded up and we moved on to Bangalore; where he took the bold step of venturing into the hotel business.

So, entrepreneurship and risk taking runs in your genes?

Well, frankly I never thought I had any business acumen. I was all set to become a CA but since management education was supposed to be a big thing then, I got into the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute. I started off my career with Sarabhai's under Pran Chaudhary, and later spent a good four years at Cadbury's. After eight years in marketing I branched out into advertising. After heading the successful Mumbai office of Mudra, an affiliate of DDB Needham in India, in 1988 I decided to start on my own.

It took me more than 18 years to branch out on my own by taking over an ailing agency called Madison. Today, I am amazed when youngsters with just two or three years start off on their own. It still gives me the feeling of how slow I must have been then.

How has the advertising world changed now? And how has the journey been?

Those days, the advertising world was not such a competitive place. Today, it's a dog eat dog situation. I must confess, during the initial period, my sights were not that high, so the transition from working to starting off on my own was pretty smooth.

It's been a long journey of almost 18 years. It's been fun, exciting and a very satisfying journey.

What was the turning point in the life of Madison?


In the early 90s, when Manmohan Singh liberalised the economy we started looking outward. I realised that life is going to change in India, and so we slightly changed course and decided to partner in equity with an international firm called D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB & B). But for some reason we parted ways after five years.

But did the tie-up help Madison in any way?

Yes, we did grow as a company. They also helped us acquire a few strategic clients at that point in time. But more than that, it exposed us to the world of how multinationals work and function. It also exposed us to the fallacy of their thinking.

I think Indian by nature, learn to achieve a lot more with a lot less. Even with very little resources, one can start something and grow it, without getting into the other trappings like a huge AC office and a huge workforce. This could actually be driving the business in the wrong direction. Even before you've started, one is sort of putting pressure on oneself.

What philosophy drives your company's growth and strategy? Get the right people?

Madison's growth is really the growth of our clients. I tell my people to concentrate on the task in hand. Madison's growth is a byproduct of the client's growth. So, we focus more on our clients than on our own growth strategy. If I look back to the first five years of the company, we had only three clients, so that doesn't mean we didn't grow. We evolved because our clients grew.

Biz Mantra

Favourite Book

The World is Flat


Love Hindi flicks.


Not very brand conscious

Fitness Mantra

Religiously practice Yoga on Sundays.

Holiday destination

Love Italy

Coming back to your personal life, what sort of upbringing did you have and what things have stayed with you that helped along your journey?

I was the youngest in the family and was pampered, but at the same time my parents also instilled discipline in us. One had to always do the right thing at the right time. Also, because of my upbringing, I always respect the value of money and to use it prudently.

I'm pretty religious and visit the fire temple in our colony every morning. Also, I try to live by the basic philosophy of the Parsee religion which is good thoughts, good words and good deeds.

How do you get your people to be aggressive?

At Madison we don't believe in achieving success by hook or crook. We are very strict about our value system and it's definitely not about wanting success at the price of honesty and integrity. I believe that one should never ever venture on a wrong path. If you lie once then you'll keep on lying. Or in business when you've got used to evading taxes, then you get used to doing it.

I've noticed all of us are normally good as individuals but we tend to get naughty in a group. There has to be transparency as well as fair play with out clients. We also try to conserve our resources since we know that we're not a thousand million dollar multinational company.

So, every Madisonite believes in our value system which is all over the walls of our office. We don't just say we want to be the best but we also say how we want to be the best. Also, at Madison we believe in nurturing the best talent and constantly challenging the intellectual ability of people.

How do you get the best out of your people?

I make sure that all my managers think like entrepreneurs. So, when they come to me with a statement like 'we don't understand money' I tell them it's all about understanding the concept of money. It's really as simple as managing your household expenses. Managing your office money or your client's money is no different from that. I think we Indians make very good managers.

What are your personal strengths and weaknesses which have stood you in good stead?

I am hot tempered but only with people who are close to me. I think my wife has to pay a price for this while I am very sugar and sweet to many others in the business. I also try to emphathise with the other person's problem, but sometimes in work situations, this stands in my way.


How do you handle stress?

As an advertising man who goes through so many highs and lows in a day one doesn't really feel stressed. In fact, our system gets used to that level of frenzy. So, if I am relaxed, I feel uncomfortable. It's also the way your body gets conditioned.

Where do you derive your strength from?

I derive my strength from my two daughters. My younger daughter, Lara, works with me and is in charge of business diversification. Someone just told me that there's not much luxury that one can have than having your daughter to work with you. Unfortunately, my elder daughter Tanya is visually handicapped. So, if I ever have any sort of problem, business or otherwise, I just have to look at her and I get my strength. If Tanya, doesn't really let her disability colour her perspective towards life, then I ask myself what am I complaining about?

She's computer literate, loves to party. We've set up an institute for the visually handicapped. It's a constant reminder that life has its problems and how you deal with it. Life is all about appreciating what you have but somehow we get caught up in what we don't have.

Latest News

Load More

Sign up for our Newsletter

subscribe for latest stories