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Industry applauds Sam Balsara as he turns 67

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MUMBAI: He is a man of small stature and has a voice that at times breaks into a squeak. But veteran ad man Sam Balsara–who is celebrating his sixty-seventh birthday today–is one of the giants of Indian advertising whose words have boomed across the industry and made even the most powerful sit up, take note - and follow.

Born in the small city of Bulsar–now called Valsad–in Gujarat, Blasara clearly was meant for bigger things right from the beginning. He went on to complete his management post graduation from the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies. He began his career working as a marketing executive at Sarabhais and Cadbury. Later he switched to advertising, working with Hindustan Thompson Associates’ second agency Contract Advertising. He then moved on to a fledgling outfit  called Mudra then headed by (the now late) AG Krishnamurthy and  went to lead its Mumbai office for four years.

But working for someone else didn’t pacify his hunger to make a mark in the world. That’s when he decided to become an entrepreneur and partnered a fledgling agency called Madison which he took over totally later in 1988.

What started as a small company with only two clients back then, namely Godrej and Nelco, today has 24 business units across 11 specialised functions of advertising, media, business analytics, outdoor, activation, events, PR, retail, entertainment, mobile and sports. The gross billing of Madison World today stands at around Rs 3,700 crore. 

The chairman & managing director at Madison World, Sam Balsara has seen the industry evolve and go through to various upheavals and transformation and the man still gives novel agencies a run for their money.

He got his daughter Lara Balsara Vajifdar on board as a management trainee in Madison in 2004 and today she has risen to become the executive director, Madison World, having played a significant role building the  brand over the past decade.

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Working with your family has its own perks. But things can get tricky and awkward at times and one has to know how to manage the on-off switch. Sam Balsara does it well. Something that’s vouched for by Lara who emphasizes that her father is a very different person at home.

“At work he is a lot more formal, objective, focused, but at home, although he does work a fair bit at home too, he is more relaxed. It is a treat to watch him interact and get bullied by his grand children,” says the mother of two.

Madison World is set to compete 30 years of its business in March this year and people have been talking again about Balsara retiring from his position or selling off the agency. The on and off conversations have been going on for quite a few years on whether Madison World would begin active dialogue with any holding company for a sale or merger this year. And the chatter is pretty much justified as Madison is amongst the rare few Indian owned advertising agencies that is consistently outperforming its opponents that come with global ancestry and backing. But Balsara has always rubbished these rumours as he has no intentions of selling the company any time soon. 

Lara points out that her father is a great man-manager as he always believes in leading by example. “He commands respect rather than demanding it and gives senior people the freedom to shape and drive their businesses,” she adds. 

Sam Balara has been rated the most influential person in media and is a recipient of the AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India ) Lifetime Achievement Award. He has served as of AAAI president from 2002 to 2004, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) chairman from 2000 to 2001, and has been The Advertising Club president for three terms from 1989 to 1992. 

Although he isn’t likely to be in the city during the day to celebrate his birthday, the family is set to attend a function later in the evening. 

Team IndianTelevision.com wishes the ad guru a very happy birthday and health! We list down  some of the key industry leaders' wishes for Sam  Balsara. 

Canco Advertising founder & IAA India president  Ramesh Narayan: “Sam and I go back a long way. He has always been a terrific industry man. We have worked together in the AAAI and continue to work together in the IAA. To me, Sam is a person who never says no and is always there to help you. He is a positive influence. May you always remain as young, smiling and helpful as you have always been my friend.”

Publicis India managing director &  chief creative officer Bobby Pawar: “Hey Sam, you are not just a big part of the industry but you are an industry all by yourself. But can you do the rest of us a favour and just pretend to slow down because you are making the rest of us feel old.”

Dentsu Aegis Network chairman and CEO South Asia Ashish Bhasin: “Dear Sam, You epitomise energy and drive in our industry. Keep providing us with your valuable guidance and keep growing younger and younger as you always do. Best wishes.”

Madison Media & OOH Madison World group CEO Vikram Sakhuja:

“I’ve known him for over 25 years and it has been a wonderful run with him. I’ve known him as a client for 10 years, as a competitor for 14 years and now as a partner for around 2 years. He  still has the same energy at 67 as he did when he was 40. He is one of those guys who is extremely passionate about advertising and media. He is always willing to help and humble to the core. He has a sense of fair play, integrity and is always willing to help the larger cause. He is a great mentor and provides advice that is profound in its simplicity.”

Sony Pictures Network president of network sales & international business Rohit Gupta:

“He is an institution in himself for the media industry. He is the most honest and respectable man in the media business and there is nobody who can come close to him. Despite the invasion of big agencies, he stood alone and hats off to him for that.”

Applause Entertainment CEO Sameer Nair:

“I have known Sam from the time I got into the industry and he has ever since been a leading light of the media buying and planning business. He has been like a hero to all of us in the industry and has held himself up against all big foreign giant multinational companies. Sam personally is a wonderful person and in my personal experience he has always been extremely kind, considerate and looks out for people. My professional relationship with him has always been smooth even when I was the seller and he was the media buyer. I have always found him as a very reasonable man to deal with.”

BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta:

“Sam is a respected voice not only in the advertising world, but the larger media industry as well - and not without reason. He has had a long innings, and I am sure he will continue to be at the crease for many years to come. He is the man who literally created the afternoon soap slot with Shanti on DD. There's a lot to be gained from his rich experience and accumulated insights - and we all know that he speaks his mind freely without pulling any punches. I wish him many more years of success.”

Viacom18 COO Raj Nayak: 

Sam Balsara is a legend in his own right. Small in height and big in stature. I have known Sam for more than two decades and his biggest strength is his ability to combine humility with hardcore business. He is a charmer and can disarm you with his smile. He has a human side to his hard-nosed business approach and goes out of his way to help everyone. He is someone you can reach out to both personally and professionally. Sam is a hands on boss and comes prepared for industry meetings with facts and figures at his fingertips. He has been on almost all industry bodies and his contribution to the advertising and media business is unparalleled. He is someone I immensely admire and respect. Today on his 67th birthday I wish him. Lots more success, good health, happiness and a very long life. Cheers Sam, I am waiting for the birthday cake! 

And from us at indiantelevision.com we’d like to end with the words of Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 film Casablanca: “Play it Sam. Play it for old time’s sake.”

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