THROWBACK: Shashi Sinha remembers his days with Verghese Kurien

He taught me the value of strong focus and integrity

NEW DELHI: The father of White Revolution, Dr Verghese Kurien is a highly respected man in the business as well as the advertising world. Probably the only client who has given a free hand to all the agencies to follow their convictions and handle the business without worrying about making blunders, he has remained an inspiration to many.

One such person who has admittedly learnt a lot from the firebrand leader and visionary is the IPG Mediabrands CEO--India Shashi Sinha. In a fireside chat with founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief Anil Wanvari, Sinha reminisced about the golden days he spent working for Kurien and his iconic brand Amul.

“It was the monsoon of 1986 when I had first met Dr Kurien. I was five-six months old at Ulka when he just showed up, with Vivek Matthai, at our agency’s reception to meet our boss Bal Mundkur. Our secretary did not know who he was and made him sit in the conference room while she looked around to find someone to meet the man. Luckily, I was the first person she saw,”  he shared with a smile.

“Now, I had an idea who Dr Kurien was but I was still unaware of the scale of the business he was creating. I entered the room and he asked me where my boss was. I told him Bal Mukund was not around. It dawned on me how big a person was sitting in front of me when he invited our team to visit Anand. And I was at a loss of words suddenly, stuttering. Nevertheless, he put me at ease and asked why don’t I come over too,” he added.

Sinha was stunned and also amazed at the fact that a client of his stature himself visited the agency to meet the team.

After a week or so, a team from Ulka visited Anand, including Sinha, who was the junior most member of the cavalry.

“I went there with my bosses, who were all very experienced senior people, who started introducing themselves to Dr Kurien sharing their background and experiences. And he suddenly said, ‘That’s the problem in our country. You people come and join brands and make a blue soap if that doesn’t work you make a red soap, and if that too doesn’t work, you make a green soap…’ Then he talked to us for an hour, very passionately about the cooperative movement and Amul,” Sinha quipped.

Sinha himself was sitting in a corner at that time, smiling to himself thinking how lucky he was to be sitting in the farthest corner and not getting a chance to introduce himself.

“Young man, why are you laughing,” Dr Kurien asked Sinha, who replied, “Because whatever you are saying is so nice and at the same time it is humorous we are on the wrong foot.”

“If I may say so, that was the moment that Dr Kurien grew a liking to me,” Sinha proudly shared.

He further shared another incident, about the first pitch Ulka took to Dr Kurien for Amulya powder.

“He had called our team once and said that he doesn’t work on a project basis and works with long-time partnerships. Once I hire someone, they will be with me for life. But I will start with a small project. So, he gave us Amulya powder and asked us to come back a few days later with our ideas.”

His team went with five creatives after fifteen days and presented them to the team, including Dr Kurien.

“At the end, he asked us which one we recommended out of the five. Now, there was a painful silence in the room as everyone was so intimidated with a big man asking a question like that. So, I picked up a pack and he just walked out of the room. Everyone turned to me asking what I had done,” Shashi enthusiastically shared.

“That day, he gave us a message that he trusts us as professionals. He expected all of us to come to the meetings with a point of view and stand by our convictions. He will obviously ask questions, but he won’t question our decision. The second thing he said to us is that every mistake is allowed and it won’t impact our partnership or financial integrity. And he stood true to that. We made hundreds of blunders and he pardoned us a lot. As far as the Amulya packaging is concerned, it is still there.”

Sinha proudly shared that during his more than three-decade-long association with Dr Kurein he learnt a lot about life and work. “I am so happy that I crossed paths with a man like him at such a young age in my career. He taught me the value of strong focus and integrity. He taught me how important it is to have conviction and having the big picture. He always said that more than anything, it is important to be true to yourself.”

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