In memoriam: Anil 'Billy' Kapoor

Kapoor was former managing director and CEO of the FCB Ulka Group.

MUMBAI: Billy Kapoor. A feisty manager. An advertising legend. A man who brought management to what was an entrepreneur driven ad agency at that time.

My memory of him was a man who loved his suits, but was more than open to taking off his jacket, rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty to do any job. Not that he had to do it often: he had built a fabulous team of young managers – all MBA types – at a time when advertising agencies did not really look at recruiting them in the numbers he did – in the late eighties-early nineties.

And he deeply believed that advertising was not just about great copy or breathtaking visuals – you had to bring marketing thinking to your client’s brands and products. Wear a marketer’s hat all the time was his constant urging to his team. Find strategic or other solutions to move product off the shelves and generate sales. Once you do that, the brand and marketing manager will see in you a partner, not an agency chasing billing. You will build that trust, where he knows his interest is your interest. And the partnership can only grow and grow from there.

Another memory of him is that he could get gruff and tough when he wanted to. At BusinessWorld magazine in the nineties, I was in charge of the advertising and marketing section, and I was assigned to write a story on Ulka Advertising, which was reportedly looking shaky – and was on the verge of closure – but Billy had showed signs of turning around. I met him in the Nirmal building office (if I remember correctly) – and he spoke  to me about the agency, his teams, and how it functioned. He then called in his musketeers – Shashi Sinha, MG Parameswaran, Niteen Bagwat, Nagesh Alai, and Arvind Wable – into the boardroom and introduced me to them. For the next 15 minutes they spoke to me, while Billy watched them narrate what had lured them into his orbit, and the agency’s philosophy.

Billy brooked no nonsense from any one including clients and even me. When I slipped up in some of my information about the agency, he got visibly upset and growled. I squirmed, almost visualising what if this bulky man were to thump me one. But he immediately smiled and told me: “You should get your facts right.”

The article was published and I called him to have his feedback. He pointed out to a couple of errors – which I was not responsible for, it was probably the desk. But later on I learned that he had proudly shared the feature on Ulka with his colleagues.

From then we would be in regular touch. I would call him up frequently. And he would too. I remember once when he barked at me in relation to a feature on advertising agencies I had written. He called me and told me: “There are many who want to write on advertising and marketing. I want you to be the best. I will not tolerate any mediocrity in your work.”

Remember, Billy  was only an advertising executive on whom I had done a feature. Like Mike Khanna and Ravi Gupta, he took a special interest in seeing me develop into a better professional, he often scolded and chided me when he thought I was going wrong.

I lost touch with him at the turn of the century as I moved on to being an entrepreneur and setting up the group. However, I did stay in touch with Shashi and Ambi. And I happened to interact with actor Ram Kapoor when he had been hired to host The Indian Telly Awards. He told me Billy is his dad, and he was not keeping well. I called him once and spoke to him. Billy was happy with my progress, congratulating me. He once again told me not to stoop to or accept mediocrity. That’s the only way to succeed, he told me. We did not talk about his cancer. But he was fighting it well, Ram told me.

And now when I read about Billy passing on after staring cancer in the face, battling it well, I can only applaud a life lived to the fullest.

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