Ranjan Kapur (Country Manager - India, WPP), in conversation with Aditi Sharma, assesses the ad Industry’s Evolution along his 46-year career journey.
An ad-world veteran and a much admired one at that, Ranjan Kapur displays his sense of humour as we start the conversation, “My strict mom wanted me to become an IAS officer, doctor or engineer.” A good student, he got into Thapar Institute, Patiala, but this was disaster number one according to him! He quickly quit the course to pursue BA in Math and English, and then MA in English from St. Stephen’s in 1959. He shares, “My dad was in the business of building factories, which was tempting for me as I only had to work for four hours and could spend the rest of the time drinking beer!” Ranjan got selected for IIM-A, but instead chose to join Citibank in Kolkata in 1964, which he calls disaster number two. He hated the job, but the turning point came when Citibank transferred him to Mumbai to look after their advertising, and he fell in love with it. His relative soon recommended that Ranjan meet Mr. Frank Simoes of the erstwhile SH Benson Ltd., and after a 30-minute meeting during his Citibank lunch break, he was offered the job with a salary of Rs. 600 (two-third of his Citibank pay). Of course, his mother was not too happy with the decision, as there were only three to four ad agencies in India then, and the profession was largely “looked down upon.”
But since then, there has been no looking back for Ranjan, as he spent 38 years at Benson, which then became Ogilvy Benson & Mather, and later Ogilvy & Mather (O&M). His first transfer to Delhi was in 1967, where he ran the Delhi office for three years and then spent five years in Bombay. “Post that, I was sent to New York City, which was a huge boost for me, as I was proud that the Indian and New York offices were both keen to keep me with them!”, he adds with a sense of glory. At 29, he was made a Deputy Director, and in 1982, he was asked to move to Singapore. He shares, “In my ten years there, I rose further up the ranks.” In his 25th year at O&M, the company decided to give him a three-month sabbatical and convinced him to return to India in 1992. He ascertains, “I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time; in 1994, the market exploded and companies started spending more on ads."
He opines that his next ten years at O&M were the most memorable in his life, as the company went on from strength to strength, doing business in a way like no other. “Those days the belief was that you could either be creative or be profitable. At O&M, we made sure that we grew our creative reputation and were profitable at the same time,” he adds, hence making this mantra a part of O&M’s DNA.
The leadership foundation here was like “the three legs of a stool”, that is, one strong financial advisor (in S.N. Rane), one creative head (in Piyush Pandey), and one visionary (Ranjan). “There was no hierarchy amongst us. We decided to work, play, cry, and laugh together, and that worked really well for us,” shares he. O&M grew by 36 per cent in CAGR and it became an impeccable place to work in. Ranjan highlights, “We believed in wealth creation through scintillating creativity. It is a myth that creativity and profitability cannot happen together.”
Then, as Ranjan sought to retire at 61, Sir Martin Sorrell (WPP’s Chief Executive) expressed that, according to him, Ranjan was too young to retire, and wanted him to head the company’s Indian operations. “I joined on three conditions – no headlines, no deadlines and no bottomlines. I have been with WPP for the past seven years, and we have 30+ companies in our group. My role is that of a counselor, mediator, facilitator, and an arbitrator,” Ranjan explains, while Mr. Ajit Chander takes care of procurement.
Finding it difficult to specify just one memorable moment in his career, after some prodding Ranjan shares that he cherishes O&M’s association with Cadbury since 1948, and also the campaigns with Asian Paints and Pidilite. He discloses that his barometer of success as a leader lies in “the amount of laughter in the office hallways.” He opines, “If the employees are laughing, we are doing well.”
On the other side of life, Ranjan is fond of drawing, paintings, sketching, and even sculpting - using M-Seals to make “sculptoons”! Explains he, with a smile,“With every new sculpture, I invite my friends over and we have a namkaran ceremony over scotch, soda, and wine.” Thankfully, Ranjan, who used to smoke almost 80 cigarettes a day, has now completely stopped, owing to health reasons. Hats off to the effort!