Amit Desai - Profile

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Amit Desai - Profile

  1. 1. Was born on 16th June, 1973 at Nanavati Hospital, Mumbai (Bombay), 18o55’ N Latitude and 72o54’E Longitude (don’t know if it means anything to anyone except for the astrologers). My Mom was from Mumbai (originally from Zanzibar, now Tanzania, East Africa; but her parents chose to settle in Mumbai after Tanzania’s war against Idi Amin and the fact that they were forced to leave on pretext of socialist economic regime) and my Dad had just started his career in Civil services in Gandhinagar (state capital of Gujarat). And then at the age of 8 months I was diagnosed with interception of intestine and that too amidst the riots of Navnirman (early 1974) in Ahmedabad. Amongst riots and severe danger, my Dad brought me to Vadilal Sarabhai Hospital in Ahmedabad and I underwent a major operation. Within minutes of the operation I turned blue and my stomach went burst. I was dying and that too very fast. I was re-operated. I lived with tubes stitched on my tummy. Since then my family believes that I have been born to do something great (maybe today they might have to re-think). I have been a healthy dude since then. Ofcourse, a year behind than all those who were born in 1973. I was bad at Math, History, Grammar and Civics for sure. But then I managed to get C or C+ in those subjects and was pushed to the higher standards with great difficulty. Went to US on a Green Card (since my entire maternal family was in US - they were the ones to settle in UK and then US after Zanzibar as against my grandparents and my Mom) in 1985 alongwith the family. But my Dad was too proud to accept American citizenship on my Mother’s relation (thanks to the patriarchal society that we live in). So we all gave up the Green Card after our first visit to US. And my schooling continued in India. To be honest school and studies were not my cuppa tea or coffee. And I abhorred every moment of it. And I passed out of 12th standard with flying colours. 56% in all (and that too barely managed, thanks to some 75 odd % that I scored in the practical examinations). Something that just got me an admission in Bachelor of Science. My family was completely devastated as if some earthquake had rocked their home and they couldn’t find where their bathing tumbler was. But then something happened to me. I got interested in studies. Maybe some paranormal forces from planet Xena (still being debated whether to include in the solar system or not as the tenth planet) were acting on me. I got in to the depth of understanding Electronics and what it was all about (my area of specialization in Bachelor of Science). I never used to stick to standard reference books that were recommended by the college. I got in to the bottom of fundamentals by reading books that were beyond curriculum. I passed out as Bachelor of Science in Electronics by coming first in the University. Well, my family was still not proud of me then, because they wanted me to be an engineer or a doctor or at the worse an astronaut (standard expectation of a normal Indian family). Ofcourse I got an admission in to Master degree for Electronics and again I excelled topping the University. Again my family was not so very happy. I appeared in couple of campus interviews and got through in Indian Space Research Organisation (Space Application Center), only to learn that I will be paid peanuts.
  2. 2. It is then I decided to appear for an open entrance exam for Masters of Business Administration. Got through and again topped the University with specialization in marketing and marketing research. I got offers from couple of companies and that too with a fat salary package. I refused. Because by then I had already decided to make my career in the field of advertising, irrespective of the salary package. June 01, 1997 I joined Clea Advertising and Marketing Limited, Mumbai as a Junior Client Servicing executive with a magnanimous salary of Rs. 6000 a month (USD 130). Those were the days when I was a glorified courier boy. Faxing documents, delivering brochures, taking notes, writing minutes of the meetings, searching for data for my seniors, running errands, sitting the entire night to see that the designs are delivered to my seniors next day morning for their presentations, begging to the studio manager to take our team’s assignment on a priority … I was not supposed to ask any question, I was just supposed to do what I was told. But determined I was and I took the entire process positively as a part of my learning curve. On June 15th, 1997 Clea retrenched almost 160 employees because of bad financial markets and thereby resulting in poor performance of the agency and most of the regional offices were closed. I survived the scare, maybe because I had just joined a fortnight back. It was this stage of my life when I came across a man called Sunil Gautam, the owner of Clea Advertising. My first question to him was, “Sir, I have seen people in this organisation churning out some brilliant creatives, but are they research or insight based?” He liked my argument for sure. But then the journey continued at the same pace till end of 1997. Beginning of 1998 I just came to know that we are pitching for a Gujarat based client, iNDEXTb (nodal agency for all the inbound investments in the State of Gujarat). I mustered all my courage and got an appointment with Sunil Gautam and told him that I know the CEO of iNDEXTb very closely and will it help if I’m around? He was game for it, but he came up with a very preposterous idea of sending me by bus all the way from Mumbai to Ahmedabad (while rest of the gang was flying down). I gave a suggestion that I can travel by train and reach Ahmedabad far sooner than bus. But he was adamant and wanted to see the bus ticket after I reached Ahmedabad. Sounds weird, isn’t it? But then I knew he was testing me and I agreed. Reached Ahmedabad at 11 am and then took a bath at some very ordinary hotel and reported to the office by 12 noon. I was asked to wait outside, while the big honchos were mulling over the presentation and the creatives. I tagged alongwith them to the clients office. The moment the CEO saw me, he was keen on giving us the account. And we did get the account. There was nothing insightful or creative about the entire process, but I was seen as a person who has got good network in Gujarat. From that day a different journey started in my life. From that day a different relationship was established between Sunil Gautam and me. He gave me an opportunity to run the defunct Ahmedabad office and by 1999 June we were an Rs 3 crore turnover office (USD 6, 40, 000). This was the most difficult and most enriching part of my professional career. I learnt client servicing, copy-writing, art direction, visualization, media planning and
  3. 3. buying, finance, accounts and administration all by myself, because I only had an accountant and an office boy in the Ahmedabad office. This was the phase of life which made me future-ready. Not every is as lucky as I am to run a defunct office and learn everything without any support at such a young age. This is where I will site two examples, which reinforced my unwavering belief towards making “advertising” as my career. We were given the mandate of handling the assembly elections for one of the leading parties in Gujarat in the year 1998. One accountant, one office boy, Sunil Gautam and myself. We took up this challenge of handling this Rs. 5 crore (USD 10, 63, 000) assignment. Consecutive 9 days and nights in the office, catching-up with sleep for 3-4 hours a day; our toothbrushes, pair of clothes and shaving kits in the office; some myriad last minute briefs, myriad creatives and some 200 representatives from various publications to be handled on a daily basis for the release of the advertisement. Some publications to be paid in advance in cash (oh man, wasn’t it a great feeling going to the publications with some bagful of wad of notes). Tension, frustration, anxiety, chaos… But those were the moments which I will cherish for rest of my life. We came out with flying colours and the party for whom we took up the assignment won the assembly elections with pounding majority. On the second instance, one of our clients, who was into making customized softwares, was in a hurry to launch his new creation. This was in the second week of February 1999, week when I was having my marriage reception. I had submitted the final creatives for the launch, which were duly approved for release and had informed the client well in advance that I will be on two days leave (he was invited as well). Not only he didn’t come to my reception, but he sent a message through our accountant that he had some different thoughts on the campaign and wanted us to rework on the entire campaign from the scratch and still meet the deadline for releases. On my Reception stage I could easily figure out that our guy was immensely worried and he was holding back some information. Finally after probing, he did let it out. Immediately after my reception was over, I left for the office leaving behind my guests and my all important night with my wife, worked the entire night, churned out a new campaign and the next day morning client had an approving glee on his face. I still tease my wife over the entire episode. I don’t think so that I did any thing amazing. I only did what I loved to do the most. And that’s when in August, 1999 Sunil Gautam resigned from Clea Advertising. I felt a vacuum in my life; all of a sudden I had no one to look up to. But I continued my journey; because loyalty towards the organisation was an important characteristic that was imbibed in me. But then I saw a dream in the eyes of a person who was almost approaching his fifties. Man who used to own an agency worth Rs. 150 crore plus turn-over (USD 32 million), which was the seventh largest agency in India at one point of time in terms of capitalized billings. And he had just called it quits from that agency. I saw a great resolve in him to
  4. 4. start afresh. I am sure he had enough money in his life by then to sit back and relax for rest of his life. But that is not Sunil Gautam. He was relentless. He wanted to re-establish an organization more powerful than his preceding organization. And that’s what he did by starting Hanmer & Partners. He had a dream and he had the courage of conviction. Immediately after Hanmer & Partners was established, I was called by Sunil Gautam to start something that blew the daylights out of me. It was beyond my grasp and credence that he offered me to be his partner and start an advertising agency along with him. I mean I was just a client servicing executive then, I was actually no one. We started Aashin Communications Private Limited on 4th of January 2000. Three chairs, one table, one cupboard, three seemingly inconsequential men (including me) in Ahmedabad and a mentor in Mumbai. Loads of anxiety, frustration, heartburns, stress, downs and downs, inexperience and huge insecurity. But we had imbibed one strong characteristic from our mentor, that of chasing a dream that we believed in, with lot of guts and determination. And that’s what we did. Aashin grew and in order to make the most of the synergies with Hanmer & Partners it got rechristened as Hanmer Advertising Private Limited. And then, after the acquisition of Hanmer & Partners by MS&L (Lead PR agency of Publicis Groupe, a USD 7 billion revenue Group) in October 2007, the creative services arm of Hanmer Advertising got merged with the newly formed entity Hanmer MS&L Communications Private Limited. While the media arm of Hanmer Advertising got floated as a separate agency called Metieta Media Solutions Private Limited. Today, as we are a 380 plus employee organization, a Rs. 23 crore plus gross profit organization (USD 5 million), 9 offices, 30 plus reach offices, 150 plus clients, loads of awards and an amazing global network … the journey has been long and difficult, but extremely satisfying. Hanmer MS&L is growing and is full of promises. With the recession in the backburner, 2010 is surely going to be the year to reckon for Hanmer MS&L. It’s an amazing place to work and it will be in the future. It is at this stage of my career that I want to re-look at my life. It is because life is unpredictable and the providence supersedes all your dreams and all that you lived your life for. And it is this providence that is compelling me to move on in my life and try something else. I might have been pompous in this entire description of myself, but then I swear by god that I have not been under the influence of alcohol or drugs while writing this piece. Neither I was administered Ether. It is in my full state of subliminal consciousness that I have written what has truly happened in my life.

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