The advertising and media fraternity gathered in Delhi on February 19, 2010 to share their experiences and special memories of advertising legend SR Mani Ayer, who passed away on February 8, 2010. The gathering comprised a large number of ad people who had been in Ogilvy at some point of time. Nearly everyone present at the gathering remembered Ayer as a teacher, boss, friend, colleague, mentor and a person with high values and who commanded tremendous respect.
Here’s what they had to say of Ayer…
I feel very proud that I was the member of his team: Roda Mehta (Ogilvy: 1975-1998)
(Roda Mehta could not make it to attend the gathering, but she shared her experiences through a audio-video message.)
I feel very proud to be a member of the team who built this agency. It personally gives me a deep sense of fulfilment that what we built was not just an agency, an organisation or a generation of professionals, but that we built enduring legacy of values in the core of people who worked with him. This core today honours and respects those who not only lived with that era, but also embellished to the Ogilvys who we are and what we stand for. When I sent around an email enclosing the photograph of Mani Ayer in rest and final journey from home, I received many replies. One of them was from a young man, who replied that he had never worked with Ayer, but he could imagine how he must have been like. It is often said that a normal tendency to eulogise a person is after his death. The togetherness that we demonstrated when Ayer retired in 1993, I believe the same demonstration of affection has been shown by the Ex-Oglivys on his passing away. It is really a great tribute to Ayer – who he was and what he really meant to us during the time we worked with him. For each of you, I have this massage – Life is not all about one’s career and work, happiness does not come by making money. This lifetime is a short journey and in an ultimate analysis – live it fully, live it well, live it to the best of your ability, serving not just yourself and your family, but the larger group. Click here to view video
If something has to be done, it has to be done: Pritha Singh (Ex-Ogilvy)
Whoever has worked with Ayer, he touched his life and made a great difference to it. I believe he was a stalwart and pioneer of the advertising industry. I remember when he retired in 1993, we had accorded him a warm farewell and presented a book to him, titled ‘Simple Living, Ayer Thinking’. I was going through this book the other day and it was amazing. I always called him Mr Ayer, I could never call him Mani, or once in a while I called him SRA. He interviewed me and hired me. He used to use the word ‘Rubbish’ many times and we used to get terrified. Thanks to the 10 years that I spent with him, it was fun and a great learning. Around three years back, he called me up when I was in Mumbai and asked me to organise a dinner for a delegate in Delhi. I told him that I lived in Mumbai and it was not possible for me to organise the dinner. He repeated the same sentence and asked again. He didn’t want to hear anything. Finally, I asked Chintamani (Rao) and we organised a dinner in Chinta’s house. That day I asked him ‘why did you do that’, and he said, ‘Listen, I don’t care where you live, I knew you had lived in Delhi and you are the only one who could organise this’. That was SRA, if something has to be done, it has to be done.
Something very important has passed away: Chintamani Rao (Ex-Ogilvy)
I met him first in 1973 during my summer training. I had done my graduation and nobody was hiring at that time. I started my career with McCann. In the year 1985, Mani called me home and we had lots of whisky. We talked about lots of things and had a great time. We decided to meet again. After few days, he called me up. We met again. He made me wait for five months to join Ogilvy. He gave me my letter on July 31 and I joined on January 1. He may be remembered for many things, but above all what made him Mani Ayer were ‘values’. He was a person who would never compromise on the high professional standards. He was always ready to teach you, guide you and make you to raise the standards. Something very important has passed away. We will find a way to honour him.
He used to go to the airport three hours before time: Sugato Dhar (Ogilvy: 1980-1989)
I remember once there was some problem in an account and to get that account we had to make a presentation. We worked the whole night. Next day, we presented it to him. He was not convinced. He kept saying ‘Rubbish’. We started working on it again and he kept chasing us. He said, ‘I must know what you guys are doing’. So he sat with us in the studio, looking at every piece of the work. Finally, he said, ‘You know, Bengalis are very good in football’. I replied, ‘Yes’. He then said, “So, you should work like a footballer. You should work very fast’. Finally, the presentation was okayed and he called us for lunch. He was very particular about timings as well. He used to go to the airport three hours before the flight timing. He used to panic at the thought of missing a flight. He was simply a fantastic guy.
His impact on students was phenomenal: N Bhaskar Rao (Chairman, Centre for Media Studies)
I met him first in 1972. I was head of ORG then and had come out with the first NRS. We had a lot of controversy and were not able to resolve some of them. There were some people who didn’t want the first NRS to come out with certain facts. It was only Mani who taught me how a table should be presented in a way that it did not hide the facts, but at the same time did not offend anybody. We resolved the controversy. Meanwhile, AG Krishnamurthy started MICA in Ahmedabad. The first two directors were recruited by me, but we wanted to bring in someone from the advertising industry. We had been suggested Mani Ayer’s name. He was in Chennai at that time. We asked him and surprisingly, he readily accepted it and became the guide and mentor to MICA. That was the breakthrough for MICA. What MICA is today, 99 per cent of the credit goes to the value and compassion of Mani. His impact on the students was phenomenal.
Training was very important for him: Radha Chadha (Ex-Ogilvy)
He was a tall man. He used to be scary when he used to come for the reviews. He was so direct that you could not bullshit him even for a second. He set very high standards. It also brought back the memories of training; it was dear to his heart. We all had extra projects besides our work. It just shows how important training was for him to grow up people. I think advertising is going through some sort of people crisis these days. All over the world there is a crisis in training and grooming people. I think, he was the person who was a true guide and can still be a guide.
He sold ‘Mambo Italiano Ties’: Bunny Suraiya (Ex-Ogilvy)
He was a wonderful man. We loved him, cared for him and I always loved his smile. Whenever he used to smile, he was very special. Once we were in Kathmandu, and during a conversation he asked me, ‘Do you know how I started?’ I said, ‘No’. I thought he must have been a trainee in some place. He said, ‘I started with a small newspaper, a free press journal’. Then he started actually making ties and started selling them almost as a street side vendor, and the name he found for the ties was very special – it was ‘Mambo Italiano Ties’. He chose this name because he loved the song. I said, ‘You are kidding me’, he insisted he was not, and even sang the song for me. He was utterly charming. I salute his memories. I don’t mourn his death so much as I celebrate the fact that I was alive when he was alive and could share a part of his life with him, and being a part of it.
He always had his facts right: PV Narayanmurthy (With Ogilvy in 1981-1982, 1984-1992 and 1996-1997)
It was my first meeting with him. I was waiting at the reception, Mr Ayer came and I introduced myself to him. One day, he called me, indicating with his long finger. So I went to his room, and he said, ‘You will have lunch with me tomorrow’. I was shocked. I didn’t sleep that whole night thinking about next day’s lunch. Next day till lunch I could not do any work. Lunch time came and Suresh Mullik and Mani Ayer asked me, ‘Are you ready… let’s go’. During the entire lunch I didn’t eat anything. I was very nervous. That was my first lunch with him. I had several after that. That man was so forward thinking that he used to talk about computers in the year 1982. Once I was fired by him. We were asked to work on a pitch and Mani Ayer involved me in it as well. We had to do too much of research work for that. We prepared 200 slides out of that research. Mani Ayer came and saw it. At the end of it he said, ‘I will tell the account department to stop his (my) salary for next month and we will reverse that order the moment you will make this strategy half of a page’. We converted those 200 slides into half of a page and won ultimately. That was Mani Ayer. When he used to speak, he knew what he was talking about. Nobody can ever contest him, because he always had his facts right.
He made me buy a house in Mumbai: Jitendra Sethi (ex-Ogilvy)
Ranjan brought me to OBM in 1972 before Mani Ayer came back from Sydney. We worked together for 25 years since then. He was a very good boss, colleague, teacher and a very good friend. Many times it happens that you have a habit of saying something repeatedly, which you are not aware of. I and none of the clients ever identified this habit in me. Once I was doing a seven-minute presentation in front of Mani and Ranjan. After the presentation Mani stood up and said, ‘Very good Jitendra, but there was a big mistake in your presentation’. I was shocked. Then he explained to me, ‘Jitendra, in your seven-minute presentation you said ‘U Know’ 10 times!’.
I remember another incident, there was a Bournvita ad running those days. We were telling people how to prepare Bournvita. ‘Take a hot cup of milk, add two spoons of Bournvita and drink’ was our line. One day, he called me in his own style – with the indication of a finger. He had never seen that ad before that day. He asked me, ‘Take a hot cup of milk or take a cup of hot milk…’ - what is the English you are writing in?’.
We have been in constant touch till last month. In all these 25 years I have been living in a company flat. One day, he called up my wife and told her, ‘You better convince your husband to buy a house, because we are not going to let him stay in the house. The company will take the house back’. And he made me buy a house in Mumbai. I will always miss him.
He grilled me for three hours in the interview: Aly Latif (Ogilvy: 1978-1983)
I never worked with him. But he was the guy who started my career in advertising, because he hired me in Ogilvy. I was working with an agency in Delhi and there was a film being made, so I went to Mumbai. I thought, why shouldn’t I try my luck in this big agency. So, one fine morning I dialled the number of the Ogilvy office. Mani picked up the call and I hung up thinking how can a director of an agency pick up a call. Then again I gathered the courage and dialled the same number, and again he picked up the call and I spoke to him and told him that I was looking for a change, so I wanted to work with him. He just said, ‘Thursday, 9 am’, and hung up. I landed at his office on the same day and he grilled me for three hours. Finally, to culminate the interview he asked me, ‘So, what is your ambition?’ I replied, ‘I want to take your seat’, to which he replied, ‘That is a great ambition’. I got the job and that’s how I started my career.
We are lacking a visionary like him in the industry: Vibha Desai (Ex-Ogilvy)
I first met Mr Ayer in 1991 when I joined Ogilvy. We went to Mumbai for some training and I was told that Mr Ayer wanted to meet me. I was so scared as everybody was telling me, ‘You are in trouble now’. I went inside and he was signing some papers. He was upset with somebody and I was really shaking. As I was thinking this, he turned around and said, ‘So, how do you like your training in Mumbai? Anything you would recommend that we could do better?’. All my speculations went wrong.
Once we were preparing a presentation and there was no final strategy, so we decided that we will present media first. I presented it. As we were not prepared well, we lost the business. After that, there was a review meeting in his room. He was so angry, but the way he conducted himself and the integrity of man, all of us can feel it was really great. It was palpable, real and it makes us who we are. He was a very forward thinking man. After Mr Ayer retired, there was a training programme and for that he got a sociologist, a psychologist, a professor of economics and a whole host of people from varied domains. We were supposed to interact with them and make a presentation. The kind of exposure that we got in that three-day workshop was unbelievable. The truth is that if advertising had gone in that way, we would not be viewing advertising the way we are today. And it’s a sad reality that we are lacking a visionary like him in this industry.