As I got an early morning WhatsApp message about AGK passing away on 5th February, coincidentally on the 25th anniversary of MICA, my mind went back to my own trip. With the Mudra management team to see the campus of the educational institution as it was being built and to memories of the six eventful years that I had in Mudra between 1987 and 1993.
My prime memories of him though were in the conference room of Mudra Ahmedabad, where the CMD of Mudra would present the latest campaign for ‘Only Vimal’ or ‘I love you Rasna’, to an admiring management committee of several managers like me.
AGK was first and foremost an advertising professional, and what turned him on were the TV commercials not bottom lines. In a sense he was an anachronism in a world of global agency networks that valued the printed balanced sheet more than the printed word. He belonged to the school that believed in the dictum that a picture paints a thousand words, and the early ads for Vimal were almost lyrical as they embodied this philosophy and featured one exotic model after the other. But let’s not forget that Mudra was a hugely profitable agency with fantastic systems not always visible to the external word which largely chose to ignore it.
It’s not where you are from but where you end up...
AGK, who was from Guntur, a small town in Andhra Pradesh, started out his career as the curator in the Madras Museum before he became ad manager in Reliance Industries Ltd, of course much before it’s hey days and trysts with destiny.
When Frank Simoes chose to handle the Raymond’s account over Vimal, AGK was given the responsibility of starting Mudra. It’s now easy to say the rest was history but it actually wasn’t. He built an organisation with the slogan- ‘If you can dream it, you can do it’, and even Walt Disney would have been proud of the results that followed. He was an amazingly secure man, for one from such a humble background, as he surrounded himself with MBAs who were much brighter than him but who idolized him. They too bought into his philosophy of ‘talent without tantrums’ and helped create an advertising agency that was truly ‘made in India’.
It was interesting to see the bemusement with which the rest of the industry viewed Mudra, which later turned to open envy, as the agency signed on clients after clients. Many of the naysayers would later work for Mudra or approach Mudra for jobs, but that is another story.
Just do it...
While AGK had many wonderful qualities, the one I admired most and tried to internalise, was his ability to delegate and simultaneously motivate his team. If anyone came to him with an idea, and many did, he would merely look them in the eye and say ‘Just do it’. He strongly believed that the manager’s only job is to motivate his team and he nationally built a team that became the who’s who in advertising. But his greatest contribution to the advertising industry was to run the Mudra copy writing and management trainee programs even as industry kept poaching.
People like Balki and Ramki, to name just two, are products of this programme and as he was running these programs with the thought to create talent for the whole industry, as he conceptualised, built and delivered MICA to a talent starved industry. He strongly believed in the philosophy that you are only as good as your latest team and would keep exhorting his managers to build teams and prepare themselves for their next higher position.
A legend in his own life time...
I have spent over three decades in this profession and have been amused at some of the leaders of our time. Some of them were legends in their own lunch time who could drink anyone under the table. They talked smoothly, if a bit shallowly, and used the old boy network to get business. In contrast was AGK who was a total family man, deeply religious, totally committed to great advertising, often with an Indian point of view. Indian industry will miss him as will MICA, not to forget the thousands of people whose career he mentored including me. Thank you AGK for the memories and for being there for all of us.
(The author is CEO of Brand-comm. He worked closely with AGK for six years from 1987 to 1993).