Building on legacy as important as looking to create one: Madhukar Kamath

Advertising industry veteran Madhukar Kamath recounted highlights of his journey at an event where AAAI honoured him with the Lifetime Achievement Award

e4m by exchange4media Mumbai Bureau
Published: Sep 7, 2019 8:35 AM  | 4 min read

The Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) on Friday honoured Madhukar Kamath with this year’s AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award in the presence of the who’s who of the advertising industry.


This is the highest honour to be given to individuals in India for their outstanding contribution to the advertising industry. 


The award recognises Kamath’s pioneering and outstanding contribution to the growth and development of the advertising industry in India. He has played a vital role in transforming a traditional advertising agency into one of India’s most successful and diversified communication companies. The adman also played a key role in the Omnicom acquisition of the Mudra Group and the integration with the Global DDB Network. Subsequently, he facilitated the entry of Interbrand, the leading Global Brand Consultancy, into India and functioned as its Chairman.


For his commitment to the cause of education and building talent for the marketing communications and services industry in India, Kamath took forward the legacy of A G Krishnamurthy in building MICA and establishing it as India’s leading business School for Strategic Marketing and Communication Management. He was also the Chairman of Mudra Foundation from 2003 to 2017.


Speaking about his long journey in advertising, Kamath said: “For me, this is an evening of gratitude. To all those who touched my life in the last 43 years, to all those who taught me what to do and more importantly what not to do, to all my bosses who hired me and giving me the freedom to be me, to all the colleagues who let me stand beside them and at times stand on their shoulders, to all those who allowed the talent and stardust to run off on me, it made me richer. To all those who I might unintentionally rubbed up the wrong way, to all those who encouraged me and to all those who criticised me. And yes, to all of you who came here to make this evening special. This evening is for you. It’s been a good and exciting journey where I’ve enjoyed going to work every single day. Till my last day.”


Recounting the highlights, spoken and unspoken, from his glorious advertising career, Kamath said, “For all those who need #lifelessons, first a confession. When I entered this profession in June of 1976, my ambition was to be a senior account executive in 5 years and retire as a branch manager.” 


A key learning he said, he learnt along the way was to take the road that is not predictable. “In 1988, I decided to join a little-known, much-divided, homegrown agency called Mudra. I chose it over a very polished, much-applauded multinational organisation that offered me instant fame and money. Because I like the entrepreneurial spirit, the native wisdom and never-say-die spirit.” 


Another turning point for Kamath was two decades later in 1999, when he was offered an assignment by the Cordiant Group (subsequently acquired by WPP) to either set up Bates India as a start up with two key network clients or acquire a fast sinking Clarion and build Bates Clarion.


“It was a proud moment when in just 100 days we achieved the following: Went into a very hostile environment, negotiated with a Board that wanted to wash their hands off the troubled agency; tactfully took the union along, shockingly discovered the fact that the agency was on the verge of bankruptcy and liquidation and worked out an acquisition strategy on the back of an envelope in a bar with the then CFO, Ujjal Gupta; sold the strategy to Bates in London with the support of Avi Bhojani, now a very successful entrepreneur and businessman in Dubai; talked to banks, the accreditation agencies and executed a downsizing of over 60 per cent of the Agency; and established a 100 per cent owned Bates India. What gave me immense happiness was the fact that we ensured that all the employee dues were paid, the fact that we executed perhaps the largest voluntary retirement in the history of Indian advertising, that we paid back all dues to INS, PF authorities, etc. And all this quietly and efficiently under the radar of any media focus or bad blood.”


The second moment of happiness that flashes past Kamath’s eyes was the opportunity to come back and take over the mantle from AG Krishnamurthy to head Mudra and then create the Mudra Group. Reminiscing the highs and lows, Kamath said:  “50 per cent of business and bottomline vanished in year one but what followed was a rocky year. In the next years, Mudra emerged to become the largest homegrown agency conglomerate.”


Another key lesson, Kamath said, “Building on the legacy is as important as looking to create one.”


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