Mentoring & empowering Gen Y is the way to go: Umesh Shrikhande

The new CEO of Taproot India talks about the agency’s strength of being creative-centric, giving freedom & guidance to young talent, keeping Taproot ahead of the game and more...

e4m by Priyanka Mehra
Updated: Jul 11, 2013 8:46 AM
Mentoring & empowering Gen Y is the way to go: Umesh Shrikhande

Advertising veteran Umesh Shrikhande’s appointment as the new Chief Executive Officer of Taproot India has given the quintessential ‘suit’ to the small agency in the news for big achievements. The former CEO of Contract India, Shrikhande brings to the Taproot stable  a maturity coupled with  20 years of rich experience, across big agencies such as Lowe, Contract and Euro RCSG.

While much has been talked about what the new appointment means to Taproot India, in an exclusive interview, Shrikhande gives his perspective on keeping a low profile, focus on insightful thinking, guiding the young brigade at the agency on the fundamentals of brand-building and more...
Taproot is one of the few agencies that have not had a ‘suit’. With your appointment, what are the changes we can expect to see within the agency?
Broadly speaking, strategy that leads to good work, sound client relationships and developing people have been my areas of interest and focus for the most part of my experience. Leveraging all of that will continue to be a priority.

Equally, it would be important to stay sensitive to what Taproot has already achieved in a significant way, so that it is a mature blend between what I bring to the table and what is innately strong and sparkling about Taproot. All of this in the interest of providing interesting brand ideas for our clients, so that we make a difference to their business. The brands that we work on are a mix of iconic brands with huge stakes and relatively newer, though big brands that need sharp profiling to make them famous. So it makes for an interesting canvas.

This year has been an interesting one for the agency – from winning ‘Agency of the Year’ at Adfest 2013, to winning four Gold Lions at Cannes. As the CEO of Taproot India, how do you plan to keep up with the pressure of retaining this benchmark?
The most important thing that I need to do is to not get in the way! The agency is bubbling with talent. It will, I am sure, keep producing sparkling ideas and I hope we keep winning big. Quite honestly, I don’t have to do anything new here. It is already a strong part of the agency’s DNA.
On a more serious note, ideally everyone at the agency who works on a brand must remain busy with identifying opportunities for doing some stunning and exciting work. Keeping our eyes and ears open on this front and persuading clients to see these opportunities would be a good way of facilitating this process.

The entry that won big this year with Gold Lions was one based on the farmer suicides. It was a simple and touching idea, executed (portraits were created using hay which enhanced their artistic value) with care and brilliance. Winning on a globally competitive platform such as Cannes helps to raise the bar and develop a stronger conviction and reputation. It is important to keep testing your capabilities against best of breed competitors.

What are the unlearning you are consciously going to be doing as you don the role of CEO of Taproot India, given your vast experience with agencies such as Lowe Lintas & Partners, Contract and Euro RSCG?
Thankfully, Contract, where I worked the longest (and Lintas where I worked much earlier) were very good agencies with talented people and were well-run in most respects. As a result, I hope I have imbibed all the right things and there wouldn’t be too much cause for unlearning!

Having said this, every organisation has its own beliefs, strengths, culture and work ethic. In many ways, it promises to be a period of both, building on what I’ve learnt and also learning to appreciate newer ways of doing things. For starters, the model at Taproot – unlike most other bigger agencies – is about few key and seasoned seniors and many talented, spirited and high-energy youngsters; perhaps the way it ought to be for an ideas business. For me, a focus on mentoring and empowering this talented team to do more together, with building stronger and credible relationships with clients and prospects seems like the way to go. 
Moreover, Taproot is a sharply creative-centric agency first. Having been founded by two extremely good creative directors, it continues to focus strongly on product quality based on insightful thinking. The way the agency is structured, reflects this belief. It is also the reason why clients come to Taproot. Protecting this strength at all costs will also have to remain key to what I do.

How are you going to provide mentorship to the youth at Taproot India?
Wise companies are realising that to get the best out of this new breed of ‘Gen Y’ youngsters, it is not enough to worry about mentoring them. It is equally crucial to leverage them as a mirror of societal and consumer behaviour changes, so that we stay in touch with the consumer’s pulse. So many exciting things are going on – both in the way messaging is created and received. At the best of times therefore, in the way we work, it has to be a mature combination of giving these talented youngsters lot of freedom and also guiding them on the fundamentals of brand-building and business.
There are high expectations associated with your appointment that include winning great businesses. How do you view this?
Taproot’s track record on winning new business has been good already. Adding value, support and bandwidth to that process is what I need to worry about and do well. Also, there will be opportunities in leveraging our association with Dentsu, which should help us to open more doors and get into many more relationships. Access to specialist expertise via the companies that Dentsu India Group owns will also represent a good opportunity.

How will the agency leverage digital media as part of the creative process?
Digital doesn’t have to be seen as an island. It has to be a part of integrated thinking. Either an imaginative way of conversing in the digital space or a conversation that evolves out of the brand’s overall storytelling to create a positive action loop. That is what we’ve been doing and will continue to do. Additionally, specialist digital companies such as Webchutney are now a part of Dentsu India Group. So working in close partnership with them will give us superior execution capabilities too.
Taproot is seen as an agency that consciously keeps a low profile. Do you plan to change this aspect?
So far as I understand, in our business it is best to focus on the work we do instead of being on a PR overdrive at all times. After all, clients come to us in the hope that we add value to their brands first and then get famous – if at all – on the back of that work. Reversing this thinking is neither smart nor correct. So in that sense, I subscribe to the ‘low profile’ that you are referring to. Having said this and thanks to the work done and the awards won, I do feel that Taproot enjoys a healthy profile amongst the people who matter, namely our clients, our prospects and our associates. 

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