Then the Angels came for George: A tribute by Gopinath Menon

Gopinath Menon worked with George John as Senior Vice President of TBWA India from 1998 to 2008

e4m by Gopinath Menon
Updated: Jul 2, 2019 1:01 PM

As a kid growing up, my father always used to say the essence of life lies in “Relationships and Memories”. The more memories you have with more and more people, the more fulfilling your life would be. 

This could not be more true for “Kariath George John” who passed away around a little after sunset on the last day of June 2019. 

It was an eventful life for a youngster who left home for Mumbai after studying Mathematics at the Victoria College in Pallakad, Kerala.  George landed up a job as a media number cruncher at Lintas Mumbai, a revered name in the world of advertising as it was owned by Uni Levers - a multinational giant.  

George’s life revolved around a Facitt Calculator and the totaling it did on the numbers fed at a ferocious speed. This for many years was George’s “Arangetram” in the world of advertising in Mumbai, and the luminaries who created a Halo around it.  

I remember George telling me that one of the joys in life was riding his Royal Enfield in the Mumbai rains. The highs were unimaginable, according to him, and only the bravest of brave could experience the thrill of a throb between your legs, when you are completely drenched. 

The notable luminary who was George’s mentor and good friend in Mumbai was the legendary Bal Mukundkar who built Ulka Advertising. This would be the natural next move in George’s life as he moved  to Delhi as Branch Manager of Ulka Advertising. 

This is where he gathered tons of fame and respect as Ulka Delhi blossomed in the presence of multinational agencies which had a lot a fair skinned gentlemen showering pearls of wisdom to an advertising craved world. 

George’s success was largely due to the youngsters he hired for the main clients. Youngsters who had passion and fire in the belly. According to him, this amalgam was all that mattered in a discipline which thrived on Josh! He could not have been more right and it is this key focus of people and their traits that made him different from other bosses. It is this bonding with his team that made over 30 key people resign in Ulka to join him at Anthem – a company he founded and ran for over 2 decades. So, Josh and fire in the belly worked for him all his life.

I first met George in 1985 at Ananda Bazaar Patrika and we needed a guest speaker at one of our annual events called the EDP in Jaipur. George had kindly agreed and gave us a talk in Jaipur. We got to know each other and the next time we met was in November 1998, when he offered me a job at Anthem Communications which had partnered with the legendary TBWA and was looking a buyout in the coming years. I used to be at Leo Burnett, a credible advertising agency  with famous international brands. 

However, all the brands faded pale in front of the warmth radiated by George in his house over a drink. He was a charmer when he wanted to be. There was no interview, only the conducive beverage of mutual choice and joy flowed  along with some delightful anecdotes of his past. 

I joined Anthem in December 1998, which in the coming years became TBWA India and George finally relinquished charge in 2008 as CEO and MD and went back to his hometown in the backwaters to build his dream home overlooking the Arabian Sea. 

Almost the entire senior management resigned after George called it a day as TBWA was not the same place anymore. 

George’s uniqueness came from gathering big joys from small things in life. He would be the happiest at a “thatu kadda” (local street vendor) in the bylanes of Cochin and relish his hot red colour tea with some steamed kappa (tapioca). Or a local toddy shop with some delicious beef fry. Both with some amenable company gave him great joy. I have been a recipient of this hospitality many a time in Kerala. 

The key thing was George never let the kid in him die. This was evident when he would be behind the wheel of his high-tech speed boat driving his guests from the Yatcht Club to his village shores. 

If there was one thing, that separated George from the rest of the advertising bosses was his ability and craving to live life to its fullest.  He was a large hearted man and any victory, big or small, would result in a celebration. Celebrations always were defined as a night-long party, as crazy as it would get, with the entire office in attendance. 

He strongly believed in looking after his people and his lovely home in Edda Cochin was a witness to many a carnivals to celebrate George’s warmth with all those whose lives he touched in some way or another.  

The other key trait that separated George from all his counterparts was his strong connect with his roots. He was passionate and emotional about his ancestral village (Peruvambalam) and when he made it big in the Capital he went back and brought nearly half his village. He also bequeathed a school library and an old age home in Tripunithara in Ernakulam. 

Sounds like a script for a blockbuster. Well, these traits made senior politicians trying to woo him to contest elections but George was clear to stay away from the political landscape.

This is one big reason that I strongly feel we should celebrate George’s life and not be saddened by his demise.  He lived a full life and had no regrets. So celebrate his life as this is what George would always have wanted and will be watching us do that, with an eagle eye from up above in heaven. 

Gopinath Menon worked with George John as Senior Vice President of TBWA India from 1998 to 2008.

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