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Remembering Mani Ayer: ‘Simple Living, Ayer Thinking’

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Remembering Mani Ayer: ‘Simple Living, Ayer Thinking’

The ad world is stunned at SR Mani Ayer’s demise. There was an avalanche of grief and remembrance of someone nearly everyone referred to as a ‘Father of Indian Advertising’. exchange4media got the who’s who of Indian advertising to share their special memories of the man and CEO that SR Mani Ayer was.

Ranjan Kapur, Country Manager, India, WPP Group:

I have worked with Mani since 1966, when he was the Managing Director, to 1994, when I took over as the Managing Director. He was a man of total discipline and the smartest person from the advertising industry. Although he did not have any financial background, he had a shrewd financial brain. Ogilvy had been a loss making company for 6-7 years before Mani took over, and in one year he turned it into a profit making company. He had left the agency as a financially healthy company and I was happy to inherit that.

Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman & Creative Director, Ogilvy South Asia:

Ayer had hired me. He was the one who interviewed me, along with Suresh Mullick, who decided on me coming into creative. He is the ‘Father of Ogilvy’, with whom I spent 11 working years in the Ogilvy office. I have learnt a lot from him and he’s one of the strongest figures on which Ogilvy is built. He is an advertising legend with whom I got to work. He had total sincerity towards the work for his clients.

Prasoon Joshi, Executive Chairman -India and Regional Creative Director, McCann Erickson Asia Pacific:

I remember Ayer when I was a trainee and a copy writer in early 1992-93 in the early days of advertising. I was working on a Modi Xerox pitch. He acted out the entire script and he made me do the same as he was really happy by my acting in the script. I saw him first as an energetic, inspiring visionary. He was among the most important people in Ogilvy. He was a very large hearted man and cut out to be a leader.

Mahesh Chauhan, Group CEO, Rediffusion Y&R:

It’s not the most ideal thing to do... Write about someone who left such a profound and indelible impact on your life, while being driven on the highways of India using a poor Blackberry. But then I had to. How could I not? SRA or Mr Ayer, as he was fondly called, touched all our lives at Ogilvy without probably realising it. The soft-spoken, but firm Ayer brought great dignity to his position, both during and after his time. During his time, with his impeccable demeanor, and after, by leaving it like a ‘sadhu’ would, having done his karma. Not for him the desire to stay attached and involved.

I vividly remember a small booklet that Ogilvy published commemorating his retirement. 'Simple Living, Ayer Thinking', the title said it all. Ayer, in my mind, will always be wearing white half-sleeve shirt, light grey trousers, no belt and black shoes. Eeshwar Amin, his orderly, rushing behind him carrying his bags as Ayer took his brisk walk to the elevator.

Stories of his marriage still do the rounds with the old timers. He worked till the afternoon on the day of his wedding, apologised to the client for not being able to deliver some work that evening without letting him in on the fact that it was his wedding day. Of course, he was promptly back at work the next day.

I remember coordinating Ayer-led Ogilvy team's meeting with the top brass at BPCL as the AE on the Shell business. I had heard about the man and this was meant to be my first interaction with him. Eager to impress, I had asked for the U-matic player and operator to reach the venue at 8.30 am for a 9.30 am meeting. The guy got a little delayed and could only set it up by 9 am, which by modern practices is well in time for the meeting. Unfortunately, I hadn't reckoned Ayer arriving for the meeting at 8.30 am, an hour prior to the scheduled time. I still remember his words: "Young man, in our days we set up the conference room the night before for meetings like this!" I had learnt another lesson from the gentle giant.

The advertising world is a lot poorer today. Thank you SRA, for being the perfect role model. May the almighty bless your noble soul.

Kamal Basu, CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi:

I joined O&M in January 1993 and was met at the reception by this tall, lean man, whom people were referring to as SRA. He had a no-nonsense look about him and it was easy to figure out that he was the big man there. Days and weeks later, one only kept hearing stories of this legendry man and that really was my induction into Ogilvy & Mather. I spent a year with him at the Mumbai office and frankly, the aura that he had had around him was godly. The best introduction of Mani Ayer that I have ever heard was the one made by Mr Francious Tiger, who had just been appointed as the head of Ogilvy, APAC. On his maiden visit to India, he announced, “To be at the feet of a man that Mr David Ogilvy holds in the highest of respect is an honour.” This was the man that Mani Ayer was to report to. Then, on a very fortunate meeting that I had with Mr David Ogilvy himself, all that I was asked was about ‘my good friend Mani’. The memories of the Vodka afternoons... the list goes on. Today’s loss is burdened with sorrow, but the enigma lives on and will do so forever in our hearts. May his soul rest in peace. We will miss him dearly.

Madhukar Kamath, MD & CEO, Mudra Group:

I am deeply saddened to hear about Mani Ayer. I have nothing but admiration and respect for the numerous interactions that I’ve had with Mani Ayer. I must mention that if it was not for the help from him, the two-year flagship programme would have not seen the light of the day. Not many people know about the contribution that Mani Ayer made to the development to MICA after his retirement. I salute him.

Prathap Suthan, National Creative Director, Cheil Worldwide SW Asia:

This is the passing away of an era. I never had the opportunity to meet him, yet in all my growing up years in advertising, his name has always been mentioned right at the top of the industry. In fact, I doubt if there's been anyone who lasted so long in a single agency. I always heard his name being considered as the foundation of what Oglivy used to be called then - Oglivy Benson and Mather - OBM. And over time, I have heard people say the M was actually Mani. And that probably was true for a lot of reasons. The industry has lost one its fathers. May his soul rest in peace.

Arvind Sharma, Chairman & CEO, Leo Burnett:

Mani Ayer was a joint of advertising fraternity. Many of us looked up to him for inspiration. My first introduction to him was launching Rasna in Voltas, where Ogilvy was the agency. He came and spoke to us on his experience in food marketing. Though I was a management trainee and he was a senior advertising guy, he engaged us in debates on advertising issues as an equal. It’s this attitude of Mani Ayer that we liked.

Shiv Sethuraman, CEO, TBWA/India:

Ayer was MD when I joined Ogilvy as management trainee. My interactions with him were mostly at new business review meetings, where I remember him waving his long fingers about, issuing a lot of incomprehensible commands and saying "rubbish" very often. I once had the privilege of seeing him present and I remember now that he presented as he spoke - matter of fact, direct and with great integrity. Ayer was a class act, a man who, to me, epitomises the very best this profession has to offer. Truly, a 'gentleman with brains'.

Subhash Kamath, Managing Partner, BBH India:

Mani Ayer was an incredible man, completely ethical and totally committed to building an organisation based on values. We were all in awe of him, scared of him, and at the same time, we worshipped him. He had a phenomenal memory, and never forgot the smallest of detail about his people. It's a sad day for all of us, who've been privileged to work with him. May his soul rest in peace.

Meenakshi Bhalla, CEO, Spatial Access Consultancy:

Ayer was a revered figure of my young years in Ogilvy. In his inimitable Brahminical way he would deliver business related solutions with razor sharp precision, laced with inimitable wit delivered with a straight face. My early years’ impressions did not change a wee bit when I met him last, in Chennai very recently. He continued to be well informed, had his finger on the pulse of advertising, was very cued in to present day world of Ogilvy, had a humbleness about him that made me hug him when we bid adieu after sharing time over a good south Indian cuppa! Mr A – RIP.

Suman Srivastav, CEO, Euro RSCG India:

Ayer was a gentleman. He was the most employee-friendly CEO in Indian advertising.

Nakul Chopra, CEO, South Asia, Publicis:

It was Mani Ayer that put O&M on the forefront and as a respected brand, which was then taken to further heights by Ranjan Kapur and Piyush Pandey. Ayer was the founding father of the advertising industry.

Nirvik Singh, Chairman & CEO, Grey Group Asia Pacific:

The Indian advertising industry has lost a legend today. I had the privilege of knowing him for a long time. It’s a tribute to his greatness and foresight that both O&M and MICA are so successful. We will miss him, but his memory will live on in these institutions.

Bobby Pawar, CCO, Mudra Group:

Although I never worked with Mani Ayer directly, I have heard so many stories of his humanity. He had gathered, at that time, a team of stars, which included R Sridhar, Rhoda Mehta, Vikas Bhat and Suresh Mullick. He was the man who laid the foundation of O&M.

Raj Karup, Chairman & CCO, Creativeland Asia:

I had the fortune of meeting him in ICEK (a students’ body), when I was a student activist in 1993. He was a person who’s very interested and, as a dynamic personality, encouraged lot of youth and young talent. He was interested in giving back to community.

Ali Merchant, Director, Triton Communication:

Ayer was very upright and did a lot for the industry and building cash reserves. I also believe his contribution was towards strategic business ideas and his business acumen was rather remarkable.

Ajay Chandwani, Director, Percept:

Mani struck me as being among the most humble and sincere admen I ever met. He was first a warm human being and then a CEO. He, along with Subhash Ghosal, easily formed the ‘gentleman’s club’ of Indian advertising.

With inputs from Tasneem Limbdiwala, Pallavi Goorha Kashyup and Khushboo Tanna.


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