Remembering Deepak Gera

By , agencyfaqs! | In | March 31, 2001
It is not easy to write about Deepak Gera. It is not easy to write about someone who never courted the press or publicized his achievements

It is not easy to write about Deepak Gera. It is not easy to write about someone who never courted the press or publicised his achievements. Attempts to discover a nugget of memory somewhere in the umpteen pages of Google or business publications are futile. No, there is no news of his agency either, except for a listing on agencyfaqs!.

Yet, it is easy to write about Deepak from the deep impressions he has left on a multitude of well-wishers, some of whom he knew only briefly. What touches everyone the most is the human side of Deepak. It would be erroneous though, to not mention Deepak's biggest visible professional achievement - the creation and growth of Mumbai-based Network Advertising.

A jovial, bearded account manager quit his job at Sista's over 12 years back to start out on his own. His first venture was a tough call. Deepak wanted to start a marketing consultancy - Second Opinion. It was meant to be a sounding board to marketers. It must have seemed to be a logical extension of his belief in "knowing more about the market and the competition than even the client", as he would tell his team members at Network few years later.

But it wasn't a step many Indian ad executives even considered at that time. "When I asked him why he wanted to go on his own, since he was doing very well in the corporate world, he said, 'Andy, I'd rather be the victim of my own biases'", recalls Anand Halve, who helped Deepak find his first accommodation in Mumbai over two decades back.

Which is perhaps why he did not stop at Second Opinion when it did not work out. "I think it was perhaps ahead of its time," feels Vinod Nair, CEO, Network Advertising. "The concept was too early. That is what I remember Deepak telling me some time."

The consultancy ran for a year and a half. But Deepak's strong belief in 'brand custodians' and the urge to set up a "different organisation" of his own led him to start Network in 1991. It must have been rewarding years later to dole out consulting advice to clients along with advertising. "He has provided lots of consulting to me as CEO and to TCIL as an organisation without ever talking of remuneration," says Ashwini Kakkar of Thomas Cook India.

From seven to eight people and two to three clients, to a workforce of 75 and about 15 clients, Network has grown wonderfully in the last decade. The calm, serene office in Andheri, surrounded by lush green vegetation in full view from its glass walls reflects Deepak's personality. Its CEO's insistence to walk me back to the gate is a glowing tribute to Deepak's investment in people. "He has built one of the really nice agencies that I know... not driven by short-term greed but by principles," says Namita Roy Ghose of Whitelight Productions. "It is an agency filled with young, committed, people... and has a wonderful work atmosphere."

Much more than advertising, Deepak invested in people. Not just in close friends or colleagues, but in everyone he ever met anywhere for howsoever brief a time. Namita remembers how Deepak went out of his way to help her on the personal front.

"Last year, my dad and my brother were very, very ill. I could not attend a meeting with Deepak once because I had to rush to Calcutta to see them. I apologised to Deepak. When he heard why I was absent, he took charge. He got hold of doctors and made appointments with specialists. He would call me up at odd hours to pass on information on treatments, mailed articles to me. He was extraordinary. He had nothing to gain. We happened to be professionals working together. But his compassion and genuine concern and the amazing effort he expended on my family's behalf without even knowing them, truly touched me. When my dad, and then my brother passed away within months of each other, he was like a rock, always there with kindness and friendship and a quiet warm word to help me through my grief. I will never forget that."

Anand states how his investment in people lies at the core of Network. "He believed that if you took good people - I mean in the values sense, not just in ability - and looked after them well, an organisation would do fine. It was the reason why he did not take part in Agency Ranking exercises. He knew that in an organisation, that which is measured, is what gets done. Perhaps others know this too. The difference was that he acted according to his beliefs. It was also the reason he asked a star creative to go. Deepak did not want his entire agency to pay the price of one prima donna."

That is how he hired the man who is today the head of Network. "I met him almost nine years ago when I used to work for Adfactors," recalls Vinod. "He first called me up and said, 'let's meet'. I asked him why and whether he was looking for a placement. He said yes and I declined saying I was very happy at Adfactors. We disconnected. He called me again some weeks later and said 'let's meet at Centaur over one drink'. Since a senior person was calling, I eventually said ok. One drink became three or four and half an hour became two and a half hours. At the end of the meeting I wanted to risk my life with him. And in those two and a half hours, we hardly discussed work. He told me how much he cared for me. I never felt I met a new person that day."

It won him people everywhere. He described it beautifully in a lovely letter written to Sreekant (at agencyfaqs!) last June: "We also have some interesting zeros to our credit. Our client turnover is zero (not counting those 'terminated' by us), our bad debts are zero, and our personnel turnover is nearly zero (wish it was indeed zero, though). We've somehow managed this despite (sometimes I feel because of) keeping an absolutely low profile - no 'new account/new people' plugs, no 'how great was my campaign' handouts, no interviews, nothing. We never even submitted our data to A&M."

Word-of-mouth is essentially what has grown the agency. It is easy to understand why. Deepak brought something more to the table - integrity. "Some competitors of TCIL approached him (Deepak) with promises of doubling the business but he always stayed loyal," remarks Ashwini.

Anand relates how he first saw that in Deepak when he rented his flat to him over 20 years back. "Years later, he said something about the episode to another friend: 'Lots of people told me I shouldn't vacate the flat. They said, just because Anand was a fool to give it, without any contract or agreement, was no reason I should be one, and return a flat in Mumbai. But the way I looked at it (Deepak said) is, if Anand had been decent enough to give it on faith, I owe it to him, to respect that faith".

It is not surprising that Ashwini was approached by "at least four different global advertising companies to help them to make contact with Deepak with the objective of acquiring Network because they valued the company, the ideals, the quality, the service levels that he had managed to create". As Namita adds: "His business ethics were impeccable... one of the few genuinely honest and honourable people I know in advertising."

The industry would surely be poorer by a genuine individual. Deepak suffered a massive heart attack on February 28 while dining at home. He was 49. He is survived by his wife and two sons. It is heartening that Deepak lived to see his vision turn into reality. His biggest achievement though, is best exemplified by the way he is remembered. Namita, for one, had this request when she reverted with her contribution to this piece: "Please make it a nice obituary. Deepak was a very special man and deserves only the best memories."

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