afaqs!

Defining Moments: Prem Mehta takes a trip into his glorious days

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | September 19, 2008
From a salesman to the chairman of Lintas India, Prem Mehta has come a long way. On having quit full time work, Mehta looks back upon the crucial moments of his career

From a & #BANNER1 & # salesman to the chairman of Lintas India… the journey has been rather interesting for Prem Mehta. On having quit full time work, Mehta takes time out for a chat with afaqs!, where he looks back on the crucial moments of his career. Excerpts:

Much before I decided to go in for advertising, I gave engineering a shot. Soon I realised it was not for me. I was apprehensive that my father would rebuke me. To my surprise, he embraced my decision. His unquestioning support trained me to be accountable for my actions. I used this learning to manage my life, as well as Lintas.

My next learning was at St John's College hostel, while pursuing my B Com. Everyone hated the canteen food there and I was the only one vocal about it. I was offered to manage the canteen and I accepted the challenge. This helped me develop my own managerial style.

Prem Mehta
In the early days of my career, I sold office equipment for Forbes Campbell. Walking into an office, not getting a response to my sales pitch and the relentless follow-ups forced me to finetune my proposition every time. It also taught me to handle adversity.

Later, working with Hindustan Lever made me realise the need to be in constant touch with the grass roots. I still consult my driver sometimes on various matters, to get a third party opinion.

After Alyque Padamsee stepped down as head of Lintas India in 1993, I took over. With liberalisation and the opening up of various sectors, we started losing people to better pay packages and Lintas became everyone's favourite hunting ground. To top it, the company was growing at a good 30 per cent per annum, which meant we needed more people.

I had to choose between people who would leave at the drop of a hat for a better package and steadfast guys who would stick on for reasons other than money alone. I chose the latter, a rigid but correct path.

I don't consider myself an adman... I'm more of a marketing manager. My contribution to brands has been more than just the campaign.

Like in the case of VIP, we had to fight off the pending launch of American Tourister in India. We advised our client to counter the expensive brand with a more economical offering. The company launched a brand called International Tourister, priced at Rs 250. American Tourister decided not to launch in India then.

Clients increasingly working in global matrix structures expect their service providers to mirror those structures. With the market maturing, international expertise has become imperative at the local level. Globalisation, too, has opened up opportunities for Indian professionals. In this context, it was decided to allow Lintas India to integrate fully with the global network that already owned significant equity in the company. To achieve this, the trustees of the Lintas Employees' Welfare Trusts took the decision to sell the stake held by them to the Interpublic Group.

The trustees then decided to distribute the proceeds from the sale to the permanent employees of the company, strictly in keeping with the charter of the trusts created over 20 years ago. It was an opportunity to pay back. This decision changed the lives of more than 500 employees. Although it caused some upset in some quarters, that doesn't make it a wrong decision. Junior employees confided in me about how this money had changed their lives.

I realised that along with the flak and criticism, there existed goodwill, too. In retrospect, I would have preferred to leave the company, where I have toiled for 29 years and which I have built into a strong institution, on a happier note. But I am well over that. Once again, I find myself with more dreams than memories.