Profile: Suprio Guha Thakurta on donning many hats

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | January 27, 2009
The managing director of The Economist India takes time out to chat with afaqs! on the journey that has brought him thus far

From graduating as a mechanical engineer from Jadavpur University to becoming the managing director of The Economist Group in India recently, it has been an interesting journey for Suprio Guha Thakurta.

Be it brand management, sales and channel development, advertising, direct marketing, entrepreneurship or now publishing, Guha Thakurta has dribbled the ball across a wide playing field so far. In a chat with afaqs!, Guha Thakurta talks about what prompted him to do a little bit of everything.

"Twenty & #BANNER1 & # years ago, one had two career options - medicine or engineering," says Guha Thakurta. Since he wasn't interested in the former, he took up the latter.

His first job was at Union Carbide (now Eveready Industries), Lucknow. On feeling a little "left behind" with just one degree, Guha Thakurta got himself an MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur. A six month stint with Titan followed.

At Titan, Guha Thakurta delved into materials and production planning for Tanishq, which was being introduced in the market. "But I quickly moved out. I was too young to play that kind of politics… Let's leave it at that," is his enigmatic comment on his exit from Titan.

In Mumbai, a stint in sales and dealer development with the Godrej Group beckoned and he quickly climbed up the ranks to head the function for various regions. "But sales, after a point, become a mere multiplication of numbers. I started getting bored," he says.

An evening spent with friends from the ad industry provided the answer to his dilemma. "That's how Clarion happened," Guha Thakurta says, referring to the agency that's now called Bates 141.

He fondly recollects the days when Kiran Khalap - who has influenced him tremendously over the years - took over as Clarion's chief executive officer.

In 2000, Guha Thakurta started a process consultancy firm, Open Services, in partnership with fellow XLRIan, Ananth Srinivasan. The firm was dissolved about three years later and it was back to advertising for him - as a director at Adfactors Advertising.

"Back then, Adfactors was known for only two things - PR and IPO advertising," admits Guha Thakurta, adding that he bought into the idea of making Adfactors a full service ad agency, solely because he believed Khalap would be involved in the scheme of things. "However, the agency didn't take off as I expected," he says.

He moved out of Adfactors to Lintas Personal and stayed there for four years, rising to become president, before quitting in 2007.

The Economist job, feels Guha Thakurta, demands all the skills that he has gathered in the last 20 years. When he joined the magazine in November 2007, he learnt that its target group didn't belong only in the metros - more than 20 per cent of its subscribers came from outside the top 10 metros.

"This is a magazine that is not easy to segment," shrugs Guha Thakurta. "It is read by copywriters and fashion designers on the one hand, and senior executives and project managers in IT on the other."

When asked about his new mandate after the global restructuring of The Economist, he responds, "Our primary task in India is still the same as last year: Build awareness. This is not a product of local insights, but will need to be marketed in a locally relevant way," he says.

A TV campaign launched earlier in the year was an effort towards that, but it didn't really enjoy too much airtime. "Yes, we pulled it out. Actually, we're a little unsure of what to do with TV. As of now, outdoor, direct marketing and print figure in our media plan," he says.

"No matter what anyone says, in advertising, the brand isn't really your baby… but when you work on the client's side, a certain sense of possessiveness and ownership does set in," he sums up.

(Profile is a regular column which peeps into the career path of senior advertising, media and marketing professionals, who are currently in the news.)