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Profile: Sandeep Lakhina's adventurous ride to the top

By Tarana Khan , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Planning & Buying | April 27, 2009
Lakhina was recently promoted to COO, South Asia, at Starcom Worldwide. He speaks to afaqs! about his varied experiences

It wouldn't be wrong to describe Sandeep Lakhina's professional career path as adventurous. For he was bold enough to follow his instincts and plunge into occupations as varied as exporting garments, advising online startups and working with Fortune 500 clients.

When Lakhina graduated in 1992, he joined Bajaj Electricals briefly, before deciding that he wanted to do something of his own. That's when, a year later, he started his garment exports business. Things got off to a great start, but a few years down the line, the company lost its principal buyer. "In 1995, I decided to get back to corporate life. But it wasn't easy, because at that time, people didn't view entrepreneurial experience positively," he says.

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Lakhina got a sales job in Zenith Computers, but the desire to get back to marketing led him to join Euro RSCG in 1996, when the ad agency was beginning operations in India.

Around 1999, Lakhina was bitten by the restlessness bug again; and better opportunities seemed to beckon. "I thought of going to the US. India seemed to be on a slow trajectory, the Y2K buzz was happening and the dot-com industry seemed exciting," he recalls.

However, this desire was not fulfilled overnight. Meanwhile, Lakhina got an opportunity to work with Ebony Retail, which had only one store back then. In the marketing function, he developed a plan for expanding the business into West and North India.

Lakhina moved to the US in the same year, and did his second MBA there. Simultaneously, he worked as consultant, advising online startups on setting up their portals. His clients included an online retail site and a dance vertical.

But then, the dot-com bust happened. "At that time, I was working not purely on money, but on stock options, thinking things would work out. When the bust happened, it was a big jolt."

However, since he had done an MBA from the US, Lakhina landed a job at Deloitte Consulting. Here, he worked with companies such as Blockbuster, JP Morgan and AT&T Wireless. His last project at Deloitte was with Coca-Cola, because after that, he got hired by them.

When the Coke opportunity presented itself in 2004, Lakhina took it up, because he was travelling a lot and wanted to settle down and spend more time with his family.

Ever the adventurer, Lakhina was not quite satisfied. This time, the call of the soil beckoned him. Things had started looking up in India, and Lakhina was seriously considering moving back, after spending over three years with Coke.

Lakhina returned to India in 2007, and after exploring a couple of options, chose to work with yet another digital company, UK-based Maverick Media. However, a few months down the line, when things weren't working out as planned, he decided to leave the company.

In December 2007, he joined Starcom Worldwide as managing director, India, west and south. He has recently been promoted to his new role, which will encompass focussing on growth and improving the product.

Life has like a roller-coaster ride for Lakhina, working with such a repertoire of organisations. Comparing the experience of working with a startup and a multinational, he says, "In startups, you learn the value of resources and maximising them and generating revenue quickly. In bigger companies, there's a brand name and you get instant recognition when you go out."

His elevation at Starcom means that Lakhina will work in Mumbai and return to his family in Gurgaon on weekends. An information freak, Lakhina loves reading up about different subjects and surfing the internet. His mantra for coping with stress? "It's important to think about how you can change the future, instead of thinking about the past," he states.