Profile: Fali Vakeel: Lowe and Behold

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | May 20, 2011
Lowe Lintas India's recently appointed vice-chairperson shares interesting tales about his career, 20 years of which were spent at Lowe Lintas.

After 20 years in the agency, Fali Vakeel is an out and out 'Lintas' man. Recently appointed vice-chairperson at Lowe Lintas, Vakeel talks about his career.

Brought up in Mumbai, he studied English and Psychology, but found his way into Accountancy, as ''Mom said, 'that is what good boys do'.'' He studied accountancy in London and joined a city firm. "I hated accountancy, but it was the only way I could be a resident of the UK," Vakeel laughs. "One day was about as much as I could take - but I did it for a year."

Advertising was a shot in the dark for Vakeel. He happened to have a discussion about the profession with Bal Mundkur (of Ulka Advertising), a family friend. "I met him in London," recalls Vakeel. "The man ran an interesting agency in a boring India of the '80s. He led a 'larger than life' life." Deciding that advertising was his calling, Vakeel took a chance, picked up the phone and dialled JWT London, to check if they had a vacancy and luck was on his side.

Vakeel joined in the 'traffic' department' - transferring the artwork from one place to another. "Later, this evolved into servicing," grins Vakeel. To him, JWT was full of interesting, eclectic people. Vakeel says he got a chance to meet the 'biggies' of advertising whom he had only known to be written about in publications such as Campaign UK. "JWT's glamorous secretaries were reason enough to come into office in the mornings," he chuckles.

JWT London was 'artfully relaxed'. It was laidback and one felt like a king there even though one was paid like a pauper initially. After five years there, Vakeel moved to McCann Erickson in London as brand services director. "McCann was more prosaic and more bottomline-led."

Eight years of London, and Vakeel found himself back in India in the early '80s, because of his personal reasons. In India, someone introduced him to Prem Mehta at a dinner one evening. The next thing he knew was working at Lintas.

What was his first impression of Lintas? "The agency was vastly different then. News like the Hindustan Unilever's chairman's review had the entire agency in a tizzy. One couldn't afford to go wrong, but it was fun. We met people from other agencies all the time. Everyone knew everyone else," he recalls.

In the late '80s, he was asked to head the Lintas Bengaluru office, an offer that he took up with trepidation, having worked in Mumbai for many years. There were two important accounts in Bengaluru - Lipton and Britannia. But the office needed to grow beyond that. "I spent a fabulous 10 years there," Vakeel remarks. For one, the autonomy was a great high. The decisions made, right or wrong, were all his own, and that lent a sense of freedom. During his tenure, Lintas picked up businesses such as Titan, Tanishq, Arvind Mills and Compaq.

In 1995, Vakeel made two instinctive decisions, which he looks back upon fondly. The first was to convince Joseph George, a star performer in Mumbai, to move to Bengaluru. Secondly, he got in an aggressive, bearded man called R Balakrishnan to head the creative department. Soon, Bengaluru became a huge operation for Lintas.

In the late '90s, Vakeel headed Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Delhi. In 2005, he moved back to Mumbai as executive director. Three years later, Vakeel was made COO. "We had a strong leadership with GV Krishnan and Vikram Satyanath down South, Tarun Chauhan and Anahita Goenka in Mumbai, and Mohit Beotra and Naveen Gaur in Delhi."

How has advertising changed? Vakeel feels the current generation is so much under pressure, that the fun seems to have gone out. "We were wild," he declares.

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