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Profile: Man with Soft Gloves: Rahul Thappa

By Sumantha Rathore , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | June 29, 2011
The new chief operating officer of Mail Today, the compact daily from the India Today Group, talks about his passion, woodwork and a scientific approach to life.

When you meet him, the first thing that Thappa tells you is that people find him a bit unapproachable during the first encounter. "They believe that a person comfortable with numbers would be a bit stern or stuck up."

But, he adds, over a period of time, there is little which gets hidden from people around him because he believes in wearing his emotions on his sleeves. "I say what I do and do what I say," says Thappa.

According to Thappa, there are two persons primarily responsible for having shaped his vision -- Henry Tan, chief operating officer of Astro TV (then chief executive officer of GroupM for Malaysia and Singapore), and Chanchal Chakrabarti, client leader for the PepsiCo business of Mindshare India. "Tan convinced me to leave my job in India and shift to Malaysia, a country I knew nothing about. He gave me the clarity to take a decision. Chakrabarti has been one of my mentors and is a close friend."

Thappa feels that the best results emerge if one is closely involved with his team and rolls up his sleeves whenever needed. "I'm not the usual command-and-control person. I usually wear soft gloves. But, if need be, I can take them off," he exclaims. The self-confessed juggler of numbers took a pit stop in 2010 to go back to school, after 13 years. He spent his "best year" doing a one-year MBA programme for experienced executives from IIM, Ahmedabad.

"It was important for me to renew myself, my personality, my energy, my thoughts and inculcate fresh thinking, and of course, gather knowledge," says Thappa. He strongly believes that breaks like this are fast becoming a necessity, as business cycles change every four or five years now.

On joining Mail Today, he says, "This is what I knew most about. I've been trained in this industry. I've grown in this industry. It was a logical choice that I wanted to come back to. It was just a matter of whether I went into consulting or managing a product. These are fairly interesting times for the print industry."

Having dabbled in advertising and media planning, as well as being with media owner now, Thappa believes that there seems to be some goal in congruence between an ad agency, a media agency and a media owner. The fact remains that the three cannot exist in isolation.

Prior to joining Mail Today, Thappa was with Mindshare which he joined in 2003. He started off as planning and buying director, Team Unilever, and rose to become managing director at Mindshare, Malaysia. He has also worked with Mudra Communications, Delhi, as group media manager as media manager. There were short stints with Ogilvy Advertising and The Indian Express Group.

When not chasing targets, Thappa loves indulging in sharpshooting. "Since my father was in the Indian Navy, I had this peculiar interest in all kinds of weapons. Shooting gives me time for myself and helps me focus more. I've been long separated from it, but am trying to get back to the sport," says Thappa. Squash, carpentry and do-it-yourself projects also interest him. His most ambitious project is to build an easy chair to lounge in.

There is one thing that Thappa thinks he could have avoided, though he has no regrets about it. "I should have been patient with my jobs during those days and not shifted because of people." His word of advice to the youngsters in media: "Move for the right reasons and only if you get that emotional stability from the new job."

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