Profile: Rohit Ohri: Wearing a new hat

By Anushree Bhattacharyya , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | September 12, 2011
Ohri, who is now executive chairman, Dentsu India Group, spent 21 years at JWT, building a strong team and a strong branch. He shares his experience and talks of the way forward for him.

Rohit Ohri's father wanted him to be a doctor, an engineer or a chartered accountant after he finished school (Don Bosco in Park Circus, Kolkata). But, fate had other things in store for him. Ohri went on to do his Bachelor's in Commerce from St Xaviers' College, and then, acquired a degree in Cost Accountancy. Theatre, television and advertising followed.

In college, he was involved with theatre. In fact, he played the lead role in the television serial, Ganadevata, based on a book by renowned Bengali novelist Tarasankar Bandopadhyay. Directed by P Kumar Vasudev, (of Hum Log fame), the serial ran for one-and-a-half years on Doordarshan. "Sometime, during those years, I realised that I needed to be in a creative profession. Suddenly, I was sure that a number crunching job was just not my scene," explains Ohri.

In 1989, he met Ram Ray, the chairman of Response. "I was looking for a position in finance, but he persuaded me to go for advertising. I joined as a management trainee," says Ohri.

Interestingly, though he only spent a year at the agency, he reported directly to Ray. "He had a big influence on me in terms of understanding advertising and learning the craft and, most importantly, an eye for detail. Ray believed that 'God is in the details'," adds Ohri.

Ohri then joined JWT Kolkata in 1990 (the agency where he spent the next 21 years), where Sunil Gupta was the branch manager. He worked in Kolkata for about eight years, and by the time he left for JWT Delhi, he was vice-president. For Ohri, Kolkata was a great experience as he worked on ITC, and expanded the agency's small relationship with Bata, apart from working on the telecom brand Modi Telstra.

He also got an opportunity to work with Radhe Shyam Agarwal, joint chairman (then the proprietor) of the Emami Group, and picked up what business schools did not teach. "There is something remarkable about Indian businessmen. They have an innate gut feel, and a deep understanding of the local consumer."

Though the City of Joy was a great place to work in, it failed to provide him with the next opportunity. That came after Mike Khanna, the chairman of JWT India then, asked him to shift to Delhi to manage the Pepsi business. "That was the turning point in my life and the most fantastic period, too," says Ohri.

While on the Pepsi account, he got to work with Vibha Paul Rishi (Pepsi's marketing head then) and creative partner Anuja Chauhan, along with Swati Bhattacharya, Soumitra Karnik, and Surjo Dutt. "We did the most spectacular work on Pepsi that the brand has ever witnessed in the last 25 years." It was the 'Yeh Dil Maange More' campaign.

For Ohri, Pepsi Co's Rishi, too, cast a lasting impression. He learnt the craft of creating a team, the ability to trust people, and to draw the best out of people. He adds, "It was really about the magic of client and agency relationship." Ohri's next big break came when he was asked to manage the Delhi office. It also raised a big question because general opinion had it that JWT Delhi was already very big. So, how much more could it handle?

Ohri proved them wrong. Over the last eight years, revenue went up three-fold, the branch acquired businesses like Central Vigilance Commission and Airtel, and manpower rose from 120 people to over 400. Explains Ohri, "If you have a vision and a belief, you can actually do anything."

Ohri hopes that JWT Delhi will carry on smoothly without him because, "as a leader you have to create a set-up that is not dependent on one person."

As he gets ready to take charge of Dentsu India, Ohri believes that this opportunity is a happy marriage between an entrepreneur and a large network. Says he, "Sandeep Goyal has built a very strong base. Now, it will be about taking it to the next level. That is what I am going to achieve."

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