Life took a detour for this 'naive enthusiast' - that is how Amandeep Singh Khurana prefers to describe himself - after he cracked the Common Admission Test (CAT) exams in 1993 and got into Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.
The not-so-typically-hefty-Punjabi-nerd-and-geek loved History and Geography in school and hated Calculus, Mathematics and Engineering. His love for Geography made him opt for an Honours course in the subject from Kirori Mal College, Delhi University. But, the same subject depressed him since the Geography he studied in college was different from what it was in school.
Khurana began his career with Philips as a trainee product manager, but did not stay there for long. Philips was a company that had fantastic products, good legacy and heritage. "But it was a declining leader."
He shifted to Primetime Media in early 1997 to do media sales. Primetime Media was, at that time, handling only Doordarshan, which was losing ground fast. Khurana felt that though he "kind of hung around this company for just too long" he matured as a professional and learnt media mechanics and tactics there.
Getting out, he went on to join Bates 141 (formerly Clarion Advertising) as an account planner in 1999. "I almost invented the function of account planning in Bates 141," he says. Khurana recalls some pitches, which gave him a 'big' high. "We used to service Carrier AC. Though they were not demanding, we decided to work a bit harder to make a difference." Hyundai Motors was another satisfying pitch that the agency won.
The "biggest kick came to us while working with Nokia, when the Finnish handset's sale was outsourced to HCL. It was during that time I met Parikshit Bhasin (former managing director of Nokia) and his team, who encouraged us to go beyond agency mandate. Soon, India-specific ads for Nokia came up with the launch of the Banjaye Dil ki Baat campaign."
Khurana then joined Rediffusion-Y&R to head account planning for its Airtel business. "After six or seven months of my joining, Preet Bedi joined Rediffusion-Y&R as president and brought in a lot of ex-Lintas guys. Santosh Sood was one of them. I grew into the role of an account planner under him."
Khurana recalls how, on a cold, winter morning in 2004, Airtel invited the agency for a presentation of a service called CRBT (caller ring back tone). "We felt something was wrong with the concept and, over endless cups of chai, Santosh came up with the idea of changing the name of the service to Hello Tunes."
In 2007, Vivek Bali quit Airtel and joined Spice Mobile as group president, global brands and marketing. "He remembered me from the Airtel days and offered me a job. I joined the corporate team looking after Spice's corporate marketing functions." (It is to be noted that during his tenure Spice merged with Idea). The thirst for doing something else surfaced again. "I requested them for a different role and started handling the product side."
When Madison started strengthening its products by bringing strategic perspectives and looking more closely at the consumers, Sam Balsara called him over. His mandate was to 'delight' clients with the work and come up with several first-to-market and first-to-media initiatives that would propel Airtel to the next level.
"I have realised one thing. Experience makes you get better and better. Now, I can understand why people need experience to handle a particular role. Earlier, I was stupid enough to wonder why - in a young industry like advertising - a 38-year-old was heading a business and not the younger lot. Not any longer," he signs off.
(Profile is a regular column which peeps into the career path of senior advertising, media and marketing professionals, who are currently in the news.)