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Profile: Sanjeev Bhargava: Relationship manager

By Anushree Bhattacharyya , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | October 17, 2011
Sanjeev Bhargava believes in continuing to do what he considers his forte. The new managing partner of JWT's Delhi office wants to build a strong team, and get the best out of it.

The man, who always wanted to be a writer, was bitten by the advertising bug while studying at the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) in 1985, after passing out of St Stephen's College Delhi, with a Bachelor's (Hons) degree in Mathematics.

FMS, in those days, had a strict rule that once a student accepts a job offer from one of the companies visiting as part of the campus recruitment process, he/she could not apply or appear for any other interview. Bhargava reminisces, "I remember distinctly that on the first day of campus recruitment, the first company that came was Citibank, followed by HUL and Lintas. I got through Lintas and HUL at the same time, as well as TCS (Tata Boroughs, then). I realised that both banking and IT were not for me, and accepted Lintas' offer."

He joined the Alyque Padamsee-led Lintas as a management trainee in 1987. "Lintas was the most flamboyant agency," he recalls fondly. "It had a very interesting training programme. Since it had only one big office in Mumbai, it sent trainees for six months to smaller offices and vice versa," says Bhargava. He was sent to the agency's Kolkata office with four more trainees. "Those six months were exciting, as well as educating. Lintas Calcutta had a host of clients like Lipton Tea, Tata Steel, Kitply and Bata," says Bhargava. After six months, he returned to Mumbai and worked on two Lever brands, Liril and Rexona.

Life in Mumbai was great, but Bhargava wanted to return to Delhi. Incidentally, JWT (HTA, then) Delhi was looking for a person to run Nestle's Maggi business. He joined JWT in January 1989. "Maggi was the most high-profile brand at that time. It was cited as one of those rare cases of a 'perfect launch'," says Bhargava.

Interestingly, for Bhargava, just three months after he joined JWT, Sanjay Sehgal, the account director on the Nestle business, quit. His immediate boss Pankaj Aggarwal also quit the agency and joined Grey. "I had no boss for about four months, and as an account supervisor, I was running the show. At the same time, we re-launched brand Maggi. It was a one-man show," says Aggarwal.

When JWT won the Pepsi business, Bhargava was moved to the new account. What followed was a repeat of the Maggi incident. "It was a roller-coaster ride," remembers Bhargava, who, now well into his fourth year at JWT, wanted to move on.

He moved to Draftfcb Ulka in April 1993, to handle the LML scooters account, the largest business with the agency then. "By the end of 1994, we were able to turn LML into a vibrant brand," he says.

It was while working on LML that the opportunity to run the agency's Kolkata office came. "At 31, I was made the branch head," he says proudly. The office was not doing very well at the time, it was a loss-making branch, and had not won any new business for the last eight years.

Bhargava and his team turned the Kolkata branch into one of the fastest-growing agencies in the city. "In just three years, it notched up eight-to-nine businesses," says he.

Bhargava was called back to Delhi to look after the Whirlpool business, Ulka's first global win. "The management felt that my experience on Lever brands and Pepsi would come in handy," he says. He became a part of the senior management team in 2004-05, and since then, ran the Delhi office.

From JWT to JWT, as he comes full circle, Bhargava thinks of the agency as an institution. In fact, it was JWT that introduced the concept of account planning with Sattar Khan (the first official planner in India). "The idea is to take the best out of the team built by Rohit Ohri (he has moved to Dentsu India as executive chairman). And, I believe I have the capability of picking the best that they have to offer," explains Bhargava.

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