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Defining Moments: Kamal Oberoi: Accidental adman

By Anushree Bhattacharyya , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | December 02, 2011
Kamal Oberoi, who recently resigned as the chairman and managing director, M&C Saatchi, has launched Quo, a branding and communication consultancy firm, in India.

After 28 years in the ad industry, Kamal Oberoi will be most remembered for establishing and building M&C Saatchi from ground zero. Oberoi, who recently resigned as the chairman and managing director, M&C Saatchi, has launched a branding and communication consultancy firm Quo, in India. He talks about some of the 'game changing' moments of his life.

My very first defining moment was in 1976 when I opted out of a Masters course in Economics, to pursue an MBA degree.

Interestingly, it was only a couple of days after I had joined Delhi University that the results for the entrance exams of the Faculty of Management Studies (FMS) were declared. I went with a friend of mine, and found that I had cleared the exam.

The environment at FMS caught my fancy. People were clad in cotton clothes and had a 'sarkari' lifestyle where I was at the time, while at FMS, there was this bunch of blokes preparing for a corporate lifestyle. I decided to join FMS.

The next moment came in 1978, after I completed my MBA. I had two job offers. There was a very interesting offer from a French gentleman who worked as a works manager for Peugeot. We had met twice -- once, while I was in college, and the second time, after I passed out. At that time, I worked as an interpreter in French. The gentleman and I got along very well and he offered me a job in Paris, along with an Air India ticket, and asked me to explore France. But, destiny had something else planned.

I refused the offer because of two reasons. First, my family didn't want me to go as I was the only son, and secondly, of the two companies, the one I wanted to join -- Goodlass Nerolac -- was not ready to wait for me. They made it very clear that I take it or leave it. I took it.

The third defining moment came five years later when I had gone to HTA (now JWT) Delhi, to invite two friends for my son's first birthday. I bumped into the headman (Ram Sehgal) there, who later offered me a job. But, I made it clear that it would take between six-to-nine months before I could join. You can call this destiny, but he handed me an appointment letter, post-dated by nine months. He also said, 'if you commit, we will wait'. Eventually, I joined as a senior account executive. I had entered the 'mad world' of advertising.

The next big leap came in early 1992 when I was promoted and was asked to shift to Kolkata to head the branch. However, I encountered many problems, mainly personal. So, I declined the offer and was even prepared to leave. But, the agency was good and Mike Khanna (then head of JWT) convinced me to shift base. This also initiated the 'cycle of relocation' as I shifted from one branch to another.

When I left HTA in 2005, I had two choices: retire and enjoy life, or join a media company. It was a chance meeting with the M&C Saatchi people in Singapore that convinced me to take up the challenge of setting up an advertising agency from scratch in a mature market. My final defining moment was to build M&C Saatchi into what it has become now.

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