Rao's school life took him across six cities, from Kolkata to Coimbatore. "I then decided to join my school mate and went to Pune to finish my B. Com, after which I did MMS in Marketing in Sydenham Institute, in 1985," says Rao.
Sharma pulled the budding pharma marketer into the world of media by giving him a job at Chaitra Leo Burnett, back in 1988. Reminisces Rao, "I came from a no-TV household. On the first day, I was given a bunch of spiral bound TRP reports of the previous four weeks to analyse. I went into tizzy, grappling with names of TV shows such as Varthakal and Oliyum Oliyum, which were Greek to me. I wanted to quit within the first week, but held on. I still haven't got out." He goes on to add, "I feel good that Arvind convinced me to join media, and I now consider this as a well-paying hobby."
Rao then moved to Lintas, in 1991, as senior media manager, to join the Unilever team. At Lintas, he headed the Fab Wash and Household Care team, planning. It was during his tenure at the agency that Rao, along with three colleagues, was hit by the West Asia wave. "All four of us left within a span of four weeks. A new environment, and a potpourri of cultures made it an enriching environment. To top it up, we didn't have to pay any tax," he remarks.
In Dubai, Rao joined Impact/BBDO Dubai (now BBDO), in 1997, as account director. While working with the agency, he helped launch the chocolate and toffee brand M&M's in the region. He also handled LG, Wrigley, Masterfoods, FedEx, and Dulux for the region. After two years, Rao switched to Mindshare Dubai as director and head of West Asia and North Africa.
At Mindshare, he managed Unilever's business for the entire region. In 2002, Rao joined OMD Dubai as general manager. "How I wish those days come back again. It gave me an opportunity to travel, manage Unilever for West Asia and Africa at Mindshare Dubai, as well as set up OMD for the Omnicom Media Group," he remembers fondly.
Rao, who was longing to get back to India, finally left in 2008. "My first choice was to come back to Mumbai, Old Monk, and Matheran and join Mindshare to lead the HUL business."
Meanwhile, his love for reading ancient history and Indology remains intact. He is hopeful that he will, one day, become an archaeologist digging somewhere in Latvia and Lithuania. "But, for now, my focus is on Mindshare and its clients," says Rao.