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Obituary: Ulka's founder Bal Mundkur passes away

By afaqs! news bureau , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | January 09, 2012
The man who set up Ulka Advertising 50 years ago, succumbed to a heart attack on the morning of January 7, at his residence in Goa.

"I always liked a good story. And, what a good story this is!" said Bal Mundkur, referring to Ad Katha, a book that related the century-old tale of advertising. The book, launched at Ad Asia 2011, was conceptualised by Mundkur, whose contribution to the advertising industry spans across almost half-a-century.

Bal Mundkur

But, sadly, Mundkur, one of the legends in the tale, has passed away, at the age of 86, leaving not just a tale, but a legacy behind him.

The man who set up Ulka Advertising 50 years ago (the agency recently celebrated the milestone, with the founding chairman gracing the occasion), succumbed to a heart attack on the morning of January 7, at his residence in Goa.

Mundkur joined D J Keymer, the forerunner of today's O&M, on January 1, 1951. Ten years later, he started Ulka, which meant meteor. The new agency's rise was indeed meteoric. In the next 10 years, Ulka became the fourth largest agency in the country, and the largest independent Indian start-up.

When founded on February 1, 1961, by Bal and Ann Mundkur, the agency consisted of seven people who formed the first team, including the legendary R K Joshi, considered the father of modern typography in India. (Bal) Mundkur's brother, Bhaskar joined Ulka soon after, leaving Hindustan Lever, where he served as head, marketing services.

Some of the agency's early clients included Gabriel, Crompton Greaves, Mukund, Godrej, Ciba Geigy, Zodiac, Nerolac, Ceat, and ITC. These clients propelled Ulka into the Top 10 league within the first decade.

A team of six professional managers comprising Ambi, Arvind Wable, Shashi Sinha, Nagesh Alai, and Niteen Bhagwat, and led by Anil Kapoor, joined the agency in the late '80s.

"We joined the agency within a gap of a few months of each other. Mundkur was the chairman then," says a nostalgic Alai, who is chief finance officer, Draftfcb India.

Mundkur had an eye to spot talent and respected his employees, who say Mundkur never believed in the hire and fire policy.

An avid collector of all things rare and beautiful, Mundkur prized the chess set used in Satyajit Ray's celebrated Shatranj Ke Khiladi.

"Mundkur, who often played chess with his colleagues, possessed many chess sets," recalls Alai.

In the '90s, Mundkur retired from Ulka (which by then was FCB Ulka, and more recently, Draftfcb Ulka) and moved to Goa, where he continued to work for causes close to his heart, one of which was to help set up Asia's very first museum of Christian art in Goa. He also actively crusaded for other causes such as to build a cerebral palsy hospital, and bring the choir of Trinity College, London, on a tour across India.

"He was passionate about several things, from art to music, social causes to politics, and would often chat about these for hours together," says Alai.

Mundkur is known as a person who called a spade a spade. "We don't get people like him anymore. He had a zest for life and love and was ever young at heart," adds Alai, along with calling him an advertising person par excellence, gutsy and gritty. He was known to be hugely networked and was always active socially. Mundkur was also one of the first members of the Ad Club.

"Bold and passionate are the two words that best describe him," says Sinha, who is CEO of Lodestar UM, remembering an incident when one of the agency's clients gave a lot of trouble to the servicing team. "He said we will let go of the client, even if we make losses," recollects Sinha, who was a witness to the incident and is one of the oldest members on the company's board.

Mundkur remained energetic, enthusiastic and passionate until the end, and at the age of 85, set up the Centrum trust, which recently published Ad Katha.

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