I had nine national titles in cycling and also represented the country in this sport. Being a competitive sportsperson, my philosophy in life is based on sport, which is - You Don't Win Silver, You Lose Gold. I just absolutely hate to lose. I still get tears in my eyes when I lose a pitch or a client's business.
It was during my third semester of MMS - after graduating in Commerce - that I read the book Ogilvy on Advertising. After that I never ever wanted to do anything but advertising.
I went to every ad agency in town but no job was forthcoming. It was heartbreaking and I ended up marketing vehicles. I feel that was the best thing that happened to me because I got the experience. But my heart was always in advertising. It was while selling a vehicle to Lalit Kanodia, then chairman of Datamatics, that he asked me if I would like to join his company. I had no clue about software or IT and I rejected the offer. Then one day he came and he asked me whether I would be interested in direct marketing. I jumped at the offer. I bought every possible book on direct marketing before I joined his new company, Datamatics Direct, in 1989.
This was how I was introduced to advertising and specialised in direct. I am glad that I had my grounding in one-to-one communication because today, everything is about one-to-one communication. In 1993-94, I got an offer from Response Advertising, which wanted to set up a direct agency, Direct Response, in Bombay. For me this was one of the defining moments of my life because there, I had to do everything from scratch, from finding an office to looking for clients.
In 1995, I moved to JWT and started JWT Direct with seven to eight people in a small office. In two years, we grew to 100 people and five offices. Anil Bhatia, who was my boss then, is my hero. I learned so much from him. One of the lessons that I learnt early on was the freedom to take decisions. All he said was, 'I have big pockets, Rakhshin. You just go ahead and do your best.' Even today, I have the same approach with my employees - let them be and let them fly. Bhatia was the wind beneath my wings.
One of the biggest lessons that I learnt came from a client - Jiten Shah of Johnnie Walker. Direct marketing was hard work and clients did not want to invest money. Shah used to travel a lot and I still remember him telling me, "You are like the owner of the brand. Take the decision that is in the right interest of the brand." This was my first or second year in the agency. I realised that if you don't own the brand, someone else will.
Another defining moment came through Mike Khanna, my next boss at JWT. I made a bad decision and we lost a lot of money. Too frightened to tell Mike, I sent him a mail about what had happened. He called immediately and said, "If you don't make mistakes, how can you ever learn? I don't want this to stop you from taking risks." I have inculcated the same approach in my life. I let my juniors take that risk and give them the freedom to fail.