Defining Moments: Vikram Sakuja: Happy Coincidences

By Anindita Sarkar , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Planning & Buying | April 24, 2012
Getting into IIT was surely one of the most defining moments of my career. I joined IIT Delhi in 1979, not because I had any zeal for engineering but because my sister had gone there before and I thought it was a great place to be in.

In the fourth year, I had to do my summer and industrial training at Binny Mills in Bengaluru. I went there, became depressed in two days and said to myself that if I have to do a career inside a mill, this is not happening.

Vikram Sakuja

But IIT also got me away from a sheltered public school background in Delhi into a melting pot - high performance, high stress and you meet all kinds of people from across the world.

Life at DCM

Post IIT, I worked in DCM as a management trainee for two fantastic years. I had turned down XLRI and IIM Kolkata after IIT because I still believed that work experience was necessary before doing an MBA.

The two-year programme was a combination of classroom training and an on-the-job stint with one of DCM's units. They would get faculty from brilliant places - Wharton, the Indian Schools and the likes. We would do modules in behavioural sciences, the entire purchase-procurement piece, and then follow it up with an on-the-job stint.

IIM days and P&G

After DCM, I took the CAT again and got through IIM Kolkata. I already had a flair for marketing by then - I was interested in consumers, brands and the like. But at IIM it became clearer that I was the marketing type. And because I had received an intense training at DCM, I did not get submerged under the intense pressure.

I joined P&G in 1988 and literally cut my teeth in research. Richardson Hindustan (RHL) had just been bought over by P&G. The 'Procterisation' of RHL was an exciting time. I was involved in the launch of many new products. That was a fantastic learning experience. The second part of growth, for me, happened when I moved into media. Back then, media meant TV. So, you became an expert in planning and how to use TV to build brands.

Coca-Cola

Soft drink companies embody integrated thinking in its truest sense - the use of sponsorships, celebrities and yes, a whole lot of properties. At Coca-Cola, I was managing the entire portfolio of brands as well as media and research. So my move from a purist TV expert into a much more judgment-based, execution-led understanding was a huge learning experience for me.

Chancing upon Mindshare

After four-and-a-half years with Coca-Cola, I joined STAR India as the marketing head. However, it was just not working out the way I thought and one day I just quit.

The next day - literally - Ranjan Kapur (then head of Ogilvy), who was meeting me for lunch, said that he would be coming in with a friend "who is planning to move in from Hong Kong to India".

The friend turned out to be Andre Nair, whom I had bumped into in Hong Kong while in STAR. As we met for lunch, Andre said that he was looking out for somebody who could help him start something like a Mindshare. I had always worked on the client side, and working for an agency sounded a bit dicey. But I met Andre once again over a drink (it turned out to be a long evening), thought about it for a month and then said, "What the hell!" and took the plunge. It was probably one of the smartest things I ever did.

(Defining Moments is a regular column which talks about the incidents that shaped great advertising, media and marketing careers.Vikram Sakhuja is CEO, South Asia, GroupM.)

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