Thapar comes across as a no-nonsense man who knows his business and is ready to face a challenge. Unlike many youngsters, Thapar had his career planned out as soon as he completed his MBA. "I wanted to be a part of the communication business for a short while after spending a few good years in sales and marketing. At the end, I had planned to return to marketing but that did not happen."
Armed with an MBA degree, he joined Bata in 1987. One of the major companies in the retail sector, Bata showed him the real world. "You need to deal with consumers on a day-to-day basis, from assisting them on the shop floor in selecting the right pair of shoes and in that process enduring the stinking socks they wear. Basically it teaches you the real meaning of life," he reminisces.
Back then, Bata India had two divisions - wholesale (the Bata Shoe Company) and retail (Bata India). He explains, "Suddenly, one was made to face competition which was far bigger as people would think the former was fake and would often question us on why they were not being given original Bata shoes."
After spending almost eight years there, Thapar got attracted to the communication industry. He then joined RAMMS (Retail Advertising Marketing & Merchandising Services) India in Bangalore. "For me, it was a nice bridge between communications and the corporate world. Moreover, it was in retail, which I understood, thanks to my Bata years."
At RAMMS, he had to set up the office from scratch, creating processes and systems, building a work culture and growing the business.
After a brief stint with Mudra Kolkata, Thapar joined Ogilvy in 1998 as general manager. At Ogilvy, Thapar went through three phases that brought about a turnaround of sorts every time.
"While earlier Calcutta was said to be the Mecca of advertising, the scene changed drastically with businesses moving out of the city and the branch was kept mainly for two reasons - sentimental attachment and the need to have a national footprint. I turned it into a profitable business."
The next phase came in 2003 when he shifted to Delhi. "Delhi was a market which was growing and Ogilvy was happy with the 5-7 per cent growth it had, at that time. What was missing largely was the energy and a change in perspective on how you approach things. If you want something badly, you'll find a way to get it and finally you succeed. The main thing is that one needs to align people towards one goal and one agenda. The whole organisation then rallies towards that agenda. That's what happened with Ogilvy Delhi."
According to Thapar, Ogilvy is an agency that allows people to make mistakes and live up to their potential. "I think an organisation should encourage you to try different things and learn from mistakes. In the process, one can become more robust," he adds.
Thapar has been focussing on digital and shopper marketing over the past few years. He feels that these categories will become more and more important.
While Bates has strong shopper marketing and out of home divisions, Thapar's task is to drive the ATL part of the business. "It is this challenge that made me move," he says.