The first turning point for me was getting to live in Mumbai and managing to land a job in that city. I'd come in from Pune in the early '90s. This in itself was a huge education as all the fluff and romance that one comes with gets flushed away. I remember the ordeal of carrying a dirty blue portfolio from agency to agency, without appointments, and just walking in and saying "Hi, I am a copywriter looking for a job." The nice part was that more people agreed to meet me than those who said no. I didn't expect so many people to appreciate an effort like that.
The second turning point was when I acquired a certain confidence about myself. There was a moment during my stint at Ogilvy when I felt, "Hey, I can do this all by myself." It was the confidence to not just create the work but own it, too. I felt that I was not only able to do the work myself, but could also get it done the way I wanted, from my teammates and people around me. I could hold my own with clients and help sell the work.
In the late 90s' I remember being bang in the middle of a pitch presentation for Ranbaxy and thinking to myself, "Yes, I think I can do this at the highest levels." The pitch was handled entirely by me and I had entered the presentation without having shown the work to anyone before that. So it was like taking complete responsibility for the pitch. It was during this pitch that the penny dropped.
Mapping my own destiny
My third defining moment was when I was appointed NCD (national creative director) at Publicis Ambience in the early 2000s. Just being appointed as NCD wasn't the defining bit - it was the realisation that one's professional skills aren't everything and that one needs to be in greater control of one's surroundings to make the difference.
I quickly realised that this job wasn't about creative excellence alone. It was about being able to offer large clients certain process-level comfort, which in turn requires a certain political sophistication. No matter how brilliant a professional you are, until and unless you're in control of your destiny and own the business, the pride that you feel about being on top of the professional heap amounts to nothing.
The Birth of 'SAW'
Not for a moment will I say that there were huge ambitions when the agency was started. I just wanted to do the kind of work that gave me a sense of self worth, namely, strategically sound creative work with great creative execution. But once we started and I saw the disconnect that existed between emerging advertisers and existing agency cultures, it would've been sheer stupidity not to cash in on it.