One of my first assignments at agencyfaqs! was to interview Shunu Sen, CEO, Quadra Advisory. I was going to meet him for the first time. And I must admit I was more than a bit nervous. He was known as the guru of advertising and marketing thinking in India; I was fresh out of college.
Today I remember that October 2001 interview with Sen as one of the most insightful interviews I have ever had. He was not just a resourceful marketing professional; he was a tough human being. As I came out of his Neeti Bagh office in Delhi, I kept wondering what was the source of his inner strength. He had told me that after his fateful spinal injury in Bangalore (while he was with HLL), he went back to his job with no dearth of passion. I remember him saying, "I would not have come out of this without the overwhelming support of my friends at Levers and my family."
Today, his friends and family are looking for support in the work he has left behind. "I am shocked," says Anmol Dar, president and CEO, FS Advertising, who was working closely with Sen for the last few months to get the Superbrands India project off the ground. "Shunu strode the Indian advertising and marketing firmament like a colossus," he adds.
In an email message to agencyfaqs! WPP group chief executive Martin Sorrell, who is also a shareholder in Quadra, said, "I have known of Shunu Sen for about 10 years and have known him well for the last five or so years. It is a very sad day and we shall all miss him deeply. He made a tremendous contribution to all WPP businesses in India both as a client and as WPP country manager. Not only was he an outstanding marketing professional but he was an outstanding individual. Given Shunu's background with both Unilever and WPP, he is probably irreplaceable. Having said that, his thoughtfulness and understanding will leave an indelible impact on Indian marketing thinking."
Tara Sinha, chairperson, IIMC, remembers Shunu more for the person he was. "Shunu was not just a man of talent but a man of great courage and a very benevolent human being. And I am not saying all this because he has passed away. The truth is he was a very human, human being. He helped people. Today you have successful people, but they are ruthless. Shunu would go out of his way to help people."
"He had this tremendous ability to deflect hostility with his wit and simplicity," reminisces Murad Ali Baig, automotive expert and a friend of Shunu Sen since the time the two met at Doon School. "We used to call him Billy Bunter in school because of his large dimension. What was amazing is, despite his built, he was a remarkable dancer. Unfortunately he was in great pain for the past 15 years or so because of his spinal degradation. Probably his work gave him the energy and inspiration to go on." Suhel Seth, friend and shareholder in Quadra Advisory, is, perhaps for the first time, at loss for words. "The greatest salute to Sen would be to take his work forward and Quadra to greater heights."
This goodwill is well earned. Starting his career as a management trainee with HLL in1960 when the concept of professional marketing was still new to India, Sen handled assignments of various products like detergents, personal products and foods. He later graduated to become the head of the personal products business and marketing director, detergents. In 1990, he was appointed vice-chairman, Lipton India Private Ltd. His last assignment with Hindustan Lever was as group marketing advisor for the Unilever Group of Companies in India. Later he did an international assignment for Unilever plc, London. Subsequent to his retirement from Hindustan Lever, he worked as president, marketing services, RPG Enterprises and Group Marketing Advisor.
Given this background, his wisdom was sought after not just by professionals but by students who wanted a fresh perspective on marketing. Which is why agencyfaqs! started the section Shunu Online last year in which Sen would answer questions posted by students and professionals alike. The response was overwhelming.
In his death, he has left with us his legacy of knowledge and wisdom.
Click here to post a message of condolence to Shunu Sen's family.