Ashok Lalla

Obituary: Anand Halve - When a first boss turns into one's lifelong mentor and cheerleader

Ashok Lalla shares the story about his first boss, Anand Halve, and the lessons in advertising, leadership and life that he (Lalla) learned from him through these years.

It's over 23 years from the time Andy (as Anand Halve was affectionately known) hired me as a trainee account executive at Enterprise Advertising. And in the last 24 hours, the memories of that time and the years since flashed before me as I recalled with moist eyes the many little and trivial (and seemingly trivial but really big) things that Andy did that shaped me over the year as an advertising executive, a marketer, a manager and a person.

Obituary: Anand Halve - When a first boss turns into one's lifelong mentor and cheerleader
Obituary: Anand Halve - When a first boss turns into one's lifelong mentor and cheerleader
The most apparent of course were the earliest lessons in understanding consumers and advertising. As an advertising cub, I could not have learnt them better than at the hands of the master himself. Benevolent hands I must add, that held mine as I stumbled along the hustle of every day, torn between learning the ropes of the work place, interpersonal dynamics, demanding clients and always having so much more to do than I thought 24 hours could allow.

Andy was patient, nurturing, and yet at the same time nudged me and everyone else to push one's limits, to use one's mind, to express one's ideas and opinions, to be more than just another pair of hands and legs to run around between creative and studio and production and media and clients. He listened as he gave me a chance to be heard, and turned my 'bits-and-pieces' ideas into bigger, better ideas, yet always let the spotlight shine on the 'young lad'. These were my earliest lessons in leadership and mentorship when I did not even know the words.

Today, folks in their first jobs often say 'No'. No to doing more, no to trying something different, no to anything that does not align with their goals and objectives. Andy's manner was such that one never turned him down. You just felt like you had to go where he was pointing you to. I did. More than once in the 4 years I was with Enterprise.

For starters, I found myself thrown into 'new biz'. No, it was not the glamourous part of doing strategy and meeting new clients. It meant being the most dependable flunkey and working nights and weekends (beyond the regular accounts I handled), and making sure creative work and presentations were ready on time for the big pitches.

Countless sleepless nights, nights spent in office, greasy meals at my desk, crazy cab dashes later I realized that I had been through a masterclass. A masterclass of juggling a million moving pieces, paying attention to detail and quality, and of wonderful lessons in the art of creating strategy and great creative work under pressure and to deadline. All under the kind, ever encouraging, tutelage of Andy, without ever setting foot into a classroom.

Then there were account challenges that Andy handpicked me for. New client, pan-India launch across 14 states in 21 days. Andy called me into his office and said he wanted me to be the account executive on this. Those 21 days turned this then advertising cub into a young lion. I had never tackled such a challenging situation earlier. But I knew I would because Andy had picked me for the job. I did not know how, but I found a way, many ways. Thanks to the learning from all the new biz mayhem I had been through successfully. And somewhere a lesson seeped into me - how to prepare one's wards for war with the experience of smaller battles. I did not know then that I was not just learning advertising, but learning lessons in leadership, very early in life - The quiet way. The Andy way.

Even after I moved on from Enterprise, Andy and I stayed in touch. Our common love Old Monk brought us together ever so often. Where we talked about advertising, brands, the good ol' days at Enterprise... And wrapped in the easy banter were little nuggets of wisdom, guidance, inspiration that Andy unfailingly served up. He told me once that he always thought I would go places. It took me aback to know that Andy had high expectations of me. I had to somehow find ways to live up to them. Talk about encouragement. It did not take promotions or increments with Andy. But the way he nurtured and celebrated you that made you step up, move up.

That Andy thought highly of this once-young lad was borne out in more than just words. When he tapped me to play the role of digital advisor to a client that he was pitching to, my heart swelled with pride as the one-time cub was now running with the leader of the pride. That naturally got me to step up my game to match up to his expectations. Beats any KRA set on an Excel sheet, no?

And then life came full circle for me, when a few years ago, Andy called and asked if his just out of college son could join me for an internship. I stumbled through the "Of course, Andy" as I shook with anxiety and excitement. My very first boss, and longtime mentor and inspiration wanted to entrust me with his very own cub. I must have done something right!

Thank you, Andy for the lessons - in advertising, marketing, people, leadership and life. And also for the kindness, nurturing and quiet cheerleading through all these years. I will miss you.

(Ashok Lalla is an independent digital & marketing advisor, and tweets at @ashoklalla.)

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