Hint: He heads an advertising agency that was in the news recently because the founder sold his share to a network... and he rides for a cause.
Anil Nair, 46, is a busy man; by day, he runs Law & Kenneth Saatchi & Saatchi India as CEO and managing partner and by night, he leverages the power of social media to spread the word about Goodwind Riding, a biking-for-a-cause group he started little over a year back.
More to the point, why does the homepage of a business publication resemble a screenshot of your Facebook newsfeed? It's because we profiled both, in unequal measure, the man who stepped into Praveen Kenneth's shoes (and sunlit, L-shaped, red-cushioned corner office) after he sold the agency to Publicis Groupe recently, and the do-gooder who rides for a cause. Nair also had stake -"sweat equity"- in L&K, which he sold as part of the same deal.
With Kenneth moving out of the system what has changed? "A lot, actually," says Nair, who, calls himself the "father figure" of the organisation today. "Praveen is a big energy source and his exit was like a battery leaving the building. A lot of people plugged into it. I've had to ensure they don't feel the void," he says, adding that work-wise, the shift wasn't as drastic, because, "Praveen and I had a very clear role division; for a year before his exit he was away from the operational realities of it, unless I wanted him to get involved. He drove the overall relationship with Publicis Groupe. But I've been looking after all the day-to-day stuff - running the business, people, clients, campaigns..."
Of course, there are other realities to deal with as well: "For the first 10 years we were purely independent (L&K turned 15 last year). But now it's different - we're a 100 per cent Publicis-owned company and are fully aligned to Saatchi." Last August, Nair, who has spent around 25 years in advertising, was inducted into Saatchi's global leadership team. "PubCom changes things too as we now work with all Publicis Groupe agencies (for instance Arc, Prodigious, Indigo, LBi, Razorfish, Sapient) closely. That's also a responsibility. We now have collaboration targets."
Speaking of targets, he plans to scale Goodwind Riding this year. About the genesis, Nair shares, "I started Goodwind Riding because I wanted to do something good for society. Coming from this industry, I felt I must have an idea that's sustainable, which can have an impact that goes beyond just writing a cheque for one person."
Nair has always been passionate about motorcycling, just like his father, who he claims is a much better rider than he is. "He's one of the few fathers who allowed his son to own a bike at 18... coming from a middle class family, that's big, given the danger and cost associated with it," says Nair, who's had his "fair share of near-fatal crashes", though. The kind he hid from his parents and that involved getting 18 stitches on the head.
He moved from Kerala to Mumbai in 1993 - "just after the bomb blast" - and the first thing he did was "bought a bike". For him, that was the only way to travel. "I just couldn't get myself to take the Bombay locals (trains)..." he recalls. Somewhere along the way, the bike gave way to a more family-friendly mode of transport, a car. He likens his return to biking to a reaction to mid-life crisis, about six years back after entering his forties.
"I had a chance encounter, a business meeting, with Siddhartha Lal of Royal Enfield, who was launching a brand new bike then," narrates Nair, "He didn't give me the business (it wasn't a pitch for Enfield; it was for Eicher) but he certainly gave me the first Royal Enfield Thunderbird 500." At some point Nair upgraded to a Triumph.
"On my weekend rides, I started meeting other riders, people who land up at a common point for breakfast somewhere far from the city and spend an hour eating together, talking, exchanging ideas. That's when I realised that the image around bikers is a little hedonistic. People think they're irresponsible, spend lakhs on their bikes and just set off alone on dangerous rides... but the truth is different. They're responsible, socially conscious people who like helping each other out." So he thought of bringing this burgeoning pool of misunderstood people together for a cause. At present, through Goodwind Riding, he raises money (he's already touched an impressive seven figure mark) for children fighting cancer at Mumbai's Tata Memorial Hospital and those at Bal Asha Orphanage, also in Mumbai.
His idea to start a biking group grew when he visited Cannes a few years back. Says Nair, "Everyone there seems to want to save the world with their ideas, but a lot of it is selfish. It's a means to an end - to win a Lion. I thought, 'Let me not judge; there might be some people who are sick and tired of peddling soaps and shampoos and genuinely want to do something good with their creativity...'" So he took his passion for biking and clubbed it with his insight on bikers and the idea of riding for charity was reinforced.
He took his first solo ride (Lahaul-Spiti) in October 2016; it's a tough terrain that starts from Chandigarh, via Shimla, Kalpa, Tabo, Lahaul, Spiti... then back into Manali via Rohtang. "In many parts, there's no road, no network. If you fall off, no one will even know," he says, adding in response to my inadvertent 'then why do it...?' expression, "I'm doing it for people battling for life. There has to be some symbolic resemblance to what they're going through. I can't do a comfort cruise and say it's for a cause."
The spiritual hypothesis, one that underlies the name of the group, is: 'Goodwind' or 'goodwinds', is a 'sailor term'; in the past, when sailors explored strange seas, they did so in the hope that the goodwinds were on their side. "Seven rides and 22 riders later, not a single one has had as much as a puncture..." says Nair, knocking on wood. It is bike brand-agnostic and riders include entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, and professionals from finance, banking and public relations.
Of these seven rides, some were done by 15 riders, some by three, while some were solo trips. For Nair, a memorable one was the non-stop Mumbai-Karwar ride done by 14 bikers, aptly nicknamed the 'iron butt' ride that takes 13 hours, one way. Riders can't get off except to re-fuel, both their bikes and themselves.
He shares another memorable anecdote about "the most precious donation" of Rs.100. It was when Nair was riding near Chatru, Himachal: "I had parked my bike and was having tea when Indian Army cyclists came along. They were training... and saw my fancy bike. The captain - an avid biker who represented the army as a daredevil during the Republic Day parade for seven years - wanted to sit on my bike. We got talking. I told them what I was riding for. They weren't carrying money as it was a skill-building expedition, but collected whatever they had -about 80-100 rupees- and gave it to me."
Goodwind Riding is entirely social media-driven. Nair has about 7,500 organic followers on Facebook and a few of his friends at the social media network have helped him study the numbers: "Their analytics show that almost 60 per cent of my fans are bikers. The others are people who like travelling and supporting causes. It's all come together organically in a year's time." He hasn't pumped money into promoting it online. "A lot of people came to me and said 'PR karo'... but I don't want to do that," he says.
At its core, Goodwind Riding is like a brand, complete with a logo (yellow triangle), a tool (crowdsourcing), a platform (social media), a tangible goal (to raise money, akin to a sales target) and an intangible goal (to generate an impact, like the need for brand building). His Sunday rides are all about meeting other riders (experiential marketing). Recently, he finished a ride in Bhutan.
Next, he wants to take Goodwind Riding international. "Europe is a good place to raise awareness and increase participation," he says, naming Austria and the Swiss Alps as potential destinations.
Interestingly, his clients have also shown preliminary interest in the venture. "Pepperfry came forward and said they'd provide (furniture), say, if a hospital needs something..." he shares. Pepperfry represents the kind of "entrepreneurial" client Nair and his agency "naturally attract." He explains, "L&K Saatchi is in the 'prime middle'. We're not in the game of the 'big five', that'll always attract clients who want to work with agencies that lead the pecking order... somebody starts with Lowe, some start with Ogilvy, some with McCann. Then there's a bunch of young, new startups on the agency circuit. And then there is this 'middle' - that's where I want to be."
In the corporate world too, there's a similar 'middle'- the guys with ambition, but without the wherewithal. "I'll tell you very honestly - L&K Saatchi & Saatchi is not cut out to handle a very big business that's been doing well and wants to grow at 10 per cent year on year... I can't add value to such a client, because it's all about 'the next campaign'. For example, what can I do with Lux soap that's not been done already? But I never thought Indians would buy furniture - entire bedroom sets - online! So we are in 'that' position..." Nair says.
In fact, the ability to deal with entrepreneurs is a survival skill in his book: "Previously, the business model (for agencies) was built around tapping revenue from a Unilever or a P&G -process-oriented, professional organisations. Today, the new wave of business comprises entrepreneurs; it's no longer a 'corporate' thing. That's the challenge ad agency bosses are dealing with. They're not dealing with professional leadership anymore."
Nair's confident he's equipped to deal with this. "Whether it's the Munjals of Hero or a startup like Pepperfry, our ability to work with entrepreneurs has helped us adapt to this new reality. I love creating brands. There's no great fun in taking Vodafone to the next level, for example. Of course, we'd do it, but the fun lies in creating something from scratch. When we recite the Kent (water purifier) story, entrepreneurs start drooling - it was not even a Rs 50 crore business when we picked it up and today it is touching Rs 850 crore..." he asserts, reminding us that L&K started out as a consultancy. One of the first tasks ITC gave his team was a consultancy project in 2002 to help them enter the personal care segment'; "creative came later."