Getting into IIT was surely one of the most defining moments of my career. I joined IIT Delhi in 1979, not because I had any zeal for engineering but because my sister had gone there before and I thought it was a great place to be in.
In the fourth year, I had to do my summer and industrial training at Binny Mills in Bengaluru. I went there, became depressed in two days and said to myself that if I have to do a career inside a mill, this is not happening.
Life at DCM
Post IIT, I worked in DCM as a management trainee for two fantastic years. I had turned down XLRI and IIM Kolkata after IIT because I still believed that work experience was necessary before doing an MBA.
The two-year programme was a combination of classroom training and an on-the-job stint with one of DCM's units. They would get faculty from brilliant places - Wharton, the Indian Schools and the likes. We would do modules in behavioural sciences, the entire purchase-procurement piece, and then follow it up with an on-the-job stint.
IIM days and P&G
After DCM, I took the CAT again and got through IIM Kolkata. I already had a flair for marketing by then - I was interested in consumers, brands and the like. But at IIM it became clearer that I was the marketing type. And because I had received an intense training at DCM, I did not get submerged under the intense pressure.
I joined P&G in 1988 and literally cut my teeth in research. Richardson Hindustan (RHL) had just been bought over by P&G. The 'Procterisation' of RHL was an exciting time. I was involved in the launch of many new products. That was a fantastic learning experience. The second part of growth, for me, happened when I moved into media. Back then, media meant TV. So, you became an expert in planning and how to use TV to build brands.
Soft drink companies embody integrated thinking in its truest sense - the use of sponsorships, celebrities and yes, a whole lot of properties. At Coca-Cola, I was managing the entire portfolio of brands as well as media and research. So my move from a purist TV expert into a much more judgment-based, execution-led understanding was a huge learning experience for me.
Chancing upon Mindshare
After four-and-a-half years with Coca-Cola, I joined STAR India as the marketing head. However, it was just not working out the way I thought and one day I just quit.
The next day - literally - Ranjan Kapur (then head of Ogilvy), who was meeting me for lunch, said that he would be coming in with a friend "who is planning to move in from Hong Kong to India".
The friend turned out to be Andre Nair, whom I had bumped into in Hong Kong while in STAR. As we met for lunch, Andre said that he was looking out for somebody who could help him start something like a Mindshare. I had always worked on the client side, and working for an agency sounded a bit dicey. But I met Andre once again over a drink (it turned out to be a long evening), thought about it for a month and then said, "What the hell!" and took the plunge. It was probably one of the smartest things I ever did.
(Defining Moments is a regular column which talks about the incidents that shaped great advertising, media and marketing careers.Vikram Sakhuja is CEO, South Asia, GroupM.)