Ashwini Gangal
Defining Moments

Defining Moments: Brian Almeida: Direct Dialogue

Direct marketing expert Brian Almeida is a marathoner who believes good health is something he owes to his employees. The group managing director, Direxions Global Solutions, speaks to afaqs! about the defining moments of his career.

After graduating from St. Xavier's College Mumbai in 1987 (Bachelor in Mathematics and Statistics), I began pursuing part-time MBA in marketing from JBIMS. I was simultaneously working at Pertech Computers. There I met Vivek Basrur, founder of DIREM Marketing Services (now Direxions). He was my client. It was my first defining moment. I would service his computer and often chat with him. He gave me a great book to read at the time -- Successful Direct Marketing Methods by Bob Stone and Ron Jacobs.

Vivek moulded my career path. I remember asking him what he did with his computer. He told me about their Barbie Friends Club -- a system where little girls could communicate with Barbie via letters. These customers would write to Barbie and receive letters in return. I thought, "What a fun thing to do!"

Defining Moments: Brian Almeida: Direct Dialogue

Every youngster was keen to work for big companies then, and here, these guys were doing this! I didn't want to join a large company. I wanted to join a small one and make it big and I joined DIREM in 1992.

I joined DIREM also because I wanted to be involved in the after-sales space. What got my goat was that in India, every time one bought something and it went wrong, there was a litany of things do to get it serviced. We just didn't have that customer service culture. At Pertech Computers too, I took up sales customer service.

Defining Moments: Brian Almeida: Direct Dialogue
Employee to Partner

The second defining moment was when I was asked to step on board as partner of DIREM in 1997-98. Some of the accounts I worked closely with were British Airways (Executive Club), Jet Airways (Jet Privilege Program), Taj (Inner Circle), Shoppers Stop (First Citizens Club) and Bharat Petroleum (PetroBonus). We created some of the most successful loyalty programs this country has seen and transformed the company as a leader in the direct marketing/ loyalty programs category.

Low Phase

Defining Moments are not always about the positives. I faced two 'losing moments' thereafter. In 2004-05, Vivek and I parted ways with the other two original partners of DIREM, who'd founded the company in 1989. This parting of ways taught me that friendship was friendship and business was business. It's important to balance the two and not let one cloud your judgment of the other.

Then, I lost Vivek to cancer in May 2005. He was like an elder brother to me. It helped me realise that the most important thing is to keep the office going. The people working for you earn their livelihood because of what you do. Every businessperson has a commitment to his/her employees.

Also, this drove us to make the business even more successful. That's when we repositioned and rebranded ourselves and proved to the market that we're stronger. When we rebranded, we did so as three specialist organisations -- Direxions, Cartesian Consulting and RedBox Rewards. These two low moments taught me a lot and made me a stronger person.

Going Global

Our aspirations got bigger after the rebranding. The objective then was to make the brand global. We participated in the Direct Marketing Fair in San Francisco and Chicago. We won international assignments and that gave us the confidence. Recently, we divested stake to Canadian company LoyaltyOne and became an international partner to them.

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