That's how the recently appointed chief strategy officer of FCB Ulka Advertising describes himself.
An aspiring journalist who finally went to IIM Ahmedabad, Suman Srivastava first heard about advertising during the campus placement talks. "I was very impressed by Sattar Khan (then planning head, HTA)," he recalls. Srivastava got into Lintas as a management trainee in 1987. He worked in Ishan Raina's team, handling Bajaj Auto. "Working on the brand got my operations right, as it was an intensively operational account," he says.
During his stint with Lintas, he got a chance to work with Meenakshi Madhvani and Usha Bhandarkar (group planning director, Lowe Lintas). According to Srivastava, that's when he started to understand planning. "I learned a lot from Usha. She is a great planner as she would really segregate the brand personalities," he reminisces.
Later on, because he had a slight strategy/planning bent, he was moved from Bombay 1 to Bombay 4 region in Lintas to work with Ajay Chandwani (then GM). The portfolio included a few personal care products of Unilever, besides other brands. Then, Chandwani started SSC&B Lintas, a division of Lintas, and Srivastava continued to work with him.
"At SSC&B, Ajay coined a word called 'stratevity' - strategy and creativity. When you come out of IIM, you are very linear in your thinking, and Unilever also used to be very strategy focussed. What he said was that planning has to be the half-way point between strategy and creative," Srivastava explains. In 1995, when Raina set up Euro RSCG Advertising Worldwide, Srivastava joined him as VP, but, in effect, became the Bombay head of the agency.
"It was the first time I was running a P&L," he shares. In 1999, he decided to get into full-time planning. That was when Prabhakar Mundkur joined as director, Mumbai. "To me, that was the best, fun phase of my life. Till 2004-2005, I was planning. I pitched for Reckitt Benckiser, which was a huge brand. Though I was in Mumbai, I had an international kind of career. I learned a lot from Marian Salzman (then EVP, chief strategy officer) about creative businesses and cutting-edge planning techniques. Ajay's was a brilliant, strategic mind, but I learned planning triggers from Marian and team," he says.
At Euro, he also worked with Bob Schmetterer (then global president, COO) who was a visionary. Srivastava shares that, in 1996-1997, among the first five banner ads on the internet ever, three were from Euro. "Overall, Bob is one of the big heroes of my life. Ishan believed more in me than I believed in myself. We had a good partnership until 2005, when he decided to move," Srivastava recollects.
In 2006, he was appointed the CEO of Euro RSCG for the Indian sub-continent, albeit reluctantly. Although he did many things - budgeting, shareholder management, HR and administration - in the next five years, it was eating into his planning time.
"My biggest compliment is when a Satbir Singh (now chief creative officer, FCB Ulka) or Ravi Deshpande (now founder, chairman and CCO of Whyness) say that they need inputs from me. Though I became an obsessive time manager as CEO, it was not something I could do all my life. I am a doer. Rolling my sleeves up and trying to crack ideas gives me pleasure," he states.
In 2011, Srivastava founded Marketing Unplugged, a marketing consultancy firm, in which he still works. It was Ambi Parameswaran (ED - FCB Ulka Advertising) and Nagesh Alai (chairman, FCB Ulka Group) who insisted that Srivastava join FCB Ulka.
So, how would he describe himself? "I am a coach," he replies, A coach who does things.