Mega Icons: Ashish Bhasin

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In this National Geographic’s #MegaIcons series featuring first is Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia’s Chairman and CEO, Ashish Bhasin with three decades of experience journey. 

“Freshly minted CEOs are usually never short on ambition or hyperbole. If we had a dime for every time we heard a new global/local creative or agency head make a statement on the lines of “No 3 in awards by…” or “No 1 in revenue by…”, we’d be owning agencies instead of just writing about them.”

Words written by prominent journalist Ravi Balakrishnan back in 2015, when Ashish Bhasin, then Chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network, South Asia claimed in a statement that Dentsu Aegis will be Number 2 by 2017. Now, with three decades of experience under his kitty, it’s safe to say that Ashish Bhasin, Chairman & CEO – South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network achieved that and much more. In hindsight though, Bhasin feels that the statement earned him more enemies than he had in over three decades of his career.

From a Management Trainee at Lowe Lintas to a #MegaIcons Bhasin’s expansive journey played a paramount role in the Media & Advertising chapter of the Indian history!

Trained by magnetic leaders such as Prem Mehta and Alyque Padamsee, Bhasin has been a #MegaIcon in the making since he joined Lintas on June 01, 1998.

It was 2008, when Ashish Bhasin moved on from Lowe to the then Aegis network (before its deal with Dentsu), a team of under 50 employees. Ashish’s entry in Aegis came as a thunderbolt due to the latter’s fragile condition during that period. Aegis has just parted ways with Percept Holdings and feared losing some of their big guns internally and externally. Ashish was roped in to take the India chapter of Aegis and in the right direction and rest as they say is history.

In the coming years DAN’s India leg went on to become a media mammoth with 13 acquisitions! In 2017, Bhasin went on record saying that DAN had crossed INR 4,500 worth billables in 2017 and things continued to look North.

From joining Lintas because it was closer to his residence to becoming a Media #MegaIcon, Ashish Bhasin’s entry in the industry was a coincidence each of us are thankful for! How he then became a #MegaIcon is indeed awe-inspiring.

In a candid conversation with Social Samosa, Ashish Bhasin shares a journey that started by accident by went on to begin one of the biggest media prodigy stories.

How does it feel to wake up in the morning as Ashish Bhasin?

Mega Icons
It feels very enthusiastic because I am one of those blessed people who loves his work. People talk about Monday Morning blues but I really look forward to Monday mornings so that I can get back to work. So, I wake up with a lot of fervour and energy!

Looking back where did it all begin?

I have essentially been a South Bombay person and did my schooling and from Campion School and the Cathedral and John Connon School. Later I did my BSc (Hons) from St.Xavier’s College in Biochemistry and Zoology and then an MBA from the Sydenham Institute of Management. Straightaway from the campus I was recruited by Lintas India as a Management Trainee and I worked there for over 20 years.

The Moment of Epiphany which changed your life for good

I see every day as a moment of change but I think there are some landmarks in one’s career.

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Another move was setting up a lot of integrated marketing businesses like the rural business, Linterland Design Business called Dcell, Lintertainment and others: we put together eight businesses and made the Integrated Marketing Action Group (IMAG) and I also took  over as President SSC&B at Lintas. The big step up moment then of course was taking over as Chairman India and CEO South-East Asia, Aegis Media and thereafter as Chairman & CEO South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network. Each of these moments changed my professional life for good.

Back then what was the Advertising & Media industry like?

The Advertising &Media industry went through various stages of evolution in the last 30 years. Before my generation, forexample, if you were from South Mumbai and spoke good English, were into theatre – you would probably land up in advertising. Then we came, the early generation of MBA’s in advertising, for whom advertising was a serious business. Subsequently, as India liberalised and more and more professions opened up, came an era of creative leaders like Piyush Pandey, R Balki, etc. Soon the client realised that a lot of money is going into media and the balance shifted to Media.

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What does a day in the life of Ashish Bhasin look like?

I am a very boring guy! I am always on, 365 days and almost 24×7. I never let an email go unresponded unless I am in a meeting or on a flight. I try to finish off everything of the day in that day, however late I may need to work.

The day begins in the early hours from home because when you are in the office you don’t  know how one thing morphs into other and the day is gone. Our business has now become very complex with 25 agencies and 33 companies that we have in our group. Also, you tend to work in different time zones because Singapore wakes up two and half hours earlier while US and UK slip into late evenings. There are different industry responsibilities as well, so the days tend to be very packed.

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Icons who have inspired you to grow and strive for excellence

During my MBA years, I was really impressed with Lee Iacocca, CEO of Chrysler and Akio Morita of Sony. The third person would be Giuliani who wrote a book called Leadership. He was the Mayor of New York when 9/11 happened.

In your opinion, Icons are born great or made?

People who are iconic definitely have something special in-built in them. It may not necessarily be a specific talent but the ability to work hard and to never give up, is always there. There is something very special ingrained and in-built in them. I am not sure if people are born with it but they develop these traits pretty much during the early part of their lives, often without even realising it.

What do you think about icons like Virat Kohli and many others like him?

Kohli has got spunk; he is a guy who never gives up even when there is adversity- he has got self-belief. A lot of it would have been by his training and hard-work but some of it is also in-built. I have never seen anybody achieving significantly without a huge amount of passion.

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If made, could you share your thoughts on what it takes to rise up the pedestal?

Hard Work and Resilience

One

  • Instance that transformed you as a person

In recent times, it would be passing away of my father. I was very close to him and it in some ways it shook me internally.

  • Challenge that forced you to become a better professional

When somebody tells me that there is something I can’t do or I won’t be able to do – that really spurs me on!

  • Moment that made it all worthwhile

Ten years ago I started this company with  hardly 45-50 people, today it is a family of 3,500 members and is the second largest agency group, overturning 80 years of agency ranking history in India.

  • Saying/belief you swear by

The belief is -’Nobody in the world can be better than you’. You have got to believe in yourself because if you don’t do that, nobody else will. Anything that anyone in the world can do it- then I can also do it- should be the firm belief.

  • Saying/belief you think is total bulls**t

The whole thing that somebodyhas to be‘lucky’ to reach there. I am not a big believer in superstitions, luck and all those things. I believe that Men at times are Masters of their fate, as Shakespeare said.  

  • Person you couldn’t have done without

My wife has been a great support. We grew up together, great friends – she has been a pillar of strength because if she hadn’t managed the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to focus on most of my professional work.

When not working, you are?

I like to play chess and also read a lot. So when I am not working, you would find me playing a chess game with my son or reading a book. I also adore travelling for leisure, but, I haven’t been able to do much in recent years.

Words of wisdom for young professionals who look up to you

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The century old Indian M & E industry has seen many heroes perish, but Icons, prevailed! Icons who carved their initials in the rich history by nurturing this domain into the mammoth of success that it is today!Social Samosa in association with National Geographic, takes a nostalgic walk through the journey of ad icons, asking one pertinent question – are icons born or made?

This is the question – whether Icons are born or made – that National Geographic will be on a quest to unravel, in its new show, Mega Icons. Using a never-seen-before format, Mega Icons will decode the stories of some of India’s most inspiring #MegaIcons like Virat Kohli, A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, Dalai Lama, Kamal Haasan, and Kiran Bedi. The show, which premieres on 24th September, will use acclaimed scientists and expert psychoanalysts used to question whether these personalities were born to be different, or were moulded into greatness by their life experiences.  


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