“I had a misplaced superiority complex that Advertisers were more evolved than Agencies,” said Vikram Sakhuja, Group CEO, Madison Media & OOH and out of the many stories and slice of life anecdotes he shared this statement said in earnest candor will stay with me forever.
With over 30 years of experience under his kitty, Sakhuja’s reaction to being a #MegaIcon is rather endearing. But we wonder, where did it all begin and the story couldn’t be any less awe-inspiring.
It was 1984 and Vikram Sakhuja joined DCM as a management trainee, giving him a view of the dynamic mammoth this industry is. But it wasn’t till RHL got "Procterised" that Sakhuja found his calling in the industry.
Prominent reporters have time and again described him as the epicenter of the force that drove the limber agencies in the right direction.
A man of action and a #MegaIcon of the M & A industry, Sakhuja shares stories that have never been heard before.
How does it feel to wake up in the morning as Vikram Sakhuja?
Fabulous. I tried waking up as Shahrukh Khan one day and that didn’t work out too well.
Looking back where did it all begin?
At P&G. From campus, I joined marketing when RHL was transitioning into P&G and was assigned to Market Research. As we got Procterised the practice of functional specialization kicked in. I couldn’t transfer to brand management (Advertising as it was called then), and was happily stuck for 8 years in MR and then Media. I guess that built a strong foundation from one of the best schools of marketing on which I built my career.
The Moment of Epiphany which changed your life for good
Moving from being a client to an agency person. After 13 years at P&G and Coca-Cola, I spent a year setting up the marketing department at Star and then quit without anything in hand. The very next day after I quit I had Ranjan Kapur over for lunch and he brought Andre Nair with him. Andre was setting up what is now GroupM and was looking for a leadership team. I had a misplaced superiority complex that Advertisers were more evolved than Agencies. A long night of drinking with Andre changed that. That was a turning point.
Back then what was the Advertising & Media industry like?
Uncomplicated, experiment-ative, and fast evolving.
Uncomplicated because Marketers were pretty monogamous with media. FMCG almost exclusively used TV while others like Auto, Education, and Finance used Print. There were low clutter and low fragmentation. The top-rated show was Mahabharat on DD that cost INR 1,50,000/10” and delivered 20+ TVRs. Media planning was about buying GRPs at the lowest cost.
Experimentation came through Advertisers creating Media, for example, P&G creating the first daily strip and afternoon show; Creation of iconic sponsored programs like Philips Top 10, BPL Oye and Pepsi Oleum Oleum; Creation of inventory like the Action Replay Bug on Cricket etc.
Quick evolution happened post liberalization as C&S channels and FM stations launched. Newspapers also launched more editions. This was complemented by high competitive heat across categories like home and personal care, soft drinks, durables, telecom, and handsets. This led to clutter and fragmentation. Also gave birth to Awareness Planning in India.
What does a day in the life of Vikram Sakhuja look like?
As my wife, Simmi, says, I have a clock ticking in my head. I wake up around 6.30 AM, morning rituals include newspaper, tea and facetime catch up with my daughters in the US. Reach office by around 8.30 AM and enjoy me time till 10.30 AM with carryover mails and thinking work.
I try and get home by 7.30 PM and go for a beach walk with my wife. Close a few emails and calls. Dinner, OTT, Some Live Sport and read a little before sleeping around midnight.
Icons who have inspired you to grow and strive for excellence
Joy Gupta (at P&G) and Andre Nair for teaching me Market Research and Agency management respectively, and how to have fun at work. Martin Sorrell for setting and achieving stretching goals and Sam Balsara for simplifying the complex and incredible action bias.
In your opinion, icons are born great or made? What do you think about icons like Virat Kohli, Kiran Bedi, Kamal Haasan, APJ Abdul Kalam, Kamal Haasan, and many others like them?
Nobody is born an icon. Equally, you can’t manufacture an icon, just like you can’t manufacture a viral video. Icons are typically good at what they do, crafted from brilliance and clarity of thought, application, action bias, and consistency. Some of those qualities endear them to others. I also feel that most icons have no idea that they are one.
- Instance that transformed you as a person
Joining IIT I think. Took me from a sheltered cocoon into a high-performance high-stress melting pot. Readied me for the real world.
- Challenge that forced you to become a better professional.
Will give you more than one Challenge
Challenge: (In 1993) Deliver scaled leverage through Media consolidation for P&G.
Response: Set up a pitch to deliver country’s first Media Buying AOR (It was Madison)
Challenge: Volume Forecasting for new P&G launches.
Response: First to validate BASES in India.
Challenge: Off-take (Market Share) Audit does not work in a Returnable Glass Business:
Response: Set up first Purchase Retail Audit for Soft Drinks
Challenge: Evolve Agency practice from Media Planning to Integrated Marketing Communications.
Response: Set up a One Stop Shop House of Media.
Current Challenge: Move Advertiser focus from Efficiency to Effectiveness.
Response: WIP Evangelizing Outcomes Planning
- Moment that made it all worthwhile
Good grief. That is such a depressing question. This suggests that entire life is a struggle, and there are only moments of redemption. For me, these moments come every day.
- Saying/belief you swear by
Begin with the end in mind and then Think Transformation.
- Saying/belief you think is totally senseless
- Person you couldn’t have done without
My Mother and my wife. My mother for her calmness and practical nature. My wife for knowing the difference between maintaining contact and establishing a connection; and her amazing spirit.
When not working, you are?
Watching some great OTT Content, Live Sport or reading a book. Single Malt with friends on the weekend
Words of wisdom for young professionals who look up to you.
Don’t try and emulate anyone else. You are you. Make that count.
Do you think you were born to be different or were made into who you are through your experiences?
In the nature vs nurture debate, I’m more on the side of nurture. You come with an inner core, how you get shaped is by your experiences.
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.