Advertising Icons: Saurabh Varma

saurabh varma

With over 20 years of experience in building brands, Saurabh Varma heads all the agencies under the Publicis Communications India gamut – Leo Burnett India, Leo Burnett Orchard, Publicis India, Publicis Beehive, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi, and MSL GROUP, Digitas, Indigo Consulting, Prodigious, Sapient and Arc Worldwide.

A sharp mind and a heart that yearns to solve ‘people problems’ – that’s what makes for the advertising stalwart in Saurabh Varma, the CEO of Publicis Communications, India & CEO of Leo Burnett South Asia.

Varma was appointed as CEO of Leo Burnett Group India with responsibilities covering the Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore operations in November of 2013.  Before taking over the India reins, Saurabh’s last outing was as the Chief Strategy Officer (Leo Burnett APAC), a stint that saw him work on brands across 16 countries. A multi-award winning ad man, he has also served as a jury member at prestigious awards such as Cannes Lions, Spikes Asia, and the AMEs, to name a few.

Saurabh’s love for brands is nothing short of passion; it comes to life when he is trying to understand people’s behavior and what fuels it. He loves his arguments just like his morning cup of tea, especially if they involve the future of agencies, teams, and communities. He is an avid reader of myth, archetypes, and fantasy. And if there is a twist in the plot of the story, nothing like it.

The Advertising Icon that he is, Saurabh Varma, in a candid conversation with Social Samosa shares his thoughts on what it takes to rise up the pedestal and much more

How does it feel to wake up in the morning as Saurabh Varma?

I wake up every day with a great sense of optimism & positivity. I have a simple purpose; ‘be the best that I can be’. My purpose guides me every day.

The Moment of Epiphany which changed your life for good

I am the sum of all the moments.

Also Read: Mega Icons: KV Sridhar – Pops

Back then what was the Advertising & Media industry like?

Exactly like it is now. It was always the best job in the world. You could wake up every morning knowing that you would be solving a new problem every day. 

What does a day in the life of Saurabh Varma look like?

My day is guided by the paranoia I feel for my organization and for myself. I want Publicis to own the Power of One in India. This means relentless transformation in our business. At a personal level, I am paranoid about my own transformation. Knowing that 20% of me will be redundant every year is a powerful motivator.

Icons who have inspired you to grow and strive for excellence

Growing up my biggest icon was Subhash Chandra Bose. To this day, ‘Kadam, kadam badaye ja,’ remains my everyday motto.

In the modern era, Mukesh Ambani is my hero. To imagine an India where everyone has an equal opportunity because of data is truly revolutionary. 

In your opinion, icons are born great or made?

They are made. Grit is everything. Failure is a given. Your ability to deal with them makes all the difference.

What do you think about icons like Virat Kohli, Kiran Bedi and many others like them?

Every generation needs heroes. We all want to be a part of their journey. All heroes are ordinary people who make themselves extraordinary.


-Instance that transformed you as a person

I’m still trying to become better every day. Have someone in my life, whose job is to contradict me all the time, every day. My conscious keeper. To explore the entire argument. To keep me grounded.

– Challenge that forced you to become a better professional

My journey was never built around a single moment. It was built on the back of several failures.

-Moment that made it all worthwhile.

The best moments are all connected with the work. The work makes me believe that it is all worth it. So proud of Bajaj. Personally, think it is the greatest idea our industry has seen. Happy that I was part of it in a small way.

-Saying/belief you swear by

“When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” _ Leo Burnett.

-Saying/belief you think is totally senseless

‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’

I believe to succeed you have to put all your eggs in one basket. That is the only way.

-Person you couldn’t have done without

Could not have done it without the three women in my life. My mother, my wife, and my daughter.

When not working, you are?

When not working, I am trying to lose myself in a book. 

Words of wisdom for young professionals who look up to you

  1. Start with the blessings you have. Everyone has them in abundance. You need to find yours.
  2. Put all eggs in the same basket. Go ‘All in.’
  3. Accept failures. Learn.
  4. Don’t take your success for granted. Be paranoid about your own growth and learning. Remember 20% of you will be redundant every year if you don’t transform yourself.

Words of wisdom: 

Seek simplicity on the other side of complexity.