THE GENTLE GIANT WITH A LION’S HEART

On January 27, Ranjan Kapur, former chairman of WPP India and a doyen of the Indian advertising world passed away. The past week has seen an outpouring of grief, shock and heartfelt tributes across media platforms. This week, we pay a tribute to the veteran

05 Feb, 2018 by admin

On January 27, Ranjan Kapur, former chairman of WPP India and a doyen of the Indian advertising world passed away. The past week has seen an outpouring of grief, shock and heartfelt tributes across media platforms. This week, we pay a tribute to the veteran

 

An artist. A sculptor. An author. An angel investor. A devoted husband and doting father. Architect of Ogilvy as the agency we see it today. Mentor to stalwarts in the advertising industry. Recipient of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI)’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for his immense contribution to the industry. ***

Advertising industry legend and Chairman of WPP India, Ranjan Kapur passed away on January 27, 2018, following a massive heart attack, barely two months after celebrating his 75th birthday. He is survived by his wife, Lorraine (Jimi) and daughter, Tina.

A torch-bearer of the industry and arguably one of India’s most influential admen, he went out with a flame burning bright; even as peers, well-wishers, friends and admirers flooded social media, sharing their angst with heartening renditions of how Kapur had impacted each of them on a personal level. Popularly known as the architect and visionary of Ogilvy’s success, credited for making the agency the creative behemoth it is today, Kapur spent 37 years at O&M in various roles across India, East Asia and the United States.

A story-teller who lived and breathed brands, Kapur joined O&M (then called S.H. Benson) in 1965 as a management trainee, after a chance meeting with its founder, David Ogilvy in New York; a meeting which convinced him to give up his banking career with Citibank and switch over to advertising. Needless to say, the decision changed his life, and the lives of so many he interacted with over the decades, as he continued to thrive in the advertising industry, making O&M a force to reckon with, powered by some of the finest minds, including Piyush Pandey, S. Rane and many more, who went on to become legends in their own right.

For Lahore-born Kapur, having a finger in many pies started right from his early days. A student of Welham’s Preparatory School, Dehradun and Yadavindra Public School, Patiala, he graduated from Mahindra College, Patiala, with honours in Mathematics and English, when his shot at engineering college didn’t work out. He then went on to acquire a Master’s Degree in Arts (English) from Delhi’s prestigious St. Stephen’s College. This was followed by a degree in Advanced Advertising Studies from the Advertising Agencies Association of America, when his advertising career was still in its infancy.

The academic prowess shone through in his creativity and enviable number-crunching ability, which eventually led to him being appointed as Country Manager and later Chairman of WPP India, which he joined in 2004, after being personally handpicked by Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP. During his time at WPP, he helped facilitate business development and cross-company activities in his capacity as ‘group ambassador’. In October 2017, Kapur handed over the functional leadership of WPP to CVL Srinivas, CEO, GroupM South Asia, remaining its Chairman.

A turnaround specialist, who first worked his magic on Ogilvy India which became India’s leading advertising, marketing and public relations agency under his guidance, Kapur also played a role in turning around the fortunes of Bates India, when he came on board as Chairman in 2012.

Not one to be satisfied with a single portfolio, Kapur was also on Ogilvy’s Asia-Pacific ‘steering committee’, responsible for the agency network’s subsidiaries in the region. This was in addition to him being a director on the board of several companies, including HDFC Bank, Abbott India and Pidilite Industries. Moreover, Kapur was an angel investor and mentor for multiple start-ups, including Mindworks Global Media Services - a journalism outsourcing firm and Singapore-based mobile technology start-up, Tagit. A gifted writer, he captured much of his insights gleaned from his fifty-odd years of experience in a book authored by him called, The Perfect Snowball on business ethics, management practices and corporate social responsibility.

 Kapur was also adept at drawing and painting (often making caricatures of his colleagues during presentations), and creating sculptures out of Fevicol and M-seal.

Variously known by peers as ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’, ‘a leader with a large heart’, ‘a thorough gentleman’, and ‘a warm, gracious host’, Ranjan was known to treat one and all with mutual respect, no matter how junior or senior they were.
 

In many ways, his ability to reach out to people as confidante, advisor, mentor or compatriot, is what led him to become such a huge source of inspiration and admiration to everyone he met – be it colleague, client or rival.

A ‘gentle giant’, Kapur was as highly regarded for his advertising and communications ingenuity, as for his social outreach and CSR activities. Vice-Chairman of the Indian Cancer Society, Kapur also spearheaded WPP’s CSR efforts, apart from his involvement with the Indian School of Design and Innovation (ISDI) WPP School of Communication.
 

RANJAN: A REMARKABLE MAN, AND A CHERISHED FRIEND...

Roger Winter, Chairman of Gravitas Partnership, and a close friend of Ranjan Kapur, talks of the intellectually honest, irreverent, fiercely proud yet unassuming man he has known over the years

Ranjan was a close and dear friend of mine for over 40 years. We met in 1975 in New York at the Ogilvy & Mather office, then at 2 East 48th. St. on the corner of Fifth Avenue. We had both come a long way - Ranjan from Mumbai and me from London. Typically, they put the two foreigners in adjacent offices. Ranjan worked on the General Foods business, I worked on Lever Brothers. The then head of the General Foods account, who later ran the agency worldwide, tells the story of how he called the senior client to tell him Ranjan was joining the team. There was a brief pause, then “Does he speak English?” No pause, “Better than you” and could have added “Smarter too”.
 

Different times! We both left New York in January, 1978 - Ranjan to return to Mumbai to work with Mani Ayer and me to Bangkok to manage the relatively new Ogilvy office there. We had a joint farewell party at an Indian restaurant close to the office. Ranjan, Jimi and their daughter Tina loved New York and were sad to leave, but it was time.
 

We saw each other regularly over the years, either in India or at regional meetings. I was technically on the Ogilvy Indian board, but my role was not to advise Mani or Ranjan, God forbid, but to be a conduit to the wider world and help in any way possible. At the time, there were stringent currency controls and it was tough to import much-needed equipment and supplies, or even fund overseas travel. Then in 1984, I moved to Singapore, and soon after, so did Ranjan and we worked again in the same office. Ranjan and Jimi loved Singapore - cosmopolitan, big Indian diaspora, and immediately (thanks to Jimi) they made tons of friends… and also, of course, were close to home. We remained friends, individually and as a family, ever since, seeing each other all over the world… Hong Kong, London, New York, Bangkok and, of course, often in Mumbai. I vividly and fondly remember a trip on the ‘Palace on Wheels’ with other ex-Ogilvy colleagues through Rajasthan.
 

Ranjan was one of the smartest guys I knew, with an innate ability to persuade people that his was the correct view… never condescending, which so often is the purview of really bright folk. Under a laid-back demeanour, he harboured a passionate zeal for what he believed was right. He loved, and I mean loved, to argue and hated to lose an argument. Logic might sometimes slow him down, but he inevitably found a way to circumvent it! He had a dry, even impish, sense of humour and we spent many an hour happily zinging each other. He used, back then, to enjoy playing squash… I think mainly to persuade himself that despite his chain smoking, he could! He finally decided, and one has to really decide, to quit smoking. Over the years I’ve ‘smuggled’ cartons of cigarettes for many people, but Ranjan was the only one to ever ask me to ‘smuggle’ Nicorettes… he didn’t seem to grasp the concept that Nicorettes were a conduit to morph you off cigarettes, not become a replacement!
 

Ranjan was irreverent, scared of nobody… well, maybe Jimi at times. Fiercely proud. Proud of his heritage, proud and protective of his family, loyal to friends, Ranjan revelled in being a mentor. He was intellectually honest, and, in turn, abhorred evasiveness; he couldn’t stand phonies. He was, like many talented people, understated and unassuming, seeing no need to boast of his painting, sculpting or poetry writing. Remarkable guy, and more importantly, a cherished friend. David Ogilvy, who was himself passionate about India, said Ogilvy & Mather should aspire to hire “Gentlemen with brains”… Ranjan was the absolute personification of that.
 

‘MY EARLIEST LESSONS ON AGENCY LIFE CAME FROM RANJAN KAPUR’

Sam Balsara, Chairman & Managing Director, Madison World, recalls fond memories of Ranjan Kapur, and inspiring meetings that probably paved the way for his advertising career

I got to know Ranjan way back in 1975, when I was a Brand Manager in Cadbury on Bournvita and Ogilvy, then called Ogilvy Benson & Mather (OBM), was the agency of Bournvita. We had a fixed routine then. Agency meetings were on Wednesday mornings at about 10.30 am. Ranjan would come in to Cadbury House along with his team members, having finished the agency meeting at RHL at Tiecicon House. He would walk in, holding four 20’s cigarette packs between his thumb and index finger, and we would walk up to the lounge on the first floor, where the agency meetings would be conducted in an informal atmosphere, with all of us sitting on sofas all around. The lounge was the only place in Cadbury where smoking was allowed. Those meetings with Ranjan were invigorating and exciting, and possibly paved the way for my advertising career, because after Cadbury, I moved on to Contract.
 

Even before Cadbury, my little brush with him was possibly in 1973-74, when I was in Sarabhai’s HPMA as Brand Manager on Detcake and Sarabhai’s was also the sales and distribution arm for Beecham’s, whose account was handled by OBM. One fine day, there was a major presentation lined up for the sales team because Mcleans toothpaste was being relaunched in a mega way and although we had nothing to do with it, we were asked to join in to see if we could learn something about how to relaunch a brand. That was my earliest lesson, not just on how to relaunch a brand, but how to make an exciting and engaging agency presentation, which of course Ranjan made. His childlike enthusiasm and supreme confidence that the campaign and brand were going to be very successful was infectious. Incidentally, Mclean was making a valiant effort at restaging, taking help of the then superstar Rajesh Khanna.

I then lost contact with Ranjan when he was making career moves in Ogilvy in different parts of the world. When he returned to India with fresh ideas and enthusiasm to take Ogilvy places, I remember he fell foul of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) for making a public comment that Ogilvy would offer its services on an a la carte basis for those clients who wanted it, rather than the conventional full service offering. Undaunted, he pursued his beliefs, and we all know with what great results.
 

When it came to choosing his successor, he again did the unthinkable of choosing a creative person to lead Ogilvy, which was not done in those days. What he did then, has now become virtually a norm in the industry. His choice of successor was indeed bang on. It is vindicated by our dear Piyush (Pandey) going on to win this year the prestigious Lion of St. Mark award at Cannes, which is reserved for the rarest of rare.
 

In later years, Ranjan and I kept in touch on industry issues and also because of a good common friend in Roger Winter, who was Ranjan’s colleague at Ogilvy in many parts of the world. We met whenever Roger and Paula were in Mumbai.
 

In recent years, I served along with Ranjan on the Marico Innovation Board, and it was always a pleasure to see him come up with innovative ideas on promoting the Marico Foundation.
 

It’s almost as if Ranjan had an inkling about what was to come, because just two weeks ago, we had a lovely brunch party at his house, where he had invited many friends and industry colleagues. And we were so looking forward to having Jimi and him at our house for dinner on February 1. But, as they say, Man proposes and God disposes.
 

I salute Ranjan Kanpur. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

“Ranjan Kapur was a very strong pillar of support to all of us at WPP and a friend, philosopher and guide to our entire industry. We will miss him dearly. He made a huge contribution to our industry with his outstanding leadership and always added a very warm personal touch to whatever he did. He was an institution by himself, keeping abreast of all the latest developments with child-like enthusiasm. Every interaction with him was very enriching. This is a very big loss for all of us.”

 

CVL SRINIVAS

Country Manager, WPP and CEO, GroupM, South Asia

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