I’ve built a large number of very, very competent leaders: Ashish Bhasin

Ashish Bhasin, CEO - APAC and Chairman India, dentsu international, has retired from the group after a tenure of a little over 13 and a half years, and November 12, 2021 was his last day with the group.

Serving his gardening notice period, Bhasin will soon be headed to Harvard for the next semester of the Advanced Management Program.

In a statement issued, dentsu said that it was in the final stages of its search and appointment of a new CEO in India, and that a successor to Bhasin will be announced in due course. For most part of this year, dentsu India has been in the news for several senior level exits from the agency.

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Ashish Bhasin retires from dentsu international, headed to Harvard

Adgully spoke to Ashish Bhasin on his decision to seek early retirement at dentsu, taking up his studies again, his tenure at dentsu and growing the business and a lot more. Bhasin, however, declined to speak about his future plans at this stage as he is still serving his notice period.

On a quiet Friday afternoon, you managed to give quite a jolt to the industry! For how long have you been planning your move?

I’ve had a tremendous career in advertising and I think it will be a great way to end it with adding some more learning to myself. I am done with my executive responsibilities from today (November 12, 2021) and I have handed over charge. But obviously I’ll have to serve my gardening leave, so I am on gardening leave right now. I am done with the transition.

The Advanced Management Program is something that I’d always wanted to do. I’d always wanted to go to Harvard and study there. I did get my admission earlier also, but I had to give that up because at the same time I got my posting to take over as CEO of Asia Pacific, for which I needed to move to Singapore, so I was not able to do that and had to decline the admission for that semester. Now again I got my admission for next year and I still have a notice period to serve and at the end of it I’m going to be 57 and a half years of age, I just feel that if I don’t do it now I’ll never do it – it’s one of those things and that’s how it happened. Thus, it’s been at the back of my mind for some time, but getting this admission helped me make up my mind and clear my thoughts and that’s how it led up to it.

You have such tremendous industry experience that you can teach a thing or three about management to businesses, so, why enrol for the Advanced Management Program at Harvard? When are you joining the program?

(Laughs) Like I said earlier, it’s something I’d always wanted to do. About two years ago I had decided to do this program, but at that time I got my posting to Singapore, where I had to take over the region, so I had to decline that opportunity and I just thought that if I don’t do it now, it will probably be too late – by the time I finish my notice period I’ll be 57 and a half years of age. I probably left it too late already, but it’s something I’d wanted to do.

The program’s duration is of three-and-a-half months to four months.Some of it is online and some of it is on campus. The program starts some time in March 2022, I don’t know the exact date. On campus, it is around the month of April. I have obtained the admission, but I still have to work out a lot of details and there’s a lot to do, so I'm on my way.

How does the Harvard program fit into your future plans?

I will not talk about my future plans at this stage because I’m still on my notice period, so it’s not going to be fair, but as of now my focus is going to be to make sure I settle things well. In case wherever the team needs anything from me, I will be very happy to provide that.

Also, my focus is equally on preparing for this course at Harvard, because I’m just not used to studying! So, I’ll have to do all of that. You get unused to studying.

Could you tell us about your tenure at dentsu, which has been very eventful?

I joined dentsu in June 2008, which, at that time, was Aegis Media, and there were hardly any people, maybe 40-50 people. Over a period of next 6-8 years, the company really grew very well. When I left India, we had a strength of around 3,000-3,500 people and dentsu became one of the best and largest groups, and it still is in this industry.

While I was doing that, I was also looking after Southeast Asia, which was then Co-ordinator South, so I was doing South and Southeast Asia. Then I got an opportunity in September 2019 to take over as CEO of APAC, which involved my having to move to Singapore, because that responsibility cannot be handled here, which I did in October 2019, and that’s a responsibility I am holding until today, which is my last day.

You have spent over three decades in this industry, how do you look back at your successful career?

I look back with a lot of gratitude. I think, whatever I’ve achieved in life, I’ve got from this industry. The most amazing thing about this industry, particularly in India, are its people. I have made some of the best friends in this industry, and they are friends for life. The funny thing is that some of my best friends were always in my competitive agencies. When we compete business wise, we compete with each other, but when we look at industry issues,we’re all in it together. I think the people that we meet in this industry are phenomenal, and I have a lot of gratitude and debt to the advertising and marketing industry. That’s all I've done for more than 33-34 years and I have learnt a lot. I can only thank the industry and if I can contribute in any way, even going forward, I will be only too delighted to do so.

What would you consider to be your most valuable contribution to this industry?

I don’t know, that’s for the industry to judge and ask at the end of the innings as to what it would be. It would be very egoistic of me to say that this is the most valuable contribution, but the one thing I’ve really prided myself in is that I think I’ve built a large number of very, very competent leaders, many of whom are CEOs of many companies. I think a leader’s job is to grow more leaders and I feel very gratified and satisfied that hundreds of leaders that I have built today are really in top notch positions and are leading the industry in many ways, several of the CEOs of holding companies, agencies, groups have all been my colleagues in the past, and that is one thing I really feel very happy about.

(Additional inputs by Nehal Shukla.)


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