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My job is to make sure that a great idea goes around: Ashish Bhasin

Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) has grown into a complex organisation with an intricate web of group companies. Recently, DAN rejigged the senior leadership in its group companies and also streamlined the operations across the network to bring in efficiency. 

It started with the promotion of Ashish Bhasin to the expanded role of CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Greater South and Chairman and CEO of India. Bhasin has always believed in investing in top leadership and strategic business changes, Dentsu India has been steadily walking up a robust growth trajectory to chart its next phase of growth. Consequently, to further perpetuate this progress, Anand Bhadkamkar, CFO, Dentsu Aegis Network – South Asia, has been given the additional charge of Chief Operating Officer India. Bhadkamkar is now also responsible for driving operational excellence in business and oversee support functions, including HR and IT, in India. He continues to report to Bhasin. 

Dentsu India, DAN’s holistic brand solutions agency, has roped in Malvika Mehra, erstwhile Founder and Creative Director of Tomorrow Creative Lab, as Chief Creative Officer. The agency has also brought in enhancement in its creative structure, with Agnello Dias, Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder Taproot Dentsu, now taking on the additional responsibility of Creative Chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network India. In his new role, Dias will now also guide and mentor the creative output of all DAN India companies even as he continues his services with Taproot Dentsu. 

Adgully spoke to Ashish Bhasin and Anand Bhadkamkar on their new roles, the enhanced network structure and their vision for 2020. 

On the senior management 

Our senior management team has been exactly the same for the last 11 years. We had to scale up. We came late into this business. We were 90 years late, compared to our competitors. The No. 1 and No. 2 positions hadn’t changed in India for the past 90 years. WPP through HTA and IPG through Lintas have been No. 1 and No. 2 through 1929 and 1938. I came in 2008 and we had nothing. We had 40-50 people and today we have grown to 3,700 people. 

Scaling up is doable in two ways – one is organic growth by launching businesses like Posterscope, Isobar, etc. The other way is inorganic growth, which helps in two ways: one is that it helps you scale up and the other is that it brings fresh talent into your company and fills a capability you don’t have. 

On Vision 2020 

I have an advantage because I was doing this job about 4-5 years ago for Aegis, when I was running lead. Before the Dentsu Aegis merger happened, I was looking at South and South East Asia and knew the markets well. Even in the new system, India will definitely be the most important market in terms of sheer size and scale of our business. But we have some very large markets like Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. I don’t believe an idea has to be invented in one place. If you have a great idea or business learning, and my job is to make sure that it goes around. 

I also feel that Indian talent in brilliant. With 32 years of experience in this business and a lot of it in the APAC region and globally, I can say that our Indian managers are equal to or even better than any other set of managers. Additionally, you don’t need for knowledge to come to you. Earlier, the thinking was that somebody in the West will invent something and then 5 years later it will come here and we’ll adapt it. 

At Data Labs, we have invented tools that are being exported to 32 markets, all going out of India. It doesn’t matter where the idea or talent is, my job is to move it around. 

We have to generate an equally large pool of competent manager in any market. A solution doesn’t always lie in bringing someone else from a different market. While that does open up an opportunity, it doesn’t mean I’m going to take all my great talent pool from here and put it in another country. 

On Agnello Dias’ enhanced role 

Aggi is a rare and unique talent. Taproot Dentsu is one of the biggest success stories. Aggi and my belief is that going forward, creative does not have to be the purview of only what we call the ‘creative agencies’. Any part of our business needs great creative ideas. Aggi is one guy who has this immense capability of mentoring. He can really spot and grow talent. 50 per cent of his time will be spent on Taproot, but in the other 50 per cent if he can help the other creative guys in all the other parts of the business with solutions, ideas and spot great talent and bring them in, then that would really help the group. 

We now feel that we are best positioned among all our competitors because of our one P&L and how we are able to bring every part of the business together. I am very clear that if my client is spending Rs 100 on marketing communication services and not just ‘advertising’, then I must get the maximum share of that wallet. If I don’t have the service to provide him, then I must buy it or grow it. But I don’t like my client’s money going anywhere else. 

Therefore, if we are to do that, then we have to integrate ourselves and make sure the entire network’s capability rises. Right now we are in the best position because nearly half of our revenue (46 per cent) is coming from digital. 

The best talent in the business is rightly housed under Dentsu Aegis Network, because great talent does not want to work in a narrow silo. They want to have the opportunity to learn digital and come up with whatever solution the brand might need. Great creative talent cannot be optimally utilised when you separate creative from media and digital. The best place for talent today is Dentsu Aegis Network. 

Because we are growing so fast, we are hiring 1,100-1,500 people a year and want to make sure that the people coming in are the best in the market. If they are good, they must be in my group. 

On Anand Bhadkamkar enhanced role 

Anand is a rare talent. He is one of the finest financial minds in this business. I know him from my Lintas days and he is in a sense part of the founding team. Over a period of time, he started playing a role bigger than just finance. 

We have a very complex organisation; no other agency has this kind of unique management scale. In our case, everything apexes into one P&L, of which I am the CEO and he was the CFO, until recently. That is layered by the fact that we have been very aggressive with our acquisitions. We’ve done 12-14 acquisitions in the last 3-4 years and we are now geographically present in 13-14 cities in India and Sri Lanka. 

The operation is very complex and if I’m going to do the larger job, somebody needs to manage the operations. While I am the CEO and Chairman of the company and will look at client facing or other larger issues, managing the operations of this entity of 4,000 people is not easy. That’s where Anand has slipped into the role and, for me, was a very obvious choice. 

On consolidation 

While our operations and policies are all uniform, the businesses are completely independent and often compete with one another. The client facing part, skill sets and domain knowledge are separate. 

Creative & digital are not in conflict with each other: Anand Bhadkamkar 

Right now, it is all about getting our operations together because we have grown since 2008 till now from 68 employees to 3,700. Earlier, all of our brands were working separately, now we have got them together. Now, it is a common team that works in the same direction. The focus and challenge at the same time is to make this operation a well-oiled machine. DAN will be creative led, data driven and tech enabled. Creative is my client facing side. The part about data driven and tech enabled is the operations efficiency part that I would be focusing on. 

On creative Vs data 

Creative would not take a back seat. The communications business is changing so drastically that digital is on its own taking the front seat. I need ideas to go to the market. You need to change the way you think when you are looking at the digital medium. The creative guy has to start thinking about what works for digital. We are well placed in those efforts because out of the 3,700 guys Ashish mentioned, about 1,700+ are digital guys. 

This will take some time because India is a different market than the US, and television and print are still growing here. We are getting our creative business to get the digital awareness. By 2020, we have a vision to go 100 per cent digital. This doesn’t mean that the business would go 100 per cent digital, but rather the way we operate would be digital. That’s our third pillar of growth. Thus, creative and digital are not in conflict with each other, but rather complement each other. 

On boutique agencies 

I don’t think they would fade away mostly because of the way digital agencies are coming up. Boutique agencies bring a certain charm and clients are taking certain things in-house. When there is repetitive part of a business that can be done through data, maybe clients would like to do that in-house. Some of those businesses may go to boutique agencies. The needs are so varied that you do need specialised agencies time and again.

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