The Guru Mantra of India’s leading ad & communications honchos

Guru - Shishya bond is one of the most precious and pure bonds. A true student doesn’t need a specific day to celebrate his Guru’s efforts and blessings, but Teacher’s Day is one such day to celebrate the greatness and blessings one’s guru. A guru need not only be one’s teacher from school or college, a guru can be anyone – from family to the work place to people we have come across at different stages in life.

On the occasion of Teacher’s Day this year, Adgully reached out to some industry veterans to know about their gurus and the important lessons in life that they learnt from their guru.

Also read: ‘Don’t let your teacher down’ – MTV says it out loud, this Teacher’s Day

Dr Sandeep Goyal, Chairman, Mogae Media:

“My guru and my mentor is Diwan Arun Nanda. I first met Mr Nanda in 1994. I didn’t know then who was more famous: his agency, Rediffusion, or he himself. He was already a legend of Indian advertising. The man who created all those awesome campaigns for Jenson & Nicholson, Garden Vareli, Red Eveready, Tata Tea and more. The man who supped with Rajiv Gandhi and dined with Ratan Tata as equals. He hired me to run his new business. Together, we won every single pitch we made for the next 7-8 years. Nanda taught me one very simple mantra, “It is always more difficult to say an honest “no” to a client instead of an easy “yes”. It means giving service instead of servility. Very often, the result is outstanding advertising.” These very words are also there in Y&R’s famous backbone ad that used to hang at the Rediffusion reception during my time. I think they wrote it for Mr Nanda.

I still remember a very troublesome and negative client at Pepsi Foods. She would give us grief every single day: malice without reason. It was a global Y&R client, so we suffered the insults and humiliation, till one day Mr Nanda got to know. He marched me to the Pepsi office and told the Country Head, “We are resigning your business. You have no respect for our talent”. What guts! What fearlessness!! What self-respect!!! When I started running my own agency, Dentsu, every time when in doubt, I would ask myself, what would Mr Nanda do in this situation. I never once took a wrong decision. Dr Sandeep Goyal was President of Rediffusion from 1997 to 2001; and Chairman Dentsu India from 2003 to 2011.”

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, 82.5 Communications:

“Piyush Pandey has been a guru not just to me, but to the entire Indian advertising industry. He took communication from the ivory tower to the homes of real people. So, of the many things I learned from him, ‘keeping it real’ would be one of the most important. Of course, many factors pull you in the opposite direction, so adhering to this path is not always easy. Precisely why it is critical for practitioners like me to make it our mantra.”

Sumanto Chattopadhyay with Piyush Pandey
Sumanto Chattopadhyay with Piyush Pandey


Divya Radhakrishnan Managing Director, Helios Media: 

Classified among one of the original AdGurus is my Guru too – Bharat Dabholkar !Starting off as a young rookie in an alien profession like advertising, I may have been one of the select few who reported directly to the President of the company in crashing deadlines to ensure timely display of the famous Amul Hoardings. Once he cracked the line he would call me to ensure that hoarding painters were on stand-by!! He was none of what a type-cast advertising professional was – Cool to be a tea-totaller, Cool to eat street-food, Cool to not abuse (Not even “Idiot”)  and overall – Captain Cool in demeanour More than learning the ropes of advertising, following Bharat as a Guru, helped me mould my personality to go through my professional life on my terms

Nikhil Dey, Vice Chair, Weber Shandwick India:

“I have learnt everything I know about PR from professionals in this field who have devoted their time and energy to sharing their knowledge. Some do this in a formal education setting by actually teaching a course or being part of a guest lecture series. Others teach on the job by investing the time to correct mistakes and create teachable moments. I am deeply grateful for so many who have been part of my professional learning journey. Today, more than ever, it is evident that learning is an everyday affair.

Nikhil Dey with his parents
Nikhil Dey with his parents

The need to reinvent, adapt, build new skills and find new ways to add value is what goes into a learner’s mindset. To sharpen the saw and stay at the cutting edge of one’s profession takes two hands to clap – one the teacher, the other the student. They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears. On Teacher’s Day, a great reminder of the need to have both mindsets. Be open to new learnings and at the same time share freely the knowledge you have. Join hands and the sound of that clap will carry far. Join hands in gratitude. My teachers whom I am most grateful to are my parents and my family. They give me the strength to do whatever I do. They give me the wings to fly and they are the nest that holds me when I need to rest.”

Ramanuj Shastry, Co-Founder and Director, Infectious Advertising: 

“I was already a year and a half old in Ogilvy and a cocky AF, when Bobby Pawar joined in ‘96. When I learnt that he was to be my boss, I thought to myself ‘Billi marna hai toh pehli raat hi maar do!” So, I went up to Bobby and said, “I don’t do brochures!” Slightly taken aback, Bobby asked, “Aisa kyun re, Baba?” I replied “I’ve done my share, Bobby... now I just wanna do TV and Print!” Quickly realising that my arrogance far exceeded my abilities, Bobby just nodded and kept quiet.

Ramanuj Shastry with Bobby Pawar
Ramanuj Shastry with Bobby Pawar

Chuffed at having made my point, I strutted back to my desk. Next morning, Bobby came up to my desk and tossed a dozen brochures on it with a curt “Read them!” And, boy, I read them. I read them all day. They were brochures for Taj Properties that Bobby had written during his time at Rediffusion – exquisitely crafted long copy that just blew my mind. I firmly believe I have been partial to Taj all my life because of those brochures. Towards the evening I went up to Bobby with the brochures and told him, “I will write as many brochures as you want as long as you teach me to write like this!” He grinned and nodded. It was an invaluable life lesson. You can’t call yourself a copywriter and believe any piece of communication is ‘beneath’ you. Thanks Bobby, my guru, for everything!”


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