Be Fearless and Go Live Your Dream – Sanjay Thapar, IIM Lucknow Alumnus and CEO – Lifestyles – India Today

This is the third story in our Career Perspectives Series. The idea is to provide a perspective on careers through interviews with really illustrious alumni from top B schools. We will be interviewing alumni from different walks of life – entrepreneurs, business leaders, social leaders, and artists. We started with Suhas Misra – IIM Calcutta alumnus and Co-Founder of Hector Beverages. Then it was Kamlesh Varshney – IIM Lucknow Alumnus and Commissioner of Tax, Government of India who gave us a perspective on career choices in civil services.

This story is about a business leader – Sanjay Thapar – IIM Lucknow Alumnus, batch of 1987. In a long and illustrious career, he started with Bata in the wholesale department, and then worked at RAMMS India – an advertising agency which was a start up then. He then joined Ogilvy and Mather – turned around their Calcutta operations after two decades of losses. He was member of the India board of Ogilvy and Mather before working as CEO at Bates India. He is now CEO of the Lifestyles business at India Today. Over to Sanjay Thapar.

How did your experience at your first job (Bata India) help you in subsequent roles?

All first jobs are special for two reasons. First your expectation and excitement levels run at an all time high and second, it’s the place your learning curve starts to take off. My case was no different and my learning here have always held me in good stead.

I learnt the art of being grounded to reality. Appreciation of every part of the supply and sales chain. The value of diversity in the team and the general mechanics of the business trade, thanks to my first stint being in the wholesale department.

After having worked in a large organization like Bata, how did you adjust to working in an unstructured environment (RAMMS India)?

As long as you want to learn and grow, nothing is too difficult to adjust. You adapt yourself to make the most of what you have, learn a different style of managing things and keep learning and growing. The big thing however, was the skills this taught me. Managing with less, dealing with multiple things at the same time and living/performing multiple roles. This was then, today it seems to be norm and buzz word.

Does advertising in India suffer from a perception problem? Why are jobs in marketing better paid than jobs in advertising?

Advertising is a business of reputation and perception management, whether it suffers or not is dependent on who is acquiring the services and what value do they see. It surely is an important part of the marketing mix and is one key factor in helping Brands manage their image and perception, so really wonder where the question is coming from.

Why marketing pays higher/lower, is not an issue on perception, rather the revenue/business model and the affordability as a result. The business has changed from commission to fee and that does bring its own pressure on the compensation system.

How do you see advertising evolve in India? 

Advertising will continue to be creatively dominated and help manage perceptions and image building, however, the medium and model of engaging and communicating with the consumers will undergo a change. It will be more digital, experiential and conversational in nature.

What were the greatest challenges you overcame, and what was the most enjoyable part of your experience during your stint at Ogilvy & Mather?

I enjoyed every single job and the part I played in helping build and grow some part of my organisation, so penning down which was more enjoyable is tough. However, the learning in some cases were priceless. To that extent, the turnaround of the Kolkata operations was special for a couple of reasons –

1.  It came after 2 decades of losses, in a tough market

2.  It gave me the confidence to take on any challenge at a later date

Set the base of understanding the value or team work and that if you think long-term while balancing the short-term, but stick to a plan, no matter what the circumstances/pressures, it will work.

What do you think is the future of the publishing industry in India and the world? 

I am less than 4 months old in  this business and learning to walk, so please don’t ask me to run. It would be too arrogant of me to even attempt and answer, so early into the industry.

How do you think technology will impact the advertising industry? What can ad agencies do to adapt to a world that is increasingly controlled by Google and Facebook?

Technology helps if you want it too and embrace it. At the same time, it can paralyse you if you don’t know how to harness the potential. Right now everyone is learning to play their part in the new world, but it’s important to understand that the power and control is in the hands of the consumer and not in the companies or brands. The more they understand and let go, the more they will control the environment and benefit their brands.

How did the MBA help you in your career?

MBA is like the foundation for any construction. If that is weak, nothing can stand for long. If that is strong, you can build as tall a structure as you want. You are then only limited with your ability to think or dream. For me my parental guidance was the first one, school and collage the next and the every one of them got cemented together with my MBA and I will ever be grateful to every one who has taught me, which is why I am writing this note. Hopefully I can pass on something of what I have learnt and help others, just the way I have and am helped even till today.

What is your message to MBA graduates who are about to begin their jobs this season? What is your message to those who are interested in entrepreneurship?

The message is the same to all. Be fearless. Go live your dream. Plan a route ahead, but be open to things and paths that show up, or else you may miss out the little joys that life has in store. Most importantly, take life as it comes along and in a stride. Embrace challenges and opportunities with equal ease. Challenges and mistakes give you invaluable lessons so that you can make the most opportunities that come by later.

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We are extremely thankful to Sanjay Thapar for sparing his valuable time and giving us insightful responses to all the questions.

– Team InsideIIM

Read all stories in the Career Perspectives Series here.

Read the first story in Career Perspectives – Interview with Suhas Misra, – IIM C Alumnus and co-founder, Hector Beverages here.

Read the second story in Career Perspectives – Interview with Kamlesh Varshney, – IIM L Alumnus, Commissioner of Income Tax, Government of India

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