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People like these…

Last couple of weeks have stirred deep emotions amongst many of us from Ogilvy India. Two unrelated events, but yet connected.

The first was when we felt that due credit was not given to a piece of work done by one of the greatest copywriters of our times, Suresh Mullick. (read my post on this under ‘whose copyright is it any way).

And yesterday the former CEO, SR Ayer passed away in Chennai.

The outpourings of emotion have been huge and the Facebook pages to these two reveal just a small portion of the private feelings we have.

And that got me to think a bit about these two individuals.

Let me start with SR (Mani) Ayer first. He was the classic, feared CEO. Stern face, strident voice and ‘rubbish’ was one of his favourite words. Being called to see him was a traumatic experience.

That was the one side.

On the other was a man of supreme intelligence. He seemingly knew about every subject under the sun, including your client’s business and what you did on the account. While we were a national agency and had 5 offices, a copy of the minutes of every meeting anywhere in India went to him. And he read it. I have got notes back asking specifically about projects that I’d hoped were sufficiently buried in many other words.

He personally conducted an annual “Account Management Strategy’ workshop outside Mumbai. It was the most valued workshop we ever had. People fought to get on that list of invitees. (I never made it!!). Ogilvy was known for its training programs and people joined just to learn. And they never left.

His ability to dissect a problem and get to the core of the issue were legendary. No problem seemingly took him more than a few minutes to solve and you left the room shaking your head!

He saw the potential in people. He hired and supported people who would be giants. Ask Sridhar, Piyush,  Vijay Bhat, Sanjeev Lamba amongst the many many others for starters

He was a no non sense leader.

And a wonderful human being. The contradictions of Mr Ayer.

He genuinely cared for us. You just need to read the facebook  posts or talk to anyone who was there at that time and you’d hear stories of his quiet attention to his people. Be it Muthu the office ‘peon’ to a Vice President (which used to mean something in those days!) we all felt his watching eyes and supporting hand.

At the other end of the spectrum, in some senses, was Suresh Mullick.

Mr Ayer and Suresh were the yin and yang of the agency.

Suresh was the fun guy!. He’d enter the office at around 10 whistling or singing a tune that was buzzing in his head at that time. He’d walk around the entire agency cracking one liners.

He loved to tease the media folks! Roda was his ‘favorite’ person.

When I first saw him in March of 1988, walking by peering through his thick glasses , walking with a slight shuffle and singing a song, I thought he had lost his way in the agency! And then slowly I was exposed to his genius. The talent to write, the talent to listen, the talent to inspire.

The talent to relate to people.

Everyone called him Suresh. He had the air of a naughty child and you always expected him to disrupt an extremely serious meeting with a joke or a sarcastic response to something someone said. And he often did, to Mr Ayer’s angst!!

All that hid a very serious and sharp brain.

He did a ton of great creative work but the ones that I will always remember are the Titan campaigns.

India had not seen work like that. Delicious watches to the use of Mozart’s 25th symphony that even today is hummed in many a household.

And of course the Mera Bharat Mahan..Mile sur mera tumhara film. Another pioneering film in Indian television. Using a rapidly growing medium like TV, integrating  it with a remixed version of the national anthem and the use of celebrities created such a national sensation.

None of this affected Suresh in the least. He was over it and on to the next brief or the next project.

Mr Ayer and Suresh the unlikeliest of partners, but the greatest of friends. Mr Ayer saved Suresh from the misery of running an office and made him one of the finest creative directors the country ever saw.

They were united in their love for gin and tonic! In the afternoon they would sneak off to the Ritz for their GnT lunches. Not long drawn affairs. 90 minutes. And if you were spotted along the way, you were invited too. It was not a very hierarchical place you see. After the first few minutes of tongue tiedness you were part of whatever conversation they were having!

And the jokes. They loved telling jokes. At a party, the same Mr Ayer you tried to hide from in the office, lest he asked you about that project you were working on, was the centre of a lively conversation about crazy stories.

His favourite was ‘my ding a ling’!!! And at every occasion he’d be asked to recite it and we’d all join in.

Mr Ayer. Suresh.

These were not office managers or agency heads.

They were great leaders. And even greater people.

People we admired, respected, cherished and loved.

People like these…

We are the poorer. I certainly am.

God bless them.


  1. February 9, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Superb post, Harish!

  2. Sippy
    February 9, 2010 at 3:40 am

    Thanks for writing this. Brought back many memories.

  3. Vaishakhi
    February 9, 2010 at 4:39 am

    Great post. I think we all realise that we are truly blessed to have been in the presence of these two giants! Like Anil said, forget they don’t make them like that anymore!

  4. Shirty
    February 9, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Harish: This makes wonderful reading. Thank you .
    Not having worked with either of them directly is indeed my loss. But perhaps that was their ‘success’ too – what they believed and how they behaved was imbibed and internalized by all under their aegis- that it was cascaded right down the organization across the offices, across Managers , across the years. And always , to me , it seemed like I learnt it first -hand from them .

  5. adip
    February 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm


    brings back apeejay memories
    and the supervisors room
    and our early morning coffees
    and SRA
    and the “i say’
    and ….

  6. Milind Vartak
    February 10, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Super Piece Harish!

  1. January 2, 2011 at 12:28 pm

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