In Conversation With Praveen Kenneth, Chairman, Co-Owner & MD, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi
Your story reads like a tale from Grimms.. So would you attribute this to brilliance, persistence, guts, hard work or plain luck…
It was not like I was a very bright child, growing up. I was a good kid exposed to all the good and bad of life. I made it a point to experience every thing, more out of curiosity, but never got stuck or addicted to anything. I was intelligent enough to realise where I drew the line. But I always lived my life to the fullest. I was always driven to reach for life .
When I started working at Ogilvy in 1990, I was yet to turn 19. I had no clue and zero Vision of where I was going . At Ogilvy my doors of possibilities opened. I saw I could be more. I have never shied away from risk, however scary it was. I started loving doing dangerous stuff. I have always gone after every thing that life gave me. I'm blessed because of that. And yes, I know to work bloody hard, how to bear insults, humiliations, denials, constant failures, lack of appreciation, being laughed at, smirked at. Actually that is the truth, my ability to get up, dust my self, laugh and start again. God's been good.
What was the turning point in your life?
When Sorab Mistry, hired me as Account Director in 1995, to run the CocaCola business for India/ South-East West Asia, I was 25 years old, working directly with him. What triggered that move was when Madukar Kamath of Mudra, sent me to London. I was working in Mudra then. That trip opened my eyes to the world and I wanted to play with the world. McCann and Coke made that possible .
Did you really need the ‘lineage and legacy’ of Saatchi & Saatchi’?
I realised much early in life and thankfully, that my life and my work was just not about me. We had built Law&Kenneth to a fabulous organisation with over 300 people, across 4 cities, and had some brilliant clients, all in a decade . People came to work because they belonged here. I was responsible for them and their secure future. This place had to be much more . Finding a global partner to carry my opportunity and ensure this happens, was but natural.
You were previously CEO at Publicis, then started Law & Kenneth. Then Publicis acquired majority shares of L&K. So what do you prefer- being big Boss who is answerable to himself or Big Boss answerable to the Publicis Gods above?
It's a mistaken notion that you are not answerable to any one when you are independent . Infact you are answerable to every one, it's worse, you need to learn to smile at every one. Starting from the Land lord, the Tea stall manager downstairs so that you can keep the credit rolling for a longer period of time. Then the BMC guys, the lawyers, the auditors, the Service Tax guys, then the Income Tax guys, the local Ganapathi and Durga Pooja mandals. The bankers for a line of credit, the evaluators for restructuring your cash flow. The stationery guys, the film production guys , the lift man and a hundred more.
I wanted a partner who would best understand where we are and where we want to go, and Publicis Groupe and Saatchi fit the bill well. We are clearly partners in this relationship, and I would not have it any other way. We both are answerable to each other at various times to ensure we continue to constructively grow and keep the good work going at Law&Kenneth | Saatchi&Saatchi.
All my partnerships are built on mutual trusts and strong relationships. It's simple.
The culture of L&K has been entrepreneurial… the clients were also Indian entrepreneurs… with Saatchi & Saatchi is the culture affected?
We continue to remain entrepreneurial and have infused all the energy that made L&K successful into the partnership. And the results are for all to see. Our growth continues to be aggressive.
Saatchi in India was always riddled with issues.. so is the Saatchi & Saatchi in the L& K Saatchi & Saatchi a springboard or a weight pulling you down?
I have never wasted my time dwelling on the past. We take what is on the table and do our best to energise and strengthen things. That's exactly what we have done over the last 2 years. The magic remains. The partnership has been a happy one and a very successful one.
Talk to us about the culture of L&K S&S, what do you do to keep everyone ticking?
We love to win. And we love to make the impossible, possible. That keeps the energy up and life worth living. We love adventure, and we are blessed to be able to live that life.