I think it was mid Aug 2011 when I got a call from Alok’s office to meet him. That was the first time I stepped into 8 Balaji estate, McCann Delhi office. Little did I know how life will change post that meeting.
Alok was building his team, a team that could take Delhi McCann to newer heights than ever. I was excited, at least in the way he took me through his vision of what he wanted that place to be.
I noticed on my way out a framed poster outside his office which was actually a quote by BONO of U2 and it read “The hardest thing to do is to stick together, mates, family, marriage, business, bands. It’s like resisting gravity…it’s like King Canute sitting on his chair trying to talk back the tide…but you can, and we have, and we will turn the waves around…the alternative is too predictable…you rid the room of argument…you empty your life of people you need most.”
That stayed with me and gave me a perspective of the man I had just met.
Alok never took a holiday, unless he was unwell. When we were late, we got reminders from Alok. "It’s 10:45am, I was here and you were not" was something I got very used to seeing. He believed that if we couldn’t manage ourselves, we were unfit to manage people and teams.
Alok’s rigour and work ethic started reaping dividends. We never stopped pitching and we never stopped winning.
So the resurgence of McCann Delhi under Alok was more than expected. I remember us pitching for one of India’s biggest Govt businesses. I made 15 drafts of the proposal and each one was rejected till he was satisfied with the one that would win us the business. It took me 4 nights to complete a 272 pager document and he went through each one of them. I was deeply moved with the rigour that he had for any new business. We won that…and many more and each time it was the same process…over and over again.
We had our share of arguments but it was Alok who usually won, not because he was the boss but because he was always right. He didn’t preach micromanagement and believed that hiring the right team was 90% of the solution. I can still hear him say “you are too emotional to be a leader”. Little does he realize that he’s the more emotional one, sensitive one.
When we made mistakes, he pointed them out and expected us to get it. He believed that we were mature enough to learn from our mistakes unlike others who never let you forget your mistakes and reminded you of them whenever they got the chance to.
He has the uncanny ability to identify problems or issues even before they arise---almost like a sixth sense…and that’s when he would silently swing into action and work in the background, making sure they didn’t creep up suddenly on to us. He can’t stand loosing or coming second and that’s what he imbibed in all of us. For him Advertising is like a game that you play and loosing is not an option.
And he’s not all work and no play…I remember countless times when he would be walking the corridors of McCann Delhi and chatting and joking with the juniors, sometimes even playing pranks on them. He would suddenly appear outside our cabins and announce that he was taking us out for no reason at all. And those evenings in his favourite haunt the - Golf Club, he, with his very Brit humour would be pulling our leg. He would tell us advertising stories (and – he had loads to tell) and we would crack up till tears swelled our eyes.
He is surely a master in identifying leaders. He’s a perfectionist and a people’s manager, which is rare today. Alok taught us never to quit. And that’s probably because he himself doesn’t know what it is like to quit. Working with Alok is never easy, but it’s the best that happened to some of us who still believe in advertising and what it should do to brands and consumers.
And just when I had finished writing this I saw a piece that appeared on his Facebook wall…I have picked it up and pasted it below, for that’s who he is.