Shiven Surendranath

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Shiven Surendranath
A Boss You Can Bet On

Dear Shiven,
a note from one of the dark horses you once bet on.


It’s a great time to write this piece, because Contract just celebrated its 30th anniversary.

Besides many things at Contract, I found the best boss ever: Shiven Surendernath.

In those days, Contract was the hottest place in town. We did many things that wouldn’t be allowed these days. But I was part of a group, along with most of today’s agency heads.
So, obviously, we were right.

Shiven joined in late 90s to partner with V Sunil and become the boss of this renegade bunch. We behaved as if our bosses had to earn our respect instead of the other way round. But he was cool with it and played along. And that's why I love him the most.

I did an ad for ESPN, which I obviously thought was cool. When he saw it, he didn't agree.
He made some suggestions, with which I didn’t agree.

But what he did next remains etched in my memory.

He asked me to name the best writers in the country. I gave him some of the names – most of them were writers behind the famous Sports Week campaign. He said he knew all of them and could get their POV on the ad. How many bosses could you find like that? Today, I don’t remember the ad we were debating – speaks volumes about the quality of the idea.

And about the boss.

Note to self: A good leader doesn’t force his opinions down throats.

Cut to: I am in Mumbai.

I was working at PSL McCann with the legendary duo Ganga and Nalesh - I shall write about them one day. Their office was right behind Taj Colaba, the official residence of Shiven those days, who was shooting films for Coca Cola by the dozen.

Living on a show-string salary away from home, I learnt how to eat at five star restaurants.
Awed by the choice in front of me I didn’t exactly know where to start. Shiven’s advice? “Eat something you don’t get at home”. I had my first Eggs Benedict.

Note to self: Keep it simple. Be practical.

When Sirs Ganga and Nalesh jumped ship to start Chlorophyll, I wanted to get back home.
Soon, the breakfast meetings with Shiven became official. We were now discussing my joining him at McCann. However, one evening though, Shiven called to say, “Sorry friend, I quit”.

Cut to: Delhi.

I joined Enterprise Delhi after meeting the great Khan. (That’s another short story for another day probably.)

After just three months at the agency, I get a call from Shiven who was now at Leo Burnett.

We met at Radisson for lunch this time and he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He said the agency had a system and budget for awards. And he said he wanted “Sachin Tendulkar” to join his team. This was before I had won any award. The great gambler Shiven is, he was betting on me. The ego massage worked.

But at the agency, I made life tough for him. I made servicing folks literally cry. I used to want to win an award on every opportunity, even on Dabur Amla hair oil briefs.

But he fought for me. Stood by me till the end of my stint there.

Note to self: Back your players.

Once, I was given a brief and I didn’t have anything. In the morning, I told him as much. He didn't lose it at all. He took the pressure and the meeting.

Note to self: The captain trusts himself in crisis. Dhoni like.

When I became the head of an agency for the first time I went to Shiven and asked him to give me a few tips. He gave me one. I still remember it very clearly. “Your job as a creative director is to solve a client’s problem. How you solve it doesn’t matter. But you need to solve it.”

Note to self: Step into clients’ shoes.

I could write a more beautiful tribute, but you see I have few clients waiting for solutions.

Thank you shiven for backing me, betting on me. I shall try to prove you right.

Thank you Shiven.

My friend, rainmaker and guide. (He is everything but a philosopher). 

Founder & Creative Chairman
ITSA
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