I may have learnt more from Geetanjali than she did from me.
Geetanjali (then Chhabria) was the first student to have qualified to join the learn-by-earning program I started in 1991, then called Univads. She changed my life. As I am sure she has changed many other lives after mine, in an illustrious, unconventional career in advertising.
That career started when she walked into the offices of Ronnie Screwvala’s Unilazer Group. Which housed UTV and many other companies Ronnie had parented. Yes, Univads was part of that group at that time. Geetanjali breezed through the entrance test, that I had devised, that many others, before her, had failed.
You see, I was sure that I would train just a handful of people, when I started Univads, on the principle that lectures and theory doesn’t really amount to an education: learning by doing does. I wanted to work with the very best. So I created a test that I knew I would have failed. It did not ask a single question about advertising but made the candidate go through a series of exercises, over a week, which I would not have been able to complete successfully when I was 21. I had learned a thing or two from my stint at Ogilvy & Mather. Hire people who are better than you.
Geetanjali saw me before the week was up. All challenges done and dusted. Then, for the rest of the year, she tackled every problem I could throw at her and invented new ways to successfully tackle those challenges. Without seeming to bat an eyelid.
She taught me how consumer research reports could be completed with a perfectly valid statistical sample, within 24 hours. (Yes, I back-checked on the interviews). She invented ways to sell books, restaurants, exercising equipment, ice cream... in ways that I had never imagined. No challenge seemed to be a problem for her. She would simply change the way that those problems were conventionally solved. And her attitude would always be: “What’s so great about that? I just used common sense.” Little did she know how rare that is in today’s world.
Geetanjali is also the reason why Univads changed to become Univbrands. She, and the others who joined the one-year learn-by-earning program showed me that the income they were generating was not coming directly from conventional advertising but other ways to generate positive word-of-mouth, and thus revenues, for the brands they handled.
But what tipped the scale was when I realized that the learn-by-doing training school I was running had a systemic flaw. It did not take into account the caste system that business in India accepts as a natural way to work. I realized this, thanks to Geetanjali.
After her Univads course was over, Geetanjali was easy to place in an advertising agency. Because she was very good at her work. A few years later, she rose to becoming an Account Supervisor, by dint of her unusual problem solving abilities and her leadership qualities. But she was getting a lower remuneration than an MBA who had the same designation. So she solved that problem as well. By getting herself the necessary qualification.
Univads changed to Univbrands and started concentrating on showing those with MBA degrees how to acquire the Geetanjali skills. Creative problem solving that was practical and used common sense.
Geetanjali finally moved on to Spatial Access. Where she invented new lines of revenue and rose to becoming the CEO. Changing the way that the advertising industry audited their own work.
Now she’s ready for another change. Why do I know she will succeed? Because I have never seen her fail in any of life’s challenges.