Picture the swag of the popular soap Opera ‘Mad Men’. In America the glory days of advertising were the swinging 60s and 70s. In India it happened a little later, in the late 80s and 90s.
I was fortunate enough to join the business in 1994 when advertising was still considered ‘glamorous’ and ‘cool’. And people like Dhunji were the reason that the profession had such an aura.
Dhunji Wadia, one of the first CSDs and Vice-Presidents (yes, those days the designation genuinely meant something and there were only 2 reporting to Anil Bhatia, our beloved CEO) at Hindustan Thomson Associates that I worked with, reminded me distinctly of the Mad Men era. He had so much knowledge about the client’s business that sometimes clients (I distinctly remember a Hindustan Lever executive asking him market data numbers) used to ask him for his validation on the brands number in the marketplace as the final authority. Respect from the clients was but a natural derivative of his thorough professional skills.
And this work excellence was the reason why Dhunji could walk in with so much swag into any client meeting.
I still remember getting to know him on my first day at HTA, now JWT. At around lunchtime I was introduced to a classic advertising lunchtime tradition. Playing carrom for half an hour before returning to the grind. And amidst all the grubbily dressed creative fellows walked in a man, very nonchalantly, wearing a crisp shirt and matching trousers with impeccable taste, and he stood there observing the game. In hindsight I realized that one of the senior creative guys got up from his spot to offer this gentleman his seat at the board. Not too obvious then, but clearer now. As adept as he was playing carrom with the juniors in office, he was equally at ease, half an hour later, playing the leader role in a briefing session. Even answering any small questions, raised by the inexperienced yours truly on my first day, very patiently.
Never have I seen Dhunji ruffled in a crisis. He had the unique ability to come in the foreground when a crisis hit the agency thus shielding all his juniors, be it servicing or creative. And then receding into the background when the time came for credits, thus making each of us feel like winners.
Take a look at Everest communications, where he has revived the fortunes of the place by first building a people culture which attracted the right talent. Then how he maintained and curated a loyal band of people who have now even carried over to Rediffusion, and are changing the tide there as well. It’s a testament to his people skills and leadership.
Dhunji is a classic people’s man and a great leader. He will always motivate you to perform at your best and then push your own limits to deliver even further. And is advertising not a people’s profession? Which is what makes Dhunji Wadia the guy who is carrying the advertising Swag into the 21st century.
And one more thing, never have I seen Dhunji not smiling.