Arvind Sharma

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I worked with Arvind for eight years at Leo Burnett - fortunately for me, his mentoring and his advice has continued to guide me beyond. Arvind is my guru. And I know it was not just me. To my mind, he mentored and coached an entire ‘generation-next’ of leaders for the branding, marketing and communication industry, who blossomed under his tutelage during those eight years at Leo. 

In the beginning, Arvind was intriguing. He famously spoke in confusing half-sentences “Am I….?” and “Are you….?” (especially after a long lecture) leaving all of us speechless. Once you managed to get over that, he was just astute, sharp and simple. Always clarifying the link between business and advertising, he was creative in solving problems and a great coach who would invest time in people. 

Arvind is the only leader I have known who would take a negative outcome - be it a loss in a pitch or poor performance - and make something out of it. Either a new habit or behaviour or even a new program. 

And I think his ability and courage to try new ideas was phenomenal. Arvind urged us to pioneer performance evaluations based on the competencies (behaviours) model - where increments were linked to jumps in competency (behaviours that benefit the organisation). Where people are rewarded for personal and professional development rather than for deliveries or results. 

I remember working with him in setting up a projects (traffic) team in Leo Burnett. He supported new initiatives like Leo Entertainment (which famously pulled off a coup for Thums Up with the film Kaante) and Leo Social. I remember him being instrumental and working tirelessly to create the inaugural Goafest as then Chairman of AAAI. We learnt with him. 

We walked with him too. A lot. Long strolls outside the office with him were a regular feature. This is where Arvind would clarify concepts in advertising, marketing, branding and often, life. That was the one thing with him - I had a new challenge every year. Just as I thought, what else, what more, he had something in mind. Some new place for me to go. A new goal. 

At a particular phase in my own career, I was disgruntled and intent on leaving Leo. Arvind took the time to sit me down and tell me this: he would find me a place to go. But, the offer I already had in hand was wrong; a wrong choice that would ruin my career. A conversation I will never, ever forget. He did drive me away - he sent me to The Philippines on the P&G Laundry business for what turned out be a truly rewarding period of my life and career. 

He seemed to have an answer for everything. And a deviant take on things. I remember two strong emotions that I would feel when walking out of his cabin after speaking with him. “That is so simple and brilliant. I should have thought of it!” or “I never thought about it that way!” 

For one coming in with idealism, theory and a lot of passion for advertising, Arvind helped put things in place, in perspective. Time and again he would help us rise above platitude to see what it really was about. Like this one time when a really senior network dignitary was visiting. He was the one to tell us - “Tell  him about something authentic, instinctive and truthful. Tell him about the real India. Half the hype, he has already read about. The other half will not work after he sees Dharavi on his way to this office from the airport!” 

And he would take risks. I remember this - he tried asking for a ‘profit holiday’ rather than an upfront investment from the network. No, it did not work. I wish it had. Hopefully, he has now been able to ‘scratch this itch’ in his stint as entrepreneur.

Arvind is the one that demonstrated to me that creativity is not the domain of a department or function: it’s  a faculty to deploy for answering every single question worth answering and every problem that is worth solving. 

Chief Executive Officer
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