Legacy Time? Too early, too lofty

I met the CEO of a large media services company last week who has quit after a long stint which included many roles in the organisation and is in his transition period right now. It’s quite unusual to see a successful professional in transition after a career spanning so long, thus I asked the gentleman, “What is it that you are looking for?” He replied “I am seeking opportunities that I can make a difference to.” Keen to know what exactly he was looking for at this point in his life, I asked him “What specifically are you seeking?” This very highly paid, probably amongst the highest paid in the media services industry replied very calmly, “I want to create a legacy.” Elaborating further on his plans, he shared with me the examples of people he did not want to be like, ten years from now. I agreed with him on some names that he mentioned. He said Sam Balsara is someone he would like to emulate, as Sam has contributed to the development of our industry and also benefited from it.

He said he is seeking an opportunity to make a living by leaving a positive imprint on the industry and the people in it. Along with building the already established, he would like to take up something from the scratch, transform it, scale it up and create an institution.

I started thinking, being an entrepreneur and running a business, one is always thinking of numbers, targets, business goals, next quarter results, events and day to day tasks. You are too operational. One never tends to think about creating a legacy. At least I had never thought seriously about it. I guess I was too busy working. I questioned myself - Have I been naïve enough to not have such an important, perhaps lofty goal? I also asked myself, “Do entrepreneurs really think of creating legacy when they start businesses?” To me, the answer was No.

Did Subhash Chandra think of creating a legacy in TV and Broadcasting business when he started Zee? I am sure he had a dream and the dream got bigger day by day. But I’m not quite sure if he ever thought of creating a legacy (which of course, he has!).

The whole point is, while there are big media houses and great media barons behind them, did they start out wanting to leave behind a legacy, or did they just start a business? Maybe the truth is somewhere in between.

While we are talking about building legacies and creating institutions, an unusual serial entrepreneur who comes immediately to my mind is Ashok Kurien. Has the advertising industry really forgotten Ashok Kurien? To me, Ashok is an epitome of riding waves, doing an unusual thing, looking ahead and nurturing businesses.

Ashok realised early on that advertising agency business model was under pressure and sold it to Publicis. Ever since he has been an adviser to Publicis in India and has helped Publicis with his deep business understanding in their mergers and acquisitions. Publicis, with the help of Ashok’s understanding of business and knack to judge entrepreneurial talent, has acquired Capital, 20:20 Media Solutions and so on.

Ashok has helped Subhashji and the Zee Group in ideation and creation of various Zee businesses, in hiring top management and he continues to be a strategist and an important part of the Zee family. Ashok also co-founded a commerce business in flowers. His belief in the online and digital business is getting him to do with Zee and Jay Penske.

Ashok’s story to me is of building legacies along with building businesses though Ashok may not see it like that.

To me Harindra Singh and Shailendra Singh of Percept are


also creating a legacy by building a communication powerhouse from scratch.

Do advertising agency professionals get it? Can they learn from Ashok Kurien? Agency businesses need scale, partnership with bigger players, unlearn what they know, move out of their comfort zone, partner with other entrepreneurs and have a long term vision. Legacy will follow.

I was thinking about people in our industry who have created legacies knowingly or unknowingly and here is my list. Actually if there wasn’t a space constraint I could go on…

•Piyush Pandey: For inspiring a whole generation of advertising executives especially to think in Hindi and other Indian Languages.

• The late S P Singh: For AajTak and its style and manner of reporting.

Aroon Purie: For creating new genres in India Today and on Indian Television with AajTak.

• The promoters and professionals at Times of India for setting the benchmark in the events industry by creating Femina Miss India and Filmfare Awards.

• Dr. Prannoy Roy: For English News and his legacy of creating an academy of news professionals.

• Roda Mehta: For bringing science to media planning, buying and media research.

• Sam Balsara: For showing entrepreneurial success in a domain dominated by MNCs.

• Wizcraft, Sabbas Joseph, Andre Timminis and Viraf Sarkari: For taking Indian events and Bollywood abroad through IIFA.

• Sri Adhikari Brothers - Gautam and Markand Adhikari: For a new genre of comedy and fun in Sab TV.

• Raghav Bahl: For creating a media conglomerate in a single lifetime.

• The late Vishva Nath of Delhi Press: For creating low priced and mass products like Grihshobha, Sarita, Saras Salil, Champak, Woman’s Era

• Nari Hira: For the pioneering glossies and the journalism that Indian Media Class lapped up.

• Mathews of the Malayala Manorama Group: For making Regional Publishing respected and upmarket.

I could go on as there are so many. The list reminds me of the saying: “The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example.”

In the end, these are the words of Billy Graham that echo the whole idea in my mind of leaving behind a legacy:

“Our days are numbered. One of the primary goals in our lives should be to prepare for our last day. The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.”

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