February 2010
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A.G.Krishnamurthy - A Man Of All Seasons

By Jyothi Gosala

              Its hard to argue with the man who proves what he stands for with such annoying consistency, is how A&M, a leading Indian Marketing Journal, concluded in their tribute to A.G .Krishnamurthy, The Chairman and Managing Director of India's third largest advertising agency, when nominated him the advertising person of the year 1995. It takes good measure of faith and optimism to steer a Rs. 3 Million Indian agency into top ranks as a Rs.3500 Million company in a remarkably short span of 16 years. In fact, Mudra has become the country's third largest advertising agency in its ninth year of existence itself.

It is this strong desire to nurture, be it a brand or the agency, from infancy into leadership status, which is the moving force in everything that he does. He began his career as an account executive in 1972 with Shilpi Advertising Ltd. Four Years later he moved to Reliance Textiles Industries, now India's number one private sector company, as their advertising manager, and in 1980 he set-up Mudra Communications as Reliance agency. Mudra's two brands are also India's leading and most recognized brands, Vimal Fabric and Rasna Soft Drink Concentrate. Most of the credit for growing this non-existing status to leaders they are, today goes to A.G. Krishnamurthy's faith in the Indian Entrepreneur and his contributions to the advertising to these brands. Vimal and Rasna have been joined by many more Indian brands who today, are all the leaders in their own product categories.

He is responsible for the First School for advertising. Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA) is the answer to the talent crunch the industry has been facing over the past decade or so. He also set up Mudra International, proving that Indian agencies can hold on their own in foreign shores. And Mudra was awarded the agency of the year by A& M twice in three years (1993&1995), also ratifying yet another of A.G.Krishnamurthy's belief that big can be brilliant.

A.G.Krishnamurthy is responsible for the Mudra Group of Companies, which include Mudra Communications and Interact Vision, both professional advertising and marketing service organizations. His duties include long-range Corporate Planning, Planning for Diversification, etc. He is also the founder and Governing Council Member of MICA.

A.G.Krishnamurthy, the father of four Children, three daughters and a son, live in Ahmedabad, Gujarat with his family.

Q. Mr.Krishmamurty everyone knows you as the man behind the Mudra, but little is known of your career before Mudra. Can you enlighten us?

A. Mudra was founded in March on March, 25th 1980. I was with Shilpi Advertising from 1972-76, the last position being Deputy Branch Director. I then moved to Reliance Industries, as Advertising Manager in February 1976, to set up in-house advertising and publicity department. The next step, on March 25, 1980 was the beginning of Mudra. The Ambanis own Mudra. They hold 90% stake, the remaining 10% is held by DDB Nedham Worldwide.

Q. How did Mudra come into being? What was the Reliance group connection? Could you tell us something about Mudra early years?

A. We did suffer from all handicaps, that accrue to any in-house agency. We found it difficult to attract talent because not many people want to work with a one client agency (which is limited number of products and brands to work). Also, many clients were not sure if they were in the safe hands of an agency owned by a large industrial group (in the sense whether we would compromise their interest). That is why we were in great hurry to get the in-House agency tag out. Which we did successfully in 5-6 year time.

Q. Your agency's rise to become the third largest in the country has been exceptional. Is there any underlying philosophy that drives Mudra's growth?

A. As a matter of fact Mudra became the third largest agency in the ninth year of its existence. Thinking Big, the ability to take risks, sound business sense, faith in people and ourselves are the factors that made us what we are today.

Our ability to dream big. To believe that we can be a major force even when we were nobodies.

Our ability to take risks. May people can think big but falter on this test. Our business sense. With out business sense, risk taking can mean a double or quit game. Our judgment on people and our faith in them. Many people have the ability to think big and have the ability to take risk but fail here.

Q. Your Agency has also made forays outside India. Which are the countries where Mudra has set-up offices?

A. We have our partners in Srilanka, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates. These are relatively new associations.

Q. Let us talk about the advertising in general. Now, 1996 was not a great year for advertising in India. Do you see the coming years in a more positive light? Especially after the finance minister budget.

A. In terms of the volume of business if we compare 1996 with 1994, 1993, it was not a great year. But if we are going to compare 1996 or 1997 or 1998 with those years, I am afraid we will not have many great years. We must, therefore develop new definitions for the good and bad years. As for the business, 1996 was not a good year from the creatives point of view as well. While the budget has created euphoria, I am not sure if it's the panacea for all the problems facing the economy. Personally speaking, I expect 1997 to be somewhat better than 1996. Because I do expect a revival of capital markets.

Q. In the early days Mudra has a distinctly Indian image. It was strategically positioned that way to set it apart from other agencies who had some collaboration or other. Now you too have tied up with an American Agency. Why the change in strategy? How important is the foreign tie-up?

A. Our relationship with DDBNeedham goes back to 1998. And we see no contradiction in our relationship with DDB Needham and our Indian Agency image. Our compatibility with DDB is very high. Our distinctly Indian image comes from our Client Portfolio., the quality of our work, the culture of our organization and the profile of our people. We are still a Indian Company and we are proud of our association with DDB Nedham.

Q. Training and Development is an area that the Indian Advertising Industry has been guilty of ignoring over the years. You have since set-up MICA at Ahmedabad. How is the Institute doing? What contributions has it made in terms of supplying trained manpower to the Indian Advertising Industry?

A. MICA is doing very well. Two of its full-time PGDC batches have graduated and are very well received by the industry. The placements have been very good. Besides MICA has trained several people through its short term programs. As of now a large part of the requirement of advertising industry is met by business schools. It is obvious from the increasing focus on account planning and decreasing focus on creatives. May be MICA will bring a judicious balance between planning and creative process.

Q. Turning to the Advertising awards world over, they are bitterly criticized yet most eagerly sought after. Do you feel that they serve a genuine purpose?

A. The criticism of these awards are usually based on the grounds of advertising developing ad-club focus rather than consumer focus. This is a valid concern and merits attention. At the same time, these awards serve some useful purpose. They motivate people and create a benchmark for evaluating creative depth of an agency, and help the agency attract better talent.

Q. In India, the advertising clubs in the major metros have their own annual award bash. Would it make sense if we could organize one major event and rotate it annually?

A. In principal it's a good Idea. If the Industry buys it, the administrative issues can be taken care of.

Q. Can you describe a typical day in the life of AGK? From sunrise to beddy-bytes.

A. Around 7 AM. Wake UP.7 AM to 8.30 AM Tea, Morning Newspaper and time with the family. 8.30 to 9.30AM Yoga and Puja. 9.30AM to 6.00PM office (Mostly reviewing Business unit performance, creative reviews and meetings with colleagues) 6.30 to 7.15 PM walk home (Around 5KM) 7.15 PM to 10.00PM Dinner and time with the family. 10.00PM to 11.00PM Reading and mostly fiction. Alternates with religious reading. Some serious business reading while outstation. 11PM go to Sleep.

Q. How much traveling you do out side your base a month? Do you enjoy it or does it all gets too much? How does your family respond to your work style?

A. Quite a lot. Almost 2 to 3 days a week to different offices in the country. For internal reviews, particularly the creative product. I rarely attend Client meetings or new business pitches. Simply because what I can do effectively in these areas can be done as effectively or more by the vast pool of senior talent Mudra has built over the last 10 years. I see myself making significant contribution in developing and a sustaining the creative standards and converting a non-Mudriate (new entrant) into Mudriate. A Mudriate is one who is a good person and good professional in that order and has a affinity with Mudra, its character, its dream. I enjoy the travel and its activities. My family is very supportive of my work.

Q. Are you a religious man? Do you believe that we are all guided by the great destiny or that man makes his own destiny?

A. I' am a deeply religious person. I visit Sabarimala every year and visit Tirupati at least 2 to 3 times a year. I spend half-hour every morning in puja, where ever I am. I strongly believe in religion, an integral part of which is God, which stabilizes human life and brings certain amount of peace and satisfaction. I have experienced several emotions on the same day-Joy, Happiness, Sorrow, Frustration and Helplessness. All in one day and it goes on perpetually for everyone I guess. Religion supports us to face life as it comes.

About Destiny: A few years back an average human life-span was 45 years and now its 60 years. Is destiny responsible for this? Or the current medical care, Health, Consciousness etc. I put great emphasis on human spirit, passion, dedication and hard work, with a solid faith in religious faith so as to stabilize human life and give it right values and perspective. Otherwise in moments of achievement and joy we become egoistic and unlivable and in moments of failure, pain etc, totally lost and restless. Our work and attitude make our destiny.

Q. Finally, as you join the Galaxy of great advertising legends in the Hall of Fame, what is the best advice you give a youngster starting out a career.

A. It is a very rewarding profession. Get into it. But inculcate passion, commitment and simplicity. "Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion". Passion leads to commitment and commitment leads to achievement. Simplicity makes life livable and enjoyable. Simplicity can mean live and let Live.

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