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All three founders of 22feet Tribal exit India’s DDB Mudra Group

Three members of the senior management team at DDB Mudra Group in India are no longer with the agency or are on their way out, Mumbrella has learnt. They include DDB Mudra’s Group chief executive officer Vineet Gupta, chief creative technologist Brijesh Jacob and chief growth officer Deepak Nair. 

Jacob, Gupta and Nair were part of the management team DDB Mudra inherited in 2014, when it acquired digital specialist firm 22feet and merged it with Tribal. The trio had been given additional responsibilities and mandates as recently as last year.

DDB Mudra’s group managing director Aditya Kanthy said: “Yes, the founders have left or are leaving. In all the cases, they resigned and we accepted their resignations.”

Brijesh Jacob

Of the three, perhaps the most controversial departure has been that of Jacob. Through October, a resurgent #metoo movement saw many Indian women across industries as diverse as the media, films and advertising candidly discuss sexual harassment in the workplace – calling out a number of alleged offenders. Jacob was accused of having presided over a “culture of harassment” in an anonymous post on the Quint – a news and entertainment site. 

In response to the accusations, DDB Mudra had promised to institute an internal investigation. Unlike Dentsu Aegis Network which issued a press release claiming all its staffers who had been accused had “stepped down”, there was no official statement about the results of the enquiry at DDB Mudra.

When asked if the #metoo episode had anything to do with Jacob’s exit, a senior member of the agency management said cryptically: “Not entirely.”

Kanthy did not offer any comment. Jacob and Nair remained unavailable for comment at the time of the publication.

Vineet Gupta

Speaking about Gupta’s exit, Kanthy said: “Vineet is with us till early next year. We have been working together to ensure a smooth transition of 22feet Tribal Worldwide into the rest of the Group for a good part of three years — first as a chief digital officer (CDO) and chief strategy officer (CSO) team and then as a CEO and MD team.”

Gupta is reportedly joining Arun Iyer, the outgoing chairman and chief creative officer at Lowe Lintas, in his new venture scheduled to get off the ground early next year.

Founded in 2009, 22feet was famous for a brash, take-no-prisoners approach — which led to prestigious assignments including Fastrack (an accessories brand from Indian conglomerate Tata Sons), Lenovo and beer brand Kingfisher.

At the time of the merger, Madhukar Kamath, who was group CEO and MD, had made it clear that no attempt would be made to dilute or change what was considered to be 22feet’s “unique culture”. Speaking about the culture, in an interview with The Economic Times , Gupta had said: “We believe in this rule — ask for forgiveness, not for permission.”

The trio were elevated to key positions in a management restructuring exercise last year, shortly after Kamath announced he was stepping down. At the time, it was expected that being part of senior leadership would keep the 22feet founders within the agency system. And that their experience would help the mostly traditional DDB Mudra navigate a more digitally dominant landscape.

A former staffer at the agency told Mumbrella that the departure of the former founders could also be motivated by the end of their earn-out period. However Kanthy clarified that the earn-out ended two years ago.

He added: “This is a structural change very much in line with the expectations of our clients. We have added considerable talent in the last few months – particularly with an eye to investing in our digital and data capabilities — and that will continue with the exceptional talent from the start-up community and client-side marketing folks that have joined us.”

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