Industry heroes: Ranjan Kapur

Besides being the CEO who helped lead Ogilvy India through its creative renaissance and the head of WPP in the country, Ranjan Kapur was a big supporter of the little guy, says Wunderman's Krishnan Menon, on the first anniversary of Kapur's passing

WPP’s Ranjan Kapur

In my career, I’ve had the good fortune to work with some wonderful people.

Overlapping with some of the greats in the agency business was an incredible learning experience. Picking one person as a hero is really hard.

That said, of them all, Ranjan Kapur has to be the biggest influence on the way I think, the way I like to lead people and the way anyone in the business would like their career to go.

I am quite sure that I am not the only one who feels this way about the man.

Ranjan was born in Lahore, currently in Pakistan, five years before India gained independence from the British in 1947. During the partition, his family moved to Patiala in India where he grew up.

Ranjan’s career started in banking when he joined Citibank in 1964. A chance meeting with David Ogilvy in New York inspired a move to SH Benson (before it was acquired by Ogilvy) as a trainee in Mumbai two years later.

Ranjan then moved to Ogilvy NY, where he worked on Unilever and Kraft, among others. He came back to India for five years, then did a stint at Ogilvy Singapore before moving back to Mumbai in 1993 to run Ogilvy India. He went on to run WPP in India after he retired from Ogilvy, until we lost him a year ago.

Ranjan touched a lot of people in his 40 years in Ogilvy and I was fortunate to be one of them. He was an incredible leader.

He listened, he was always measured in his response, valued every one of his people and made sure everyone knew that he valued the quality of the work above all else. He cared deeply for clients’ businesses and as a result, took pride in the client relationships and the value that Ogilvy brought to them.

Most of the big brands that came to Ogilvy during his tenure are still with the agency and this is testament to how deeply Ranjan’s values are instilled in the company. Ranjan was a big supporter of the little guy and even after his retirement, he was involved in fostering and incubating a lot of startups.

Meetings with Ranjan at the table always resulted in some very entertaining doodles on his notepad. Incredibly, if he was doodling, you knew he was listening. He was a gifted caricaturist and sculptor (he made lovely sculptoons out of M-Seal, a product from Indian adhesive company Pidilite).

Kapur with his Sculptoons featured in the annual report for Pidilite

Around the time he retired, one of his tributes was a collection of caricatures of the people at Ogilvy and WPP who he had worked with closely. I’ve only heard anecdotes about the collection and wish I could get a copy, but it is quite possible that an erstwhile industry leader might have burnt them all.

Ranjan wrote a book in 2004 called ‘The Perfect Snowball’ that looks and reads like a children’s book but should really be required reading for anyone running, leading or starting a business of any kind.

The Perfect Snowball by Ranjan Kapur

It is also very good direction for anyone who owns or cares for a brand or even anyone with an idea. The book is truly a reflection of Ranjan’s vision – always incredibly simple while being deeply profound at the same time.

Ranjan was a giant and he is sorely missed. His steady hand will always be on the proverbial tiller of the industry and, in my view, his most important legacy will always be the values he lived by and the ones he passed on to anyone who he came across.

Krishnan Menon is the chief operating officer for Asia-Pacific at Wunderman


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