‘I am the most impatient person I know’ – How I got here… M&C Saatchi’s Anish Daryani

A model turned model-co-ordinator, Anish Daryani stumbled on his first love - advertising - which has led to a turbo-charged career across seven agencies and five countries to his most recent assignment as as founder and president director of M&C Saatchi Indonesia


Young Anish Daryani

I was born in Kolkata, India. At the time, my father, Jagdish Daryani, was just starting a garment manufacturing business. Back then, capital was hard to come by. My mother, Sheila, went back to work almost immediately after having me. She had a demanding job, selling heavy cash register machines, which left marks on the palm of her hands, visible even today. 

My early upbringing was at the hands of my loving maternal grandparents. Our humble background had a massive impact on making me the man I am today. At six, I had a baby brother, Sagar – the person I’m most proud of. My father’s efforts in business paid off and he built east India’s most popular men’s-wear brand, ‘Alladin’. 

I spent weekends and holidays in my father’s store. Salesmanship was ingrained in me, helping me understand customers, determining what they need, thinking on my feet, and managing complaints.

Confidence from this early experience eroded all trace of stage fright, making me an award-winning elocutionist, debater, dramatist and presenter in school. I left having won the coveted ‘Best Public Speaker’ award. These skill sets contribute to my daily working life, even today.

Post cricket match celebrations

Despite my parents’ struggles, they gave us the best possible schooling. St James’ School was a cradle of opportunities. It gave me exposure to every sport – cricket, hockey, soccer and track and field events. These taught me what it takes to be part of a team, and eventually, leadership. 

I became school house captain and also represented it in various events, besides founding the photography club, which continues to thrive. I could not have had a better all-round upbringing.

My start

As I was finishing school, my father suffered a major setback. All our assets had to be liquidated. My father’s ingenuity allowed him to make good use of his shop – the only asset he managed to retain – converting it into a fast-food restaurant. 

I had just joined St Xavier’s College when we faced this family crisis. But watching my father deal with it was the most inspiring thing that’s ever happened to me. While most people would break having watched an entire lifetime’s effort go in vain, he started over to reclaim his destiny. This would later help me deal with various crises through life. It would also lay the foundation for my younger brother to establish a flourishing fast-food business.

In college, I was discovered by a model coordinator. I found it to be a good means of managing my expenses, and helped me make a contribution at home. 

I soon got assignments for shoots, and was walking down the ramp every other weekend. This might seem like a dream-come-true for most teenagers, but somehow, I didn’t enjoy being in front of the camera, as much as I enjoyed being behind the scenes. 

At nineteen, I landed my first assignment as a fashion choreographer. I won a lot of praise, but now no other model coordinator wanted to work with me – I had become a competitor. With a few fellow models, I launched Creation, a finishing school for emerging models. I was doing my own fashion shows now, with my ‘students’, and was making good money.

I also wanted to help my students get more work, and that’s when I first walked into an advertising agency. Soon, my students were getting assignments, and I was attending shoots. That’s where I met my first love – advertising. 

I soon began to understand there was so much more to it than models posing for products. Consumer insights, brand positioning, the power of an idea – it dawned on me, this is what I was born to do.

I took a part-time job with a local agency. I would attend college from 6am to 9am, help my father till lunch, and work at the agency till evening. Whatever time and energy I had left, I kept up with my studies. 

I graduated with a full time job as an account executive at Inner Circle Advertising, where my grassroots training happened. Founded by a bunch of ex-Ogilvy guys, this was a creative hotshop that was making waves.

Soon, I started taking on more responsibility. I was so enamoured by my bosses, that I felt I needed the same training that they had gone through. After a rigorous interview process, I landed a job at Ogilvy & Mather, Kolkata.

At Ogilvy Kolkata

My stint was very rewarding, earning me a promotion every year for the next three years. I started managing the office’s biggest account – Hutchison Telecom. But keen on a bigger challenge, I scouted for new business independently even when I was only an account manager. I added Tata Steel, Apeejay Finance and many other clients.  I received ‘Suit of the Year’ for what was considered an exceptional performance. 

Most would agree that one is expected to bask in the glory and build on momentum. But then came an opportunity that was too good to ignore – managing the business for India’s leading telecom firm Airtel for all of Eastern India at Rediffusion-Y&R. I jumped ship.

The next three and a half years were a dream-run. I had become a group head, handling 60% of the agency’s business as an account director, having built 23 businesses under me. The thrill of new business kept me hungry. 

And then impatience kicked in – this time for a bigger playing field. I wanted to work in India’s mecca of advertising, Mumbai. 

My previous track record helped me land a job in Ogilvy Mumbai. When you start working in the country’s best agency, and the biggest office in the network globally, it is a big deal. I relaunched Brooke Bond Red Label, with a campaign that was scripted by one of the doyens of Indian advertising, Piyush Pandey. 

Just before I boarded my flight to Mumbai, I received perhaps the most flattering phone-call of my life from someone who had been a hero-figure: Mahesh Chauhan, or ‘Mash’, as he’s fondly called, then group president of Rediffusion-Y&R. He had just learnt of my departure, was sad to see me go and offered me a role in Rediffusion-Y&R Mumbai. I had served a long notice period, while Ogilvy had patiently waited. And as much as it broke my heart to say no, it was the right thing to do. 

However, my impatience made me question a lot of things. Though I was farming one of the agency’s larger businesses, I was missing the thrill of pitching – I had instinctively turned into a hunter. While Ogilvy was involved in several pitches, I was a dedicated resource on Unilever. 

I reached out to Mash for advice. The following month, I was working in Rediffusion-Y&R’s Mumbai office. And as I handled key accounts like Kingfisher Airlines and Tata Motors (including the Tata Nano), I continued to satiate my hunger for new business.

As part of the corporate office and as a dedicated resource on  new business development and reputation management, I felt like the brand manager of the agency, reporting directly to the CEO and CSO. I learnt many intricacies of our business, including crisis management and using PR as a business acquisition tool. 

During this time, my peers and colleagues joked about me being a ‘trainee CEO’. Little did we know then, that it was so true.

A former senior colleague who had moved as head of Ogilvy Africa made an offer. I packed my bags and left for my first stint as an expat. My impatience had paid off: I was general manager at 29. 

I was first based in Kenya, and then moved to Nigeria to set up an office in Lagos. However, there were issues in obtaining a work permit, and I returned to Kenya. Nairobi was home to the Nairobi National Park. Other game parks like Nakuru, Naiwasha, the Masai Mara and Serengeti were in close vicinity. 

It was fertile ground to sharpen my skills in wildlife photography, a passion that I had nurtured through school. Other than that, Africa offered a restricted lifestyle, where security couldn’t be taken for granted. I started finding the gated communities suffocating. Things moved too slowly for my liking. I returned to India after the shortest stint of my career.

Leo Burnett in Bangalore (Now Leo Burnett – Orchard) was my next home, where I was VP and branch head. This had been an office with tremendous heritage, but it had been in the red for a few years. My role was to turn it around. 

I started with building the team first, then the culture, and then instilling belief. Magic happened. We won our first pitch against eight agencies, entering as complete underdogs. We broke even that year, and doubled our business thereafter, becoming Leo Burnett’s fastest growing agency worldwide. My proudest achievement though was building a strong team that could now move forward, even without me.

My short expatriate stint in Africa continued to haunt. And when opportunity knocked again, I moved to Lowe Vietnam. I worked to resurrect a declining business, and within the first six months, add over US$4 million in new business.

With the first Gold Lion

Besides, I was also part of some great work, winning Vietnam’s first ever Cannes gold for Omo; and a platinum and best-in-show at Advertising & Marketing Effectiveness Awards (AMES – now Tangrams) for my campaign ‘Drive On’ for Castrol. 

While it made me a popular man within the agency, it also fed the insecurities of some old-timers. Office politics was not for me. 

I am the most impatient person I know. It is my strongest virtue, that moves me forward at breakneck speed. But it is also a weakness, when it comes to putting up with things I deem unnecessary. I pulled the plug. 

I now wanted to fulfil my training by understanding how independent agencies function. 

I joined Phibious in Ho Chi Minh City. My role was very interesting – digital transformation of what had for long been a traditional agency. A string of new business wins later, and having established the digital practice, I focused on regional growth. My efforts led the agency to become the South East Asia independent agency network of the year. 

Among all regional markets, I found Indonesia to be the most promising. I moved to Jakarta as CEO at 34 – impatience had won again. Turning around a loss-making office included winning a lot of new business, earning my team and me runners-up for South East Asia new business person/team of the year.

There comes a time in your life when you start questioning what you’ve done so far, and where you’re headed. While I was meditating on these questions, I happened to have a lunch meeting with M&C Saatchi Asia CEO Richard Morewood which would change my destiny. In the course of our discussion, he explained to me the entrepreneurial approach of M&C Saatchi, where they partner with individuals to start new agencies, a model that had made it the fastest growing agency in the history of advertising. 

I often called myself a ‘Hippie in a Suit’ – having moved five  countries over 12 years. The thrill of starting over afresh was always exciting. I always knew I would set up my own agency someday. I just didn’t know when and where. Perhaps, the universe had given me a signal. Perhaps the time was now and the place was Jakarta. 

I drew up a business plan, met global CEO, Moray MacLennan in London, along with chairman of M&C Saatchi Plc., Jeremy Sinclair, and CEO David Kershaw. I was truly inspired by their entrepreneurial spirit, and vision. 

I walked out of the global headquarters with a deal – I was going to launch M&C Saatchi Indonesia. On 24th January 2018, with my co-founders Dami Sidharta and Elki Hendria, we launched. 2018 was a tough year, especially in Indonesia. A few agencies had downed shutters, many were merging and consolidating. The business model had changed. But I saw that as a golden opportunity. To create a new model that every agency would want to be.

We challenged the old ways of working. We moved on from briefs to solving business problems. We introduced data analytics to identify and articulate problem statements. We killed account management, and invented integration management, where integration teams curate multi-disciplinary solutions to solve clients’ problems. 

We questioned the need for segregated ATL, BTL and digital, and built hybrid talent. Most importantly, we gave ourselves a strong purpose – we exist to simplify brand building by offering creative solutions to business problems. Our vision is to build brands that people would love to talk to. Our mission is to be the inspiration for our industry. 

When we started in Jakarta, it was just the three co-founders. We rented a private office in a co-working space. We won our first business, Pocari Sweat Ion Water and Oronamin C from Otsuka. And then the wins kept coming. 

We celebrated our first anniversary in a swanky new office. In 20 months, we’ve grown to 40 people, and outgrown our office again. With 28 brands, we’ve built – arguably – the fastest growing agency in Indonesia, Southeast Asia and across the M&C Saatchi global network.

I’d like to credit our team for this incredible growth. I’m proud Dami, Elki and I built this team. And now this team is building us. 


I try to stay hungry all the time. To do that you need to build a huge appetite and ambition. Few things give me more joy than a good hustle, the ability to make things happen despite all barriers and shortcomings. 

Harnessing the lethal power of the underdog is another trait I’ve picked up along the years. All this, backed by the sheer sincerity and hard work has led me to inspire teams into believing the impossible. 

After all, it’s the team that needs to deliver, and execution is what ultimately the game is all about.

I have three approaches that I try to implement:

1. I see my advertising agency as a career manager of people we work with on the client side. If we can make them heroes, we build strong client relationships. I continue working with many of my ex-clients, because they know how rewarding it was for them to be in that position.

2. Growing people is the most worthwhile thing you can do with your time. So being an architect of teams, of people and helping them find their hero-gene is where I consciously dedicate a lot of time towards.

3. Every interaction can be an opportunity to inspire – teams and clients alike. This, I believe, is the hardest part of my job.

Whether it is retaining current businesses, or building new client relationships, the above three are most crucial for me. 

Diversity day at M&C Saatchi

I’m personally non-conflicting in nature. I resolve all conflicts with impatience and hustle. The impatience is to resolve issues in the fastest possible time, because the longer they linger, the longer they will hurt. And hustle – to use every means available to resolve an issue ethically, making both sides feel they have gained.

Highs and Lows

I faced some lows in the early part of my life when my father’s business went bust, which taught me so much. Career-wise, I’d consider my stint in Africa as a low. It was a bad move, and I’m glad I was able to put it behind me. 

Personally, my over-zealous approach to work led my marriage to a divorce, and taught me the importance to balance work and play.

But I’ve been blessed with many highs – Turning around agencies in the red and being recognised for it, winning a Gold Lion, making a 40-under-40 list, etc. But I value other highs as well – when people I have worked with or who’s career I got to shape are doing well today. Starting M&C Saatchi in Indonesia and see it grow is another high-point in my career. Like I say, I’m only getting started.

Anish Daryani’s family: Natasha, Arshia and Mira

In personal life too, love gave me a second chance, and I met Natasha. Building a life with her and raising a family is another high point.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s – Try and manage life and work together, no matter how ambitious you are. A great career should lead you to a greater life and all the happiness that comes with it; not deprive you of it. Sometimes, the conversation around ‘work-life’ balance is overrated. Try and look at it from the perspective of work-life integration, and things will become simpler.

Don’ts – Don’t manage people too much. When we do that, we undermine their potential. When given the right motivations, everyone will perform beyond their ability. So focus on mentoring people, and helping them identify and direct them towards what motivates them.

Anish Daryani is the founder and president director of M&C Saatchi Indonesia and is based in Jakarta


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella Asia newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing