If one were to try and describe Ranjan Kapur in a nutshell, this is how I would do it: “He was a supremely secure man.”
It was his feeling of security that allowed him the confidence to build the modern Ogilvy India into the creative powerhouse that it is today.
When Ranjan came back to India after his stints with Ogilvy abroad, he came back a secure man, having worked with Sir Martin Sorrell, Ogilvy and WPP for decades.
He came back to an India where Ogilvy was a competent, well-run agency, but not a leader.
He decided, as Piyush Pandey has made clear, to transform Ogilvy India into a leader.
To do so, he needed to take many steps that were, on the surface of it, fraught with risks.
Ogilvy India’s betters, if one could call them that, were built on the foundation of strong planning and servicing, with creativity but a box to be ticked.
Ranjan saw in strong creativity an opportunity to differentiate Ogilvy India.
He built a creative team with a vengeance, partnered by Piyush Pandey. He generously allowed them to own the spotlight and the glory, and receded to the background.
When you think of the creatives he gathered under him during his watch, it reads like a veritable who’s who: Piyush Pandey, Sonal Dabral, Rajiv Rao, Josy Paul, Prasoon Joshi, Bobby Pawar, Abhijit Awasthi, Ajay Gahlaut, Malvika Mehra, Amit Akali, Pushpinder Singh, Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, V Sunil, Sumanto Chattopadhyay, the late V Mahesh, Satbir Singh, Zenobia Pithawalla, Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Manish Bhatt and Raghu Bhat and so on. (If I’ve left out a few, please forgive me; memory fails me sometimes).
Between them, they’ve won endless awards and have worked on virtually every big brand in India, whether during their stint in Ogilvy or after they chose to move on.
All worked in an enabling atmosphere that Ranjan created. The creatives, almost by definition disregarders of rules and formality, were allowed license with a rope that was just long enough for them to feel freedom – but still confined to the discipline that Ranjan believed was required to run a good business.
He also allowed the creatives the luxury of budgets to enter large award shows – because he believed that they could win.
And so they did.
And when they did, Ranjan receded further into the recesses, allowing Piyush and the other creatives to bask in the glory and the headlines, further making Ogilvy India the most preferred destination for young, aspiring creatives.
And lest it be thought that he focused only on the creatives, dismiss the thought. On the business side, Ranjan led from the front, building, silently, a powerful planning function that Madhukar Sabnavis heads. He launched a specialist rural practice, a finance practice, and a direct marketing expertise in what were certainly visionary decisions.
As he saw that it was time to hand over Ogilvy to his younger peers, he remained the visionary, building a two-member leadership team in Piyush and Rane. This unusual structure allowed Piyush the freedom to march on with the creativity while Rane managed the finance and the business.
It was time for him to leave Ogilvy India with the knowledge that it was in safe hands, but not time to leave WPP. Having worked with Sir Martin Sorrell for almost three decades by now, Ranjan was the obvious choice to head Sorrell’s India business overall as WPP’s Country Manager. Late last year, Ranjan moved on from being Country Manager and took over as chairman of WPP India, recognizing that it was time he yielded to a younger man.
Every major decision of his – betting on creative, the launch of new SBUs or practices, the timing of his retirement from Ogilvy India and the timing of his handing over care of WPP India to CVL Srinivas – smacked of an extraordinary feeling of security that Ranjan had.
His feeling of security has seeped in first slowly, and then almost arrogantly, into all his colleagues at Ogilvy India. He left behind a wonderfully secure organisation.
But there was another facet of Ranjan’s that needed to be passed on as well; his humility.
Ranjan was the epitome of humility.
Secure and humble, that’s what Ranjan was.
Secure and humble, that’s what defines Ogilvy India today.
RIP, Ranjan Kapur.