Adman RAMESH NARAYAN – the industry’s gentle giant – has chronicled precious lessons distilled from his life experiences in his new book ‘A Different Route to Success - It Could be Yours’. Through his first innings, building Canco Advertising on the back of blue chip clients and his famed integrity, to wrapping up the agency at the height of professional success, when he turned 50, to his second innings spent working tirelessly for industry bodies such as the International Advertising Association (IAA) and others, as well as social work with the Rotary Club and several NGOs, Narayan has lucidly analysed his life over the years in the book. Here, he talks about the advertising industry, his definition of success and revelling in the uncertainty of life every day
You always loved to write, and even scored the highest marks in English in the entire University in a college examination. But reading ‘A Different Route to Success - It Could be Yours’, one gets the impression that your career was largely based on what your father wanted you to do. Do you have any regrets, or thoughts that you would have been more successful following your natural aptitude?
You are right. My father seemed to have decided what was best for me. Two points here. In that generation, the elders knew best. We rarely argued with them. Fortunately for me, he seemed to know exactly where I would do well. The passion for writing was satisfied by the many columns I wrote for leading newspapers and magazines. Then there was the copy writing, which I tried occasionally. I quickly realized that running an advertising agency rarely left you with the energy to write copy.
When you chose to wrap up Canco at the height of professional success, as you felt the advertising industry of that time was not what you had signed up for, and embarked on a second innings of following your own heart, you said “I was too old-fashioned to continue. Too stubborn to change”. What would you say about the advertising industry today? What is the line you would take to describe where you are?
I am very happy that the advertising industry has withstood the challenges of consulting firms, un-bundling, super-specialization and the rise of the digital age. In fact, it has morphed into a little of all these things. Quite unrecognizable to the full-service agency we ran in the early part of this century, but very useful and relevant. As far as where I am, I am very grateful to this industry for permitting me to indulge in the things I feel are good for it, and for the society it functions in. As I always say, communication must be a force for good.
In the book, you write about a Ramesh-ism - “No one is wholly unreasonable. You need to find the reasonable chink in the armour”. Do you think that tenet holds, even in the cut-throat milieu of the advertising industry today?
This has nothing to do with the milieu. It has everything to do with the make-up of human beings. I have urged those who listen, to look for the good that is there in every human being. That part of them can never be unreasonable. In viewing this good, you yourself remain positive as well. Most problems can be solved if you go in with a sense of positivity and trust.
You have challenged the very definition of success in your book, and candidly spoken about instances of failure. How intrinsic is failure to success?
Failure is just another occurence in life. It's all about how you view it. If you feel it is the end of the world or that the most important thing in the world has eluded you, you will obviously feel crushed. Of course, here I speak with the advantage of hindsight, and in retrospect, even poverty sounds good. You have heard any number of leaders proudly speaking about how they sat under a street lamp to study many years ago. The real issue is, how do you deal with adversity while it is actually happening? I have always believed that there is a divine script-writer at work. We need to just smile and play the roles assigned to us. Something you felt was all-important some time ago, feels so trivial today. So, smile. Success is what you do to stay happy.
What is an anecdote that you can tell us about the most significant lesson among the many lessons you have chronicled?
Each lesson has its own value at a given time. No lesson is too important or too small. As long as one sees what has happened, and realizes the lesson to be learnt, and actually learns something, one can be successful. By that I mean, one can be happy. You can never define happiness. Your heart might spring alive with happiness with the touch of someone you love, with the smile of a little baby, with the sight of a setting sun, with the laughter of a child, with a few words written by a friend. These are the real precious moments of happiness. Not the passing certificate from an IIM or the letter of promotion from your boss, who doesn't realize your true worth.
What are your plans going ahead? Do you plan to reinvent yourself in a third innings, perhaps? Do you plan to write another book?
When I wrote to my friends telling them I was retiring from the business of running an agency, I mentioned something about “I will revel in the uncertainty that life will offer”, or words to that effect. (Janak Sarda has preserved that letter). Nothing has changed. There is always something exciting waiting for me every morning. Right now, I am planning out an urban forest in my locality. I am helping colleagues in the advertising industry to complete two important award shows. I am actively involved in a major integrated rural development project for Rotary, to name a few. All unconnected activities. All very satisfying. They keep me happy. Another book? Nothing planned as of now. But then nothing is really planned in my kind of life, in any case.
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