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My Story: A white manila envelope did the trick!

Vivek Srivastava, Jt. Managing Director of Innocean, says that coming from a family of civil servants, advertising was never the chosen career option. But a summer internship during his MBA programme changed the course of things, forever

March 12, 2013

Vivek Srivastava

Like most youngsters who hail from upcountry states, I was no different. Life meant academics – even if you weren’t good at it. Extra-curricular meant an occasional game of cricket or badminton with a heavy dose of debating and quiz contests. So there I was in 1985, having finished my BA from University of Allahabad with History, English Literature and Political Science. Being from a family of committed bureaucrats and government servants, the Civil Services Examination was the natural corollary – my father was a career judge and an uncle was an IPS officer. Countless cousins were perfecting the rote method of preparing for the various government jobs. I was all set to do my Masters in Sociology and head into the family tradition. Nothing seismic – yet. Advertising was not even a distant blip on the radar.

An enterprising pal of mine went ahead and filled up a few forms of MBA admission tests and got two spare ones for our buddy group. Doing nothing meaningful in that transitional phase I too went ahead and appeared for the entrance test of the MBA programme at University of Allahabad. And as fate ordained, a month later I was shortlisted for the interview and group discussions. Some Civil Service exam veterans affirmed this move saying that Business Management is a scoring paper in the competitive exams! When the results came out, I wasn’t in the list of 30 successful candidates. But it didn’t end there. There was a waiting list and being 2nd on it, I was called in a fortnight later. I began my unsure journey in the arena of Business Management. Soon, it was a year of handling ledgers and suspense accounts, managerial economics, behavioural science and production management.

The first few months went by quickly – and suddenly it was time to head out for summer internships. I sent in my applications to a dozen blue-chip companies and, as an afterthought, added an organisation by the name MAA Bozell to the list inspired by a rather strange recruitment ad of theirs in Business India.

The responses came in and the choice was between WIMCO, a Swedish MNC, and an airline called Vayudoot, labelled then as the fastest growing airline in the world but which crash-landed subsequently. WIMCO seemed winning as it was at their unit in Assam where my IPS uncle was posted too. The fringe benefit: my uncle’s personal guidance in preparing for the Civil Services exams!

However, the arrival of a simple white manila envelope changed the course of things, forever. It was from MAA Bozell, offering an internship at a princely stipend of Rs 1250/- a month. All priorities were reset and the greenbacks took over. WIMCO’s Rs 500 a month offer was edged out.

Reaching Bangalore in May 1986, I checked into MAA’s office on Lavelle Road. I was dumbstruck by the flurry of activity. Everyone was on first name basis! Wow! Rather gingerly I asked for my internship coordinator Savitri and the guy at the reception just yelled at the top of his voice – “SAAAAVII.....someone here to see you.” In the background there were sounds of garrulous laughter interspersed with tastefully chosen swear words! I was sold on the profession.

The next two and a half months were one of an adventure that included countless questionnaires being filled across markets and homes in Bangalore on categories like condoms, pressure cookers, what have you, along with beer at cheapie joints – pretty much the same way we still exploit the summer interns I guess!

As the MBA programme ended in April 1987, I was only looking at ad agencies but found the going a bit tough. As a fallback, I took a job at the campus recruitments with Onida in Delhi as a management trainee. In between selling audio-stereo systems to dealers I would do the rounds of all the ad agencies in person with an electronically typed resume from Rajendra Place – from Rani Jhansi Road to Greater Kailash II to Nehru Place to Basant Lok – gathering assurances by the truckload.

And then in September 1987 I saw an ad by Mudra seeking Management Trainees across their offices. A few gruelling rounds of interviews at the hands of a maverick by the name Naganda Kumar led to my coming on board with 11 other eager-eyed guys at the lowest end of the food chain in Client Servicing teams across the various offices of Mudra.

That was on November 22, 1987. The cylinders are still firing. What a journey it has been. There were two inflexion points clearly: Getting into a not so well known MBA programme and that too on the waiting list, and then choosing the Rs 1,250 a month stipend offer at MAA Bozell and falling for the informality and energy of advertising business.

I have absolutely no regrets. It has been a great ride ever since.

There are great untold stories in advertising. If you know of any ad professional who came into the profession by chance or because of unusual circumstances, do let us know so that we can profile him. Write to us at Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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