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With Mike Khanna’s passing, the most significant part of the legacy of HTA is lost

Rohit Ohri, who takes charge as CEO of Dentsu Asia Pacific (ex-Japan) from today in Singapore, remembers his late boss and mentor

Singapore | June 8, 2015

Mike Khanna Mike Khanna

Mike Khanna, erstwhile CEO of HTA and Chairman Emeritus, JWT, passed away in Mumbai on Saturday, June 6, 2015, evening. Khanna, known as the doyen of the advertising industry, steered HTA for 20 years, after he took over the reins from the legendary Subhas Ghosal in 1984. Khanna spent over 38 years with the agency before assuming the role of Chairman Emeritus in January 2004.

Mike Khanna was HTA. He didn’t just build an extremely valuable company, he built a company with great values. It wasn’t without reason that HTA was called ‘The University of Advertising’. His vision, his leadership and his humanity made him a rare leader. While Mike was at the helm, there were HTA Lifers. Like me, there were many who had spent over two decades at the agency. He created an agency people didn’t want to leave.

I have many fond memories of Mike. As young account executives in HTA, we used to cling on to every word he uttered at our workshops. He was our role model. I remember when we were associate account directors, he gave all of us laptops. We were the first agency boys making presentations on laptops. Many of our clients didn’t laptops them. Macs for art directors and in the studio were another first.

I wanted to move from Calcutta (now called Kolkata) to Bombay (now known as Mumbai). Bombay was the Mecca of Indian advertising. He said he would do something. Months later he told me to move to Delhi to manage brand Pepsi. I was not super excited about Delhi. But he said it would be the best thing for me. I moved. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me! Pepsi took my career to a completely different level.

Rohit Ohri Rohit Ohri

I had many interactions with him during my years as head of the Pepsi business at HTA. He was truly proud of the work we had done on the brand and he made me showcase our work at many a global forum. A true leader, Mike empowered his managers and helped them shine.

One day he called me to Mumbai for an extraordinary India Executive Committee meeting. I knew there was an imminent shuffle of General Managers of the different HTA India offices. I was hoping he would make me a GM as well. Can’t be the Delhi Office GM I thought, as I made my way from the airport to his office. Delhi Office was HTA’s crown jewel. All GMs had to earn their stripes in smaller offices before they were handed the keys of Delhi. I was fairly certain he would send me to Chennai. My wife told me to SMS ‘sambar’ to her if I got charge of Chennai office. As Mike unveiled his plan that afternoon, my heart was pounding furiously. “And Delhi will be managed by…” He paused, looked around the board room, slowly and deliberately, and raised his hand and pointed at me. I couldn’t believe it! I’m truly grateful to Mike for believing in me. ‘Butter chicken’ was my SMS to my wife.

Thank you, Mike. You’ve inspired and guided more leaders in the advertising industry than anyone else. You will live on in our hearts.

Tarun Rai Tarun Rai

In a press statement, Tarun Rai, CEO, J. Walter Thompson South Asia, said, “J. Walter Thompson owes so much to Mike. And many, like me, owe their careers to him. He was a legend in Indian advertising and a great leader and motivator. For decades he and HTA (and later JWT) were synonymous. His legacy is extraordinary. He will be missed." Rai has worked very closely with Khanna during his earlier tenure with JWT.

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