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Woman of substance: JWT’s Babita Baruah

Baruah, who completed 20 years in advertising on December 2, 2016, speaks to BestMediaInfo about her two decades in one of India’s largest advertising agencies, her career highlights and things that inspire her

Roshni Nair| Mumbai | December 27, 2016

Babita Baruah Babita Baruah

Today, when people switch jobs like seasons change colour, to chance upon someone who has dedicated two decades of her life to an organisation and an industry is refreshing. Babita Baruah, who started as a Management Trainee at JWT’s Kolkata office (when it used to be known as HTA), is today Senior Vice-President and Head, PO1 Unit, J Walter Thompson Delhi. She completed 20 years at the agency on December 2 this year.

“My life in advertising has been my years with J Walter Thompson, in three of its offices in India. I have grown from a Management Trainee in the Kolkata office, have had the privilege of working with leading businesses, and have been inspired and mentored by some of the best industry professionals. The journey has been fantastic,” said Baruah about her journey.

Baruah, who has worked at the agency’s Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi offices, believes she has learned something from her time at each of the places and these are the experiences that have made her who she is. Calling it the ‘Tale of three cities’, she said, “It's been a tale of three cities for me. Kolkata was where I learnt the ropes of being an advertising professional. Mumbai taught me maturity, the power of motivated and happy teams, strong relationships. Delhi or Gurugram more specifically has made me strong in spirit and attitude. Today I am what I am because of these experiences.”

Hailing from the North-eastern state of Assam, she is an Economics graduate from Cotton College, Guwahati, and holds a first-class MBA degree in marketing from Gauhati University.

She is also one of the 12 Indian women recipients of the British Chevening Scholarships in 2004 and also the first woman to represent the industry at Harvard Business School, as a speaker on marketing and trends in India.

Though she now heads the PO1 Unit (Power of One), which works exclusively on the 15 PepsiCo brands that the agency handles, her portfolio spans across categories, ranging from FMCG to finance.

Is there a category she enjoys working for the most? “I enjoy FMCG the most. There is no category which is difficult to create a communication for. I have worked on finance, on technology, and have never found anything as challenging. Yes, you do have a learning curve when it is a category you are not familiar with, that’s all,” said Baruah.

In an industry that doesn’t see many women at the top, does she sometimes feel the pressure of being an inspiration to women who look up to her?

“I feel very humbled at all the opportunities I have received. I am very passionate about mentoring young women. Women at work can thrive with a strong network of mentorship and inspiration. These opportunities have helped me at work tremendously. I apply all my learnings and experience to my work, share my knowledge with clients as well as my team. I always say that I learn more than I share.”

“Leadership is about in-depth capabilities, about setting personal benchmarks and earning respect. That’s what I work towards and no, it never gets to me. In fact, my favourite quote for women out there is, ‘She needed a hero. So she became one,’” commented Baruah.

An avid blogger, she likes to blog about brands, digital, and advertising. She is also in the process of penning her book titled ‘Unbehave’.

A mentor for and AIESEC Shirpur, she likes engaging with young minds.

“Engaging with students keeps me going. I feel their fire, their dreams. My belief is that the industry needs to attract young talent through its leaders. Only strong leadership can keep us going.”

If not an adwoman she would have loved to be a Life Coach and when not working, mentoring, blogging or making history by giving lectures in Ivy league institutes, she spends her time reading.

“My favourite authors are Paulo Coelho, especially his book The Alchemist, and Simon Sinek when it comes to books on leadership. I loved his recent book ‘Together is better’. Currently I am reading ‘The ocean of churn’ by Sanjeev Sanyal.”

What does she consider her biggest achievement so far?

“The Harvard Business School session that happened in February 2016 where I was the speaker has been a moment of pride, personally. Setting up JWT PO1, the dedicated unit for PepsiCo, has been a huge professional pride and satisfaction.”

After being in the industry for so many years, what does she think will be the future of advertising?

“The future will be defined by collaboration. Ace teams who work on brands and projects…the collision point of data and content.”

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