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‘Will Advertising ever have a Parag Agarwal?’

There is an embarrassment of talent in the Indian ecosystem and their systemised stunting is truthfully a far larger embarrassment, the Managing Director of Inexgro Brand Advisory says

Shivaji Dasgupta

Well, to be fair, the new CEO of Twitter is only partially an Indian product but many global leaders in diverse sectors have risen clearly from Indian cadres. In Technology, Banking, FMCG, Durables, Beverages, Consulting and more, but with the rather notable exception of Advertising, except a couple of genius grade professionals.

The point I wish to make is that Indian talent has broken every conceivable ceiling in every possible industry, with pronounced merit and well acquired pedigree. You certainly know the names and their well earned fame but what you must equally appreciate that they all benefitted from an inclusive and meritocratic process of talent management, where the shareholder is the only Queen known to management. Yet in Advertising and Media as well, no such pattern exists and Indians simply do not get a chance to claim the top jobs, which many thoroughly deserve from personal observation most certainly. Those enjoying careers abroad, usually in the obscure Far and Middle East regions, do so normally through autonomous job searches and rarely through a network alignment.

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Which is rather strange for many reasons, starting with the organisational structuring of agencies, invariably multinational and global in construct. I have worked with the draconian WPP system for two decades and have benefitted, like most others, from global processes in Training, HR, Finance and much else, but leashed by a clear Demography Ceiling, destined to begin and terminate in India by divine decree. Nowadays, well separated from the madding crowd, I think hard of this phenomenon and wonder why this happens, in an industry otherwise so well aligned to the globally fluid Consumer Goods or Sevices entities and I think there is an arguable answer.

At first I dismissed it to be a matter of customer connect, a string ethnic affiliation necessary to be impactful. But then this notion was hastily dismissed after noticing the policies of Reckitt, Mondelez, Pepsi, GSK, Nestle and a few similar, who are deeply entrenched in local cum global gigs, needing the most incisive regional customization. Every reasonable performer within a short tenure has the chance to build a global career but in Advertising, the Holding Company insists on holding you back to the parent geography. Then I felt it was a matter of professional competencies but in my last corporate stint, in an impressively liberal global system, my interactions confirmed that Indian managers were truly world class, if not world beating. If at all a benefit of doubt can be extended to the creative specializations, culturally rooted, surely no such barrier exists in the business functions but the ceiling there is even more firmly secured.

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I spoke to a few peers and seniors to gain valuable inputs but they too were equally perplexed as to why the merry folks in Advertising were not permitted to have a global footprint, in spite of amicable talent. In fact, the expectations are set very clearly at the outset by eager beaver house-trained HR folks that the domain is truly the nation. The few bravehearts who had mildly suggested to their bosses about such fragrant possibilities were either offered token pre retirement sops or clearly informed that Indian skillsets were necessarily not welcome in the erstwhile first world, they could well take care of themselves. Once again, certainly strange, because far more vibrant and pugnacious sectors liberally lap up Chinese and Indian talent for topmost jobs, the market potential of emerging economies yet another reason for such choices.

This is actually an interesting angle to view this situation, as in most mainstream sectors the sheer possibilities of business in the emerging economies overshadow the static West, unlike the Media and Advertising universes, where in absolute terms, the moneys spent in advanced economies staggeringly surpass the Indian outlays. A function possibly of the pricing policies of Indian media which are are still not aligned to business revenues, this a learned anecdote from a dear journalistic expert. Can we consider this to be a reason for the Demography Ceiling that persists to this very day, rather alarmingly? Partially possibly but truthfully not in full, for the future of every possible customer engagement business lies clearly in our climes and not theirs. So, I have a rather diabolical theory on why Indians, in spite of exceptional abilities, are not part of global career paths and left to stagnate in humid climes.

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Which alarmingly, is the traditional tenet of racism, a symbol of traditional supremacy that the West holds on to most dearly, and had to give up in many a traditional industry. The Advertising Industry is still alarmingly a 'White Man's Burden' and perhaps an anachronistic legacy of archaic business practices, that can possibly be busted by enlightened clients. It will need the Indian management of Reckitt and Pepsi to insist on a suitably ethnic partnership, not for cultural bonhomie but indeed a much needed equilibrium and business success. There is an embarrassment of talent in the Indian ecosystem and their systemised stunting is truthfully a far larger embarrassment.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of BestMediaInfo.com and we do not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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