It’s been exactly fifteen years since I exited 30 Bondel Road in Calcutta, the spiritual headquarters of the agency formerly known as HTA. A reason as good as many to remember the finest expression of an advertising culture, endorsed by the worthiest of the tribe. There is a lot for the sincere new-age organisation builder to emulate - when blessed with necessary humility, wisdom and integrity.
Like every great culture, its foundation was the people, charismatic characters infused with sublime skills. Srirup Guha Thakurta, the lovingly-mercurial Creative Head, an infinitely tender heart encircled by a fiery batter. His brother Nirup Guha Thakurta, the doyen of print production, whose nurturing of the annual ITC yearbooks would effortlessly qualify for parenting awards. Most fascinatingly Shambhu-Da’s darkroom inherited painstakingly by apprentice Shumon, where rigorous photography earned its deserving daylight. The studio, inherently manual and then grudgingly digital, where exhibition-grade artists performed day jobs with excessive finesse, Gour’s spray-gun my favourite toy.
Who can forget Dola Dutta Roy’s Info-Cell, a sublime ensemble of brand literature and HBR, responsible squarely for my current obsession to write relentlessly. Then the sternly affectionate Finance Department, epitomised by Kartick Kar, in processes a worthy precursor of even the formidable WPP. Despatch, our gateway to the then-analogue universe manned by Pijus Sit, no package daring to evade his GPS-like vigil. Mita Mathur, Executive Assistant to the Office Manager, the elegant bearer of tidings both delirious and dire. The ever-elastic Media Department, before 1947 hit the advertising business, saving many a fragile servicing career by demolishing the deadlines of the mightiest publications. At the very entry, the reception ladies, Liz and Sangeeta, warmly welcoming each to the vessel, every day of the year.
Then, there were the physical spaces, where the finest ideas sprung to bromide and celluloid. None more legendary than the full-service terrace – home to cricket, briefings, beer and many an ambitious romance. Also, the venue for the legendary Bada Khana, a Boxwallah tradition, where every stakeholder from client to vendor welcomed the New Year with every employee. The canteen led by stoic Sujit, who carefully preserved two pieces of fried rohu for finicky me, before immersing the rest in the Gangetic gravy. Of much gravitas was the conference room, entry much-aspired by management trainees, champagne daringly popped in 2001 to commemorate an accomplished year. Most defining was the grand wooden staircase, befitting an Agatha Christie hostelry, every step resonating with a signature thump, bearing the echoes of the ages. On cold windy nights when the halls were bare, the managers long departed reputedly came back for a walk, to be assured that all was well.
Some readers will be able to identify with the above while for most others, it will sound like pure fiction. Yet the unadulterated fact resides in the ingredients of culture, a daunting yet achievable template for the architects of today. Which must begin with the foundation of human goodness, garnished by a belief in genuine partnership and then, only then, moulded by the audacity of skill. The deepest respect for every function and an appreciation, rational and emotional, of the value it delivers to the distinguishable outcome. An old-fashioned alignment to designated leadership, a foundation in form for the disruption in content. Rituals and events, not haphazard or routine, instead blessed with fine meaning, uniting client and agency. A resolute obsession for perfection, severe yet serene, every creator conditioned to becoming a willing and not a captive missionary for the daily deeds. Finally, a zeal for learning, not merely the tick-mark workshop, but a continuous infusion – from the people, the processes and indeed, the walls.
30 Bondel Road no longer exists as a physical structure, the JWT of today transferred to a new-age high-rise convenience. Yet this culture thrives in every alumnus who breathed sufficiently within its liberating confines, transiting to careers of much repute, across industries and geographies. It flourishes lovably amongst clients addicted to its magical vibes, who sought every possible opportunity for debates and celebrations in the agency address.
The quest of the day is to create the ultimate integrated agency, for every candidate whether networked or indigenous. Its truest foundation is the culture of integration, as an adhesive for blending and enthusing diverse skill sets. For this, you will not find a better benchmark than the grand white mansion that once graced 30 Bondel Road. A fine inspiration for living at large, not just a living from advertising.
(Shivaji Dasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: email@example.com)
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