The Wally We Knew

16 Apr,2014


By Rajesh Kejriwal


Rajesh Kejriwal

I rarely classify people, even those that i admire and like, as “fine human beings”. Wally, undoubtedly, was one of those fine human beings.


I first met Wally when I Invited him to speak at Kyoorius Designyatra in 2007 and my first impression of him was that he does not suffer fools easily and has a zero tolerance for bull-shitters. So, in the beginning, i decided to handle him with kid gloves – something I have to do with many a speaker who have fragile egos or need attention. But within the first two hours of his presence at Designyatra, – I realised my mistake. Wally had a very warm side to him and really really cared about people. He said that I would do better looking after other speakers and that he would do better meeting young people and in his usual witty style said: let me be with people who admire me. This is one of the many many photos of Wally with youngsters at Designyatra in 2007 - It was amazing to see admiration in the young ones’ faces, and how he treated them with the greatest honour and love. He absolutely loved the currency with his image and took back an entire bundle of them.



Avik Chattopadhyay on Wally: Brutally frank, eternally optimistic


Avik Chattopadhyay, Marketing Head, Volkswagen India, was CEO – Indian Operations at Saffron Brand Consultants in 2010-11 and interacted with Wally as a client, employee and a friend


By Avik Chattopadhyay


I met Wally Olins in 1990, not in person, but through his book Corporate Identity.

Since then I have been an admirer, client, colleague and well-wisher.

What struck me most about “Sir” are his brutal frankness, brevity in expression and eternal optimism.


Being around and with him, I have seen many who copy Wally Olins… his words, his opinion, his thoughts and even parts of his work. For, many amongst us want to ‘be’ Wally Olins. But Wally Olins was and remained himself.


And that is what I have learnt from him… to stop living others’ lives and be myself. My identity, my truth and my being.


That is what Wally Olins wanted in each of us.


As individuals. As experiences. As brands.


Avik Chattopadhyay is Marketing Head, Volkswagen India. He was CEO – Indian Operations at Saffron Brand Consultants from February 2010 to April 2011 and before he joined Saffron, he interacted with Wally when he worked with Apollo, one of Saffron’s first clients in India


A few months later I got a mail from Wally. He was coming back as a delegate member of the London Mayor’s visit to India. He was in Mumbai over the weekend and asked if I would like to catch up. I met him on a Friday evening and learnt that he was totally free over the weekend.  He commented on how he drove from Mumbai to Kashmir back in the days he used to head what is now O&M India and that he loved the roadside dhaba food. I asked him out to lunch the next day and decided to take him out to Sunny Da Dhaba in Lonavala - That seven-hour journey for lunch, kind of, sealed a friendship that I have very fond memories of and will always cherish. At the end, he thanked me in his classic style – you know this is why I love Indians – who else could take you out for a total of seven-hour lunch –  a four-hour journey time for lunch and three hours over lunch.


It was also that visit when he sealed the deal for Apollo and subsequently came back quite often to India and we met always. In the beginning of 2008, I connected Wally to Bajaj Auto and then he decided to open an office in India and made me a independent director of Saffron India and my journey with Wally began – a journey that has shaped me in many, many ways.


The one very distinct quality about Wally was that he would say what he thought, would not tolerate second-rate thinking, writing or communicating and everyone who was around him would get balled, some of us who were close to him would get balled more frequently.


One of the many things that I took from Wally was about being on time. Though i must admit Wally was always very anal about it – he would want to arrive at the airport a minimum of three hours earlier and if someone dropped him four hours earlier, he would love that person. We went to every meeting with a minimum of 15 minutes to spare and God forbid if the client delayed the meeting for more than 15 minutes. Once a Chairman kept us waiting for almost 70 minutes and I was bearing the brunt of his frustration during that period and trying to explain how this happens in India. At the end, when the Chairman walked in without an iota of feeling sorry for the delay and walked in and just started talking about his company. Wally stood and said – “So far its been a absolute displeasure meeting you and you have five minutes to change my perception about you. If you do, then and if you want, we can meet tomorrow at The Leela at four. The Chairman was dumbfounded but was immensely contrite, apologised profusely and said that he would meet Wally at The Leela.


But that was Wally but he did it with a flair that was as brutal as it was charming and at the end, everyone still liked him. He is the only person i have met who would literally shame you with his words but win your heart at the same time with his twinkling eyes and witty humour. But when you knew him closely, you also realised that he had great patience in talking to his colleagues, spending immense amount of time explaining to them, guiding them repeatedly and was very caring to ensure that all the people under him grew with learning.


Once we had some free time in Kolkata and he took me to the Victoria Cemetery and spent an hour guiding me, i was very impressed. It was only later that i realised that this was only his second visit and that the first one was almost fifty years back. But that was classic Wally – he had an insatiable curiosity and would absorb anything and everything.


I have known Wally for the last seven years but those who really spent time with him also know that Wally was one person who made you so comfortable personally, became family and made you feel a part of his family. It’s been an honour and i feel blessed that i had the opportunity of being a part of Wally’s journey, of our families being close to each other.


I know we have lost him but we have not lost him as a role model in my lifetime. My wife and children were equally devastated yesterday. He would sit down for hours with my daughter and advise her on her career. In his last visit, he invited her to London and work with him for four months. My daughter was planning to go in July this year. Sadly, Wally won’t be around, but am sure he will continue to advise her, painstaking as he always would, from up there.


Rajesh Kejriwal is Founder and CEO, Kyoorius, a not-for-profit initiative that organises the Designyatra and various Design-related events. He is also Chief Editor and Publisher of Kyoorius magazine. After a successful D&AD-backed Design Awards last year, this year Kyoorius is also hosting the Advertising and Digital awards, backed by D&AD.


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