So my brother gets the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award

29 Jul,2016


By Shekar Swamy


Sundar told me about it casually, like he usually does. He could well have been telling me “I am going to get a cup of coffee”. I accepted the news casually, mumbling something like “Good, congratulations”. I can’t recall if I shook his hand. No theatrics from either side. Both of us were there when our father accepted the same award 22 years ago. May be both of us knew this was going to happen.


Enough will be said and written about his various activities in the industry, so I am not going there. In my mind, no one else deserves it more. He has been tireless, period. The only thing about this news was that I didn’t hear about it from the driver, who somehow always seems to know more about Sundar’s whereabouts, and happenings relating to him, than I do.


Our growing up years in Chennai were pretty unremarkable and middle-class to the core. Busy father. Housewife mother. Grandmother and an aunt always at home. Six siblings, who as I think about it, were all pretty well-behaved, perhaps even boring. Lots of cousins and family around. Home was a place to be shared. The front door was hardly ever shut, except at night. One day in the ’70s there was a lot of hushed talk. My father and his elder brother, and the wives, were in a huddle. I later learnt that my dad had quit his job, which was his life. He was to do something on his own. The import of it hardly made a dent to my teenage senses. Over the next few months, lots of people kept coming and going. There was a sense of urgency and preparation. The puja happened, and R K Swamy opened shop in his brother’s house, I suspect because he could delay rents as much as he wanted.


A vintage pic of the Swamy brothers: Shekar (left) with Srinivasan Swamy

The rest of it was a whirl. So many people working so hard to meet so many unreasonable deadlines. Sundar finished his MBA, and went into the business, five years after it started. Comments were heard. “He is looking after his father’s business” was a common refrain, like he was literally sitting in the shop. Little did people know.


R K SWAMY the agency was never meant to be another shop. The DNA from ever was to build a lasting institution. The ambition stretched beyond the Chennai roots, which in itself was unusual. In this, Sundar played a strong role, running around from city to city, often trailing behind Mr Swamy. As one of our colleagues put it, if Mr Swamy was the Account Director, then Sundar was the Account Supervisor carrying artworks around. Clients always came first, people always had to be respected and family interests came thereafter.


BBDO joined hands in the mid-80s. We kept building the core advertising business. We recast the Research activity. We created a Television programming game. We expanded into diversified marketing services. We pioneered the Analytics and Customer Marketing space, embracing marketing technology. We ventured to build a US presence, on our own.


All of this underpins Sundar’s ability to take that risk, and continue with the DNA of building the institution. He is a serial entrepreneur – no angel investor or VC here – on his own dime. He has been in the lead, helping fashion the foremost Indian-owned and controlled advertising and marketing services group, by itself a serious contribution to the industry.


Sundar no doubt grew up in the business. But his participation stretches way beyond to very many social causes. He gives, more than he takes, again and again and again. There is a lesson there, somewhere. Perhaps awards come when one does this without nary a thought.


Shekar Swamy is Group CEO, R K SWAMY HANSA


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