Prema Sagar on Harold Burson@96: Harold has been and is our Idol

16 Feb,2017

Harold Burson. Picture courtesy


Special to MxMIndia: Prema Sagar, Founder of Genesis Burson-Marsteller and Vice Chair, Burson Marsteller Asia Pacific writes on Harold Burson, Founding Chairman of Burson-Marsteller, as he turns 96 today (Feb 16)

By Prema Sagar

People variously describe him as the godfather of public relations, the grandmaster of PR, “the century’s most influential PR figure”, “an industry icon”, and so on. He is all that, of course. But for me, even if you forget about all the professional achievements, Harold is an inspiring man with boundless energy—a personal idol. Every time I feel tired or overwhelmed by everything around me, I just have to remind myself that here is a 96-year-young man who goes to work every day. Clients still turn to Harold for counsel even in the age of dizzying changes in communication. Who is an active member of the community, chairing various social development bodies and initiatives? Who remembers every person he comes across and doesn’t hesitate to learn from anyone?

I first met Harold way back in the first couple of years of the new millennium. He was already past the usual ‘retirement age’. We were in talks with Burson-Marsteller over an issue that a joint venture between an Indian and an American firm had. We were managing the Indian firm, while Burson-Marsteller was managing the American firm. As we worked together, we realised that nine of our clients were part of their Top 20 list of clients! I also realised that our way of working, and most importantly, our work ethos, were very similar.

It all stemmed from Harold’s own work ethic. That’s when I knew that we wanted to partner with them for longer than just the immediate issue. I went to the US and met Harold for the first time. He just said one thing: “We need to do business together to be partners, not just have a partnership.” His clarity of thought, passion for what he does, and exuberant warmth had me in his thrall in no time. Bill Rylance, former CEO, Burson-Marsteller Asia Pacific charmed us in partnering with an exclusive affiliation and over time realised that the partnership was working well. And then we decided to go ahead with being part of Burson-Marsteller.

Every year since then, I meet Harold as often as I can. I see the energy in him only increase further. I spent many hours with him recently in New York and I continue to feel blessed with his simple yet impactful thoughts.  His ability to cut through the clutter and arrive at the heart of the matter quickly—and politely—is something I admire a lot. And that sharpness has not dimmed a bit over the years.


Prema Sagar


One of the leading lights of the Indian public relations and communications industry, Prema Sagar is Vice Chair, Burson Marsteller Asia Pacific & Founder, Genesis Burson Marsteller


Also watch: Prema Sagar on ‘When Genesis PR met Burson-Marsteller’


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