Extract from Ambi Parameswaran’s ‘Sponge: Leadership Lessons I Learnt From My Clients’: A New Business Pitch That Wasn’t Quite …

24 Jul,2018

By Ambi Parameswaran


In 1989, I moved to Chennai to set up Ulka Advertising’s office in that city. Strange as it may sound, the agency by then already had offices in Kochi, Bangalore and Hyderabad (two had never made profits in their history), but not yet in Chennai till I was sent there to open one. While it was nice to be based out of Chennai, I travelled more than four days a week. Also, at that point, I hadn’t yet pitched for any business in Chennai itself.

On one of my trips I bumped into an old friend—Chinnen Das—who asked me what I was doing in Chennai. As I explained my tryst with travel, he asked me why I wasn’t yet looking for business in Chennai. I had to explain that I ran a one-man office and wasn’t sure who would trust me against the many well entrenched full-fledged agencies in Chennai. But Chinnen being Chinnen, insisted that I had to meet this ‘great chap’ who had moved to Chennai to handle the RPG Group’s business interests in the city, especially Spencer’s department store.

Cut to the bar at Connemara Hotel. I met Chinnen at the promised time of 7.30 p.m. and soon we were joined by Mr Pradipta Mohapatra, the President of Spencer’s. Chinnen left soon after and I was left to work my charm on Pradipta. I did not have to try. We spoke of many things including life in Kolkata (and my two years at Joka, where the IIM was located), the RPG Group’s plans in Chennai, Ulka’s old history with CeatTyres, another RPG Group company and so on. As the evening progressed I discovered that I was thoroughly enjoying Pradipta’s company. There was so much to learn from him and his views on life. We did not speak a word about advertising or marketing. I did not ask for business, and that worked in my favour. As we ended the evening, Pradipta asked me if I would like to work on his new business plans. I confessed that I was a one-man show in Chennai and I did not want to take on his work and disappoint him. To which Pradipta replied that he was also working with a small team and where would he get a guy like me to work hands-on. As if that weren’t enough, he then went on to say that he liked me, I seemed to be a good guy and that Ulka was a known agency, which had done work for the Group. And then he cut to the chase, asking me to meet him the next day. We shook hands at 9 p.m. and that’s how I landed my first account in Chennai—without any RFP, pitch or extended negotiations on team size and revenues!

I realised then that Pradipta had a tremendous ability to gauge a person, evaluate a person’s worth and build a bond. While he did most of the talking at that first meeting, somewhere deep inside he was also probably judging me and forming an impression. As I worked for the next five years on the various plans of Spencer’s, I realised that Pradipta had the ability to build strong teams. And keep them motivated.

It was through him that I discovered that Harvard Business School runs a ten-week programme called the Advanced Management Program (AMP). He had attended the programme and called me to his office to share stories about AMP with me. Later, I discovered that Pradipta was also an avid watch collector, or a horologist as they are known. So much so that Titan Watches often called him in as an advisor, to give them counsel about higher-end watch design.

Pradipta Moha

Pradipta did nothing in small measure. Later, he set up the Coaching Foundation of India along with Ganesh Chella and R. Ramraj. This has become the foremost Coaching Certification Institution in India. As I was transitioning out of my role as Advisor, FCB Ulka Advertising to a Brand Coach/Consultant, a dear friend K. Dasaratharaman (Dash) advised me that I ought to get myself certified as a CEO Coach at CFI: ‘Ambi,’ he said, ‘you know Pradipta well, call him and go and meet him, man!’ I messaged Pradipta the next day and he messaged back that he would be in Mumbai the next month and would meet me.

I forgot about this interaction and once again remembered Pradipta when I was in Chennai that December (Music Season, you see!). I called him and he asked me if I could meet him at his home the next day in the morning. When I walked in I was in for a shock. I had always seen Pradipta in the best of clothes, wearing a premium watch and more. Here was Pradipta, significantly bald, dressed in a frayed t-shirt and shorts, looking like a pale imitation of his old self. I did not know, till I walked in, that he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment. He was nonchalant, asked me to sit down, ordered a cup of tea for me and told me that he was beating the Big C and would be back to travelling in a few weeks.

Pradipta, as always, wanted me to tell him what I was planning to do. I enumerated the various things I was planning to do and Pradipta told me with a twinkle in his eye, ‘Whatever you do, Ambi, don’t start a business school.’ I knew he had tried his hand at starting a business school in Chennai and did not want me to fall into the same trap. But he said it with a lot of candour and humour. We got speaking about the Coaching Foundation of India and his passion for CEO Coaching. He suggested that I should do the certificate programme, but I ought to first speak with R. Sridhar in Mumbai to find out how the Coaching Certification could help me in my Brand Consulting practice.

I took his advice and enrolled for the programme that started in August 2016. We were fortunate that Pradipta had recovered well and was ready to welcome the new batch of CEO Coaches to the Induction programme. He regaled us with wonderful stories filled with life-lessons.

As I was completing my certification process, I was looking forward to reconnecting with Pradipta and continue the old dialogues we used to have. But that was not to be. Pradipta lost his fight against the Big C and passed away on 13 March 2017.

When we held a condolence meeting in memory of Pradipta Mohapatra in Mumbai and we had a room full of seasoned CEO Coaches, all whom had been certified by CFI, I realised that I was the person who had known him for the longest period. So I was asked to speak first. What I have recollected in this chapter was what I shared with the people in the room. Each of them had a similar story to tell about Pradipta, and how he managed to connect with every one of them, in some unique way.

Pradipta was a CEO of a large company. But he was a very different kind of a CEO.

There are many types of personality tests and the one that is the most commonly used is the ‘Myers–Briggs Type Indicator’ (MBTI). The MBTI was constructed by  Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. It is based on the typological theory proposed by Carl Jung, who had speculated that there are four principal psychological functions through which humans experience the world—sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking— and that one of these four functions is dominant for a person most of the time.  The MBTI was constructed for normal populations and emphasises the value of naturally occurring differences. The underlying assumption of the MBTI is that we all have specific preferences in the way we construe our experiences, and these preferences underlie our interests, needs, values, and motivations.

Under the MBTI, people are categorised into various groups based on:

:: Outward or Inward focus (Extroversion/Introversion)

:: How you take in information (Sensing/Intuition)

:: How you prefer to make decisions (Thinking/Feeling)

:: How you prefer to live your outer life (Judging/Perceiving)


There are short codes for various personality types such as ENTJ (Extroversion / Intuition/ Thinking / Judging). Most senior managers have highly developed Extroversion, Sensing, Thinking and Judging orientation. They depend on data and are very leftbrained in their analysis (while a lot of brain research is still going on as our brain is the most complicated computer, it is believed that our left brain deals with rational elements and our right brain deals with creative and emotional elements).

I would submit that Pradipta must have been an ENFP (Extroversion / Intuition / Feeling / Perceiving) kind of a person. He was a great storyteller, speaker and extrovert. But he was also great at coming to decisions based on his intuition (giving me business in Chennai without a formal pitch, for instance). He was also a lover of art and the finer things of life. Possibly a result of his highly-tuned Feeling and Perceiving skills.

* * Readers may want to test their own MBTI Scores from any popular freeto-use survey available on the web. But please note, these are not authorised by the MBTI authorities and may not be accurate. There are also some strong criticism of the MBTI process, so please don’t use it indiscriminately.

Clients like Pradipta are indeed rare. You learn a lot from them by just listening. You also realise that as you select your partner companies, it is most important to create a personal bond with the key individual. It is all well and good to say that it is a company-tocompany relationship, but without the key glue between people on both sides, the relationship is not going to last. I remembered the way Pradipta trusted me and many times in my own career how I have trusted service providers after spending just a couple of hours chatting with them. In hindsight, I think the calls I made based on intuition and feeling worked better than calls that were made based on sensing and thinking, hard facts and proof of concept. The usual disclaimers apply!


Extracted with permission from the Publisher

Sponge: Leadership Lessons I Learnt From My Clients by AmbiParameswaran

Published by Westland

Paperback, 184 pages

Price: Rs 350 (Rs 210 on Amazon and Flipkart)



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