Meet Ashish Bhasin, CEO of Denstu Aegis Network APAC

06 Sep,2019

 

At mid-afternoon on Thursday, in a cool, rainy climes of Khandala near Mumbai, the top deck of the Dentsu Aegis Network had gathered. While they had seen the rise of the Network in India, the announcement was perhaps the best recognition of their work in the last decade-odd. Their leader – Ashish Bhasin – had been appointed CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network APAC. And APAC included the key markets of China, Australia and New Zealand. He will will join big boss Tim Andree’s Global Executive Team, the first and only Indian to occupy the chair. Bhasin will continue to maintain his role as Chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network India. Meanwhile, Anand Bhadkamkar, COO India and CFO South Asia, has been promoted to CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network India. He will report to Bhasin, as earlier.

Bhasin, who was MxMIndia Mediaperson of the Year in 2016, spoke with us over the phone from Khandala. While the clouds were out there in the Western Ghats as also in Mumbai where we are located, the sun was shining very brightly for Bhasin and the Indian advertising industry.

Read on…

 

Congratulations. Your elevation as CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network Asia Pacific is huge. Your sentiment as you move on to Singapore to take on the role?

Thank you. If the company trusts you with a bigger responsibility, it obviously makes you feel good. First off, I feel it is actually credit to the fantastic team we’ve had pan-India. This has been a dream run of sorts. We started with 40-50 people and today we are almost 3700-3800 people. At a time when everybody is struggling, the markets have slowed down, etc, we have continuously been the fastest growing group in India for maybe five years in a row. It feels good because all of that is in some way recognising India’s performance and from India’s point of view, I think it is a nice reflection on the team and on the country.

 

If you have to look back, what would you say would be the single biggest achievement since you helmed DAN in India?

I think two things: One is that I was very lucky that I was able to build and retain a fantastic leadership team. If you look at the senior leadership of Dentsu Aegis Network, while the turnover rate is very high in India, in the last 11 years ever since we started this journey, not one single leader at the senior level has left us. Everybody who has been with us, and who we wanted in our team, was in our team 11 years ago and is today in our team too. In fact more got added as time went by. I think building that cohesive world class leadership team is something that I will always be proud of and I will always rate it as one of the best things that we managed to do.

The other thing was taking this call on digital – to invest in digital in a big way. In India, no one else was looking at it and in many ways because of that we got a huge head-start over our competition. Of course eventually everybody is trying to play catch up and will do so over a period of time but that gave us market leadership. Digital was the fastest growing part in the advertising industry…

 

Acquisitions have been a significant feature of your tenure, right?

Yes, of course. That has been an integral part of my strategy. I’ve always said 50% of my growth should be organic and 50% should come from acquisitions because acquisitions are only about money. They also bring in fresh talent. Some of the best talent in the country whom we would never have been able to hire as employees, but we were able to bring into our group thanks to the acquisitions.

 

And you have been able to retain them..

People like Vivek Bhargava as an example.

 

Right.

So these are all very senior leaders and have finished their earnouts and have done very well in life, and they still continue to run their companies  many years after that exactly the way they used to right from the first day when they started,

 

And Aggie (Agnello Dias) and Paddy (Santosh Padhi)

Yes, and Aggie and Paddy. We managed to create an environment where we give our leaders enough space, One thing that people forget is that for an entrepreneur, it’s more than just money. Money is very important but it is your baby… it’s your life, right? Nobody can run Taproot better than Aggie and Paddy, nobody can run Communicate 2 better than Vivek, nobody can run Sokrati better than…

True.

And so on and so forth. So, we allowed them that, but the challenge is the need to align people as a group because we are now 23 different agencies all moving in same direction. I think we achieved that pretty well and I am very proud of the fact that even after their earnouts are over, all these fantastic leaders continue to run their businesses even more successfully than they did when they were standalone entrepreneurs.

 

Is there something that you would’ve possibly liked to have happened differently?

Yes, I think, it is quite clear to me now that we were significantly better than our competition. We were way ahead because even though our competition was well-established, very big, etc, we still managed to beat the hell out of them and gain huge marketshare. I think I could have been a lot more aggressive…  I should have been even more aggressive because we were really faced by very weak competitors who were still caught in a legacy world and who missed this digital revolution. We grew very fast, maybe we should have grown even faster.

 

Since your move as APAC head requires a relocation to Singapore even though you continue to be chairman of India, how much time will spend here in India?

I am doing the Greater South role already and I am travelling a helluva lot.

 

But this has a bigger footprint.

So, there won’t be any significant change in the number of days that I am spending in India. I do intend to spend at least a week every month here. I will be retaining my office in India and I will be actively involved in India. But I will be much less involved in the running of day-to-day operations which now we have a new CEO in the form of Anand (Bhadkamkar) who has been involved in this journey from Day 1.

So I am not going away. I am not leaving, in fact I will probably spend as much time in India as I am currently. I am travelling 15-20 days in a month. Given that it’s a region as large as APAC with countries from Australia, New Zealand on one end, and China to Taiwan, Korea, South East Asia, etc. and because our regional center is there, Singapore is the most appropriate place to do that.

 

Anything that you hope to achieve immediately as Densu APAC CEO?

There are some inherent advantages we have as a group. We can bring all market communication services to the client, so one P/L which was very instrumental in our success in India. And then there is our approach to be digitally ahead. I see no reason why we can’t do this very, very well in every single country.

 

Back home, you’ve just taken charge of your second year as President of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI). Are you going to continue with that?

Well, coincidentally we also have our Board meet on Friday. So I will definitely inform my EC (Executive Committee) about the change. And I will go by whatever they decide – whether they would want me to continue my term or not.

 

The Announcement:

Dentsu Aegis Network today announces the appointment of Ashish Bhasin, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Greater South into the newly created role of CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network, APAC, effective immediately. Based in Singapore, he joins the Dentsu Aegis Network Global Executive team and will report into Takaki Hibino, Executive Chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network APAC. Takaki’s role as Executive Chairman, APAC remains the same.

This move further cements the recently announced Cluster Structure; Greater North, Greater South and ANZ in APAC, giving the markets and their leadership teams greater focus on identifying and moving into key growth opportunities. Ashish will focus on accelerating this growth while delivering greater operational rigor and leadership excellence across the region. These changes reflect evolving market dynamics across the region, mitigating the disruption that new entrants, shifting consumer demands and technological evolution creates by focusing on delivering long-term, sustainable growth for our clients. Ashish will maintain his role as Chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network India.

Commenting on Ashish’s elevation, Takaki Hibino, Executive Chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network APAC said: “Ashish’s appointment is critical for the region; enabling the markets to focus on client needs and growth opportunities while delivering operational rigor for the business. He was a clear candidate from the start with a proven track record of delivering long-term and consistent growth. Under his leadership, the business in India is now the second largest Advertising & Media organisation by revenue in the market. His long-term vision coupled with his acumen for identifying an opportunity is one of the best in the business, and I am delighted he will join me in leading the business in APAC.”

Ashish Bhasin, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network APAC commented: “I am thrilled to be taking on this new role within the APAC region. There is never a more exciting time to be in this business; our competitive landscape is becoming more complex and fragmented while our clients are crying out for long-term vision and simplicity. We have to keep their needs as our North Star whilst delivering long-term, sustainable growth for our business. We are in a unique position to build propositions around our client needs, and I look forward to this next chapter in the transformation journey of this region.”

Anand Bhadkamkar

In India, Anand Bhadkamkar, erstwhile COO India & CFO South Asia, has now been promoted to CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network India. Anand will continue to report to Ashish Bhasin in his new role.

Anand Bhadkamkar, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network India commented: “I am extremely excited and honoured to take on this new responsibility. I look forward to embarking upon a new chapter in my career and work with Ashish as the Chairman of India to continue building DAN into the country’s most innovative, future-proofed market-leading network. Our One P&L philosophy and our leadership status in Digital sets us up in the best position versus our competitors.”

In addition, Masaya Nakamura, Deputy Chairman & Chief Growth Officer, APAC has taken a new role as CEO, Global Solutions, Dentsu Aegis Network, based in Tokyo. Prakash Kamdar, CEO, Isobar Singapore has been promoted to CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Singapore.

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