Reflections by Vishnu Mohan: Asia comes out of the shadows

In which the author turns away from the oil industry for a career in advertising, picks his next employer out of a phone book and shares his perspectives from a 22-year career. 

Destiny has its own ways to take you to where it wants to, or else how would you explain an engineer taught to perform artificial recovery of oil from depleted reservoirs landing in the world of “Mad Men”. 

Blame it on a lazy Saturday, dragged by a friend to attend a pre-placement talk at my B-school campus. I was simply mesmerized by those 45 minutes of Ajit Balakrishnan (co-founder of Rediffusion Advertising in India and much later founder and chairman of rediff.com ) who made the advertising world so meaningful away from the glamorous perception that my mind had held for years. I gave up everything and became a part of this industry, working at Rediffusion, in the summer of 1991. He was right and so was I. Have never looked back since then, 22 years gone and many more to come.

I have been with Havas since 1995, purely by chance. Having applied to several known agencies and having heard only from a few, I thought of expanding the net and turned to yellow pages for the same. Ball Partnership (the erstwhile Euro RSCG in the pre-internet era and coming from India where it wasn’t present) was a complete stranger to me, and had it not been their appearance in a bold, large font, would not have been part of my history. I mailed the CV on Tuesday, received a call from them on Wednesday evening, got interviewed on Thursday and had an appointment letter on Friday. Hurray, ADVERTISING WORKS.


The author in the mid-1990s

In the last two decades I have had the fortune to work off many locations within the Asia Pacific region as well as be based in London for a while.  It is amazing, fascinating and heartening to move from being in the shadow to being in the spotlight. All eyes are on us, as suddenly we have moved from being implementers of set strategies borne in the West and caretakers for imported brands to originating and developing global practices and building Asian global brands.

Having been a suit, a strat planner, a media planner and a manager before being trusted with building the Havas Media network from scratch, I have had the fortune to meet, influence and be influenced by diversity of people and cultures.  In these years we have changed for the better and have become more meaningful both for the individual and for the society. Good work sells, but meaningful work sells even better. And at the heart of “meaningful disruptions”, my motto for future success, lies a piece of truth and my three words of wisdom: be simple, be honest, be yourself.

Vishnu Mohan is CEO of Havas Media Asia Pacific.

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