It was the mid-nineties India and I was working for Azim Premji at Wipro. Among other things, I chaired the corporation’s sales and marketing council. Wipro was in the cusp of things. But Chairman Azim Premji had the clairvoyance that the Indian economy would open up and beyond providing what he termed “escort services” to multi-nationals, Indian corporations would have to transform themselves into world-class companies in order to survive and flourish. This meant working intensely on two things: quality and brand. On the Quality front, Wipro had decided to embrace the concept of Six Sigma and rolled it out as the new language of work at the five disparate businesses with help from the Motorola University. On the brand front, Wipro needed to discover its promise, reengineer its stodgy look and feel, and make the corporation ready for the 21st century. It needed help.
Help arrived in the form of a rather unusual individual: Shombit Sengupta. When Shombit came, to begin with, the chief executive council at Wipro, its apex decision making body, was flummoxed at his appearance, his utterances and the aftershocks every encounter left them with. He challenged the very fundamentals; he demanded that they think not just the look and feel of the brand but the very reason for their existence. The Indian born, strategic brand consultant used to live in Paris at that time where he had nearly 50 French designers working for him as he transformed brands across companies in consumer products to financial services using structured methodologies that built the foundation of a brand. Over the next one year, Shombit changed the Wipro brand identity and in the process, left an indelible mark on the mind of the corporation.
In 1998, I moved on from Wipro and joined Lucent and during my stay there, the seed of MindTree was sown. Things were still embryonic and one day, work brought me to Paris. I went to look up Shombit and using him as a sounding board, I presented the business plan for the unborn MindTree. Shombit listened intently and then asked me just one question. “What would be the DNA of the company?” DNA of the company; what was that? I was startled. DNA, he explained, is the key to all differentiation, it is the seed of the brand and just as living beings have a unique DNA and that replicates, a company is also a unique entity and without a DNA it would not replicate; would not survive. The MindTree founders rolled back, we thought through and decided that our DNA would be imagination, action and joy. It was this seed that then led to the name MindTree and later, the logo of the company drawn by a 17-year-old school boy with cerebral palsy. The rest is history.
In the succeeding years, Shombit was transforming brands for Britannia and Jubilant and Hindustan Unilever, Lewis Berger and Mahindra and Mahindra. Story has it that at one time, if you walked into a European home, you could see at least 6 things that had a Shombit Sengupta signature: from Danone to Remy Martin, from Nestle to Cartier. In this process, Shombit today is a brand unto himself.
In the forthcoming issue of Zen Garden, Shombit is my guest. He tells me all about what CEOs in India must know about their brand; who will disrupt the status quo and some interesting aspects of his early days few people know about. Do find the time for the Forbes India issue on the stands over the coming weekend and let me know your thoughts.
Before I sign off, many thanks to Subramani and Sunil for the two fabulous stories in response to the last blog. Take care for now.