Of Piyush Pandey, kachoris and shower time

Published: April 16, 2019 12:22 AM

Only a ‘secure’ person will allow an idea to be transformed from being his or her, to an idea that belongs to a group of people aligned to one objective.

The person or people you share the idea with might believe that the idea is not as good as you thought it was—and even believe the idea is useless. (portrait: shyam kumar prasad)The person or people you share the idea with might believe that the idea is not as good as you thought it was—and even believe the idea is useless. (portrait: shyam kumar prasad)

By Anant Rangaswami

You meet Piyush Pandey for the first time at an event. You hand over your business card and presume he’ll give you his card. He doesn’t, because he doesn’t carry one. Not to worry; he tells you to mail him on piyush.pandey@ogilvy.com and he’ll respond immediately. On the way back, you send him an email, wondering whether he’ll reply.

The next morning, you’re in a meeting and get an alert. You glance down at the new mail—it’s from Piyush, referring to the meeting the previous evening and asking you to stay in touch. The signature has his coordinates.

You’re impressed.

He’s been promoted recently as the global chief creative officer of one of the world’s most recognised advertising agencies, Ogilvy; he assured you he’d mail you immediately, and he did.

What you don’t know is he didn’t ‘send’ the mail himself.

What you don’t know is he doesn’t check his email himself.

His mail checking and replying process, you would never realise, is long and painful. In fact, Piyush’s ever-efficient secretary, Ophelia Gomes, ‘operates’ his mail. She logs in and waits for the inbox to populate itself.

If her boss is in office, she prints out all new mails and takes it to his room. If he isn’t in office, she sends a printout to wherever he is (in town). If he’s not in town, she reads what she considers important mails over the phone (he receives printouts of the others when he is back). He either dictates the responses to each mail or writes out the responses in neat and legible longhand, and Ms Gomes will mail the responses.

Piyush is not on any social media platform. He’s on WhatsApp, with the primary use being the ability to see creatives when colleagues need his input and the secondary use being the ability to be in the conversation between members of the family.

By and large, he sees social media as a waste of his time.

He prefers the real and physical social interaction rather than the virtual. He wants to see, feel, touch, hear and smell the world, and not have that experience interrupted by something as stupid and impersonal as a smartphone.

In a nutshell, that’s what makes Piyush Pandey what he his.

When he sees, feels, touches, hears and smells the same things in the same environment as you and I, he sees, feels, touches, hears and smells elements that you and I fail to notice. And he does this with an appetite akin to greed. He does this ‘all’ the time.

If you reread the last paragraph, you might say, “Yes, they all say that. I’ve heard it before.”

You haven’t—but those who know Piyush have experienced this insatiable curiosity.

Like the time when I was with him in Jaipur, staying at his sister’s house. We were scheduled to attend his book launch on a Saturday evening and we flew in on Friday evening.

On Saturday morning, as we finished our millionth cup of tea, Piyush was impatiently waiting for his sister’s driver to arrive, and no one understood why. Immediately after the driver arrived, Piyush said to me, “Come.” We got into the car, drove for 15 minutes and ended up at a market. He walked with great purpose and stopped at a nondescript ‘stall’—one selling kachoris. The owner, dressed in a white vest and trousers, greeted Piyush with great warmth, and Piyush greeted Koteta—the owner’s name—with equal warmth. As the kachoris were being cooked, Piyush invited him to the book launch. Koteta promised to come.

The next evening, a transformed Koteta, wearing a shirt, trousers and shoes, walked into the five-star hotel—the venue for the release. Piyush greeted him effusively and had him seated in the second row—immediately behind the chief guest, (then) chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia.

The launch over, Koteta bought a copy of the book and waited for Piyush Pandey to autograph it.

This is one of the many stories I could narrate, and all those close to him could narrate many stories of their own.

What Piyush does is to ‘share’ his great experiences, and attempts to share the experience again with you. Sharing generously is his extraordinary facet, and he believes it is an essential element in the make-up of any creative person.

Once I asked him how long he spends on interviews, what he asks candidates and what he wants to learn from the interviews, he answered cryptically, “All that I want to establish is that the candidate is a ‘secure’ human being.”

Secure?

Why is security so important in the advertising business? I’ve been in the business once upon a time; I’ve have observed, commented and analysed it for almost two decades and have never heard someone say ‘security’ was so critical.

In advertising, he explains, it is important to first check that an idea has legs—which you can do only by sharing the idea. That’s where the first need for security comes in. The person or people you share the idea with might believe that the idea is not as good as you thought it was—and even believe the idea is useless.

A secure person will accept the opinion and move on. An insecure person would allow the rejection to rankle.

Another scenario, Piyush explains, is when an idea is shared, and the recipients believe that the idea is good.

But…

…the idea would get better if certain changes were made.

A secure person would allow the idea to be transformed from being ‘his’ or ‘her’, to an idea that belongs to a group of people aligned to one objective.

The idea belongs to no one individual.

Only a secure person would allow the transfer of the ownership of the idea.

Piyush lives with this sense of security, and encourages others to do so. That’s how and why you see, within Ogilvy, so many extraordinarily confident and secure creative personnel, each walking tall and proud—but never forgetting that the team’s objectives are always more important than individual’s.

While industry leaders spout jargon and metrics, Piyush thinks simple.

At a press conference a few months ago for the launch of a campaign for ITC’s Savlon, a journalist asked Piyush what the brief was. He replied there was no brief, as ITC and Savlon owned his ‘shower time’.

Shower time? What the hell is that?

Piyush explains, in his patient way, that in cases where the agency and the client have a long-standing, firm and easy relationship, Ogilvy doesn’t need specific briefs—it’s focused on the brand 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Even in the shower. There are a number of companies and brands that ‘own’ Piyush’s shower time. And Piyush owns the client’s shower time as well.

So it is that many of his clients are used to early morning calls from him—some as early as 6.30 am. It’s when Piyush has an idea that he wants to bounce off the client, and his childlike excitement doesn’t allow him to wait for a more civilised hour.

And he doesn’t care for civilities if they come in the way of potential good ideas.

For a six-month period, as I worked closely with him, helping him write his autobiography ‘Pandeymonium’, I was woken up every few days as he wanted to correct something in the manuscript, add something to it or suggest some small changes. These calls, as the calls he makes to anyone, are always polite and cheerful.

Always.

That’s the way he lives his life. He lives life to the full, with lots of laughter and good cheer—with no frills and fancies. There are no trappings of success that he indulges in. He writes with a simple pen (perhaps one he picked up from a hotel room), drives a car that is 7-8 years old, lives in Shivaji Park and not Malabar Hill or Pali Hill, wears no designer brands. And drinks no single malt. He drinks Teacher’s, whether he’s at home or a guest at an event. Unless, of course, Teacher’s is not available.

A couple of years ago, he was at a five-star hotel in Goa as a guest. The waiter took the orders: a single malt for the host, a wine for the hostess and a Teacher’s for Piyush. The waiter returned with the single malt and the wine, and apologised that the bar had run out of Teacher’s.
Meanwhile, Piyush had run out of patience, so when he said he would have a Chivas Regal, and the waiter asked, “Which year?”, the reply was quintessentially Piyush Pandey, “This year, please.”

The author writes and comments on advertising, media and marketing. He is the editor of the show MELT on WION

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