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“If I could go back in life, I would have left Mudra in 1993” – AG Krishnamurthy, founder of Mudra

AGK talks about his autobiography, advertising and taking calculated risks.
AGK talks about his autobiography, advertising and taking calculated risks.

Advertising veteran and architect of Mudra, A G Krishnamurthy aka AGK, is no stranger when it comes to penning his thoughts. With six English books to his credit (he has 12 publications in Telugu), AGK’s autobiography ‘If you can dream…’ was recently released. Published originally in Telugu (in September, 2012), the book was released in Ahmedabad, a place AGK describes as his ‘karma bhoomi’. AGK is based in Hyderabad.

According to AGK, the reason for putting his life in words came after a lot of pressure from Hyderabad-based Emesco Books publisher Vijaykumar (who has published AGK’s previous books in the Telugu version since 2005).

afaqs! caught up with AGK for an insight about his autobiography.

Q. Change or be the change. How much do you relate to this, especially in view of the fact that Mudra was started in Ahmedabad because you felt like a misfit in the advertising fraternity in Mumbai? Also, do you feel advertising has become less sophisticated and more colloquial?

I strongly believe we must be the change we talk of. Most of the country’s problems today are because we want change, but we are not THE change we talk about.

Mudra had brought about a number of changes in the then advertising scene of the country. To begin with, while all the known national agencies were headquartered in Mumbai, we chose a regional city to be our headquarters. The kind of people we recruited; the nature of business we sought and nurtured; the kind of advertising we believed in and created; the kind of organisation, ethos and culture we built and nourished, they all were truly unknown at the time and formed a paradigm shift.

Advertising is definitely more colloquial today, representing the lifestyle and attitude of the young generation. This generation is hardly formal; it is casual, colloquial and the agent of change. I believe there is nothing wrong in advertising becoming colloquial. It can still be dignified and sophisticated. Way back in the 1980s and ’90s, we produced a large body of advertising which was colloquial, like ‘Hamko Binnies Mangta’. The work was stylish and dignified.

Q. Your book was first published in Telugu. How did people react to the Telugu version?

Very good. The book received excellent reviews and good sales. These were the reasons that propelled me to write the English version.

Q. Which is your favourite part in the book?

There are several – my first meeting with Dhirubhai, Vimal Fashion Shows and the Mudra story. But if I were to choose one, it would certainly be the Mudra Story because creating Mudra was THE defining moment in my life.

Q. It is difficult to quit a comfortable, secure job for something you want to explore, especially with a dependent family. What went on in your mind during those days? What is your advice to others who want to take a risk but are hesitant?

Without innovation, there is no progress. Without risk, there is no innovation. I strongly advise people to explore new frontiers. However, before doing so, develop a deep understanding of the subject and measure the pros and cons. Build a safety net and keep a Plan B in place, in case Plan A doesn’t work.

Both the times when I left secure jobs to try the unknown, I was not insecure. I knew I was risking comfort and security, but I had to, because I had full faith in what I was doing. Before Mudra was founded, I was managing the advertising department at Reliance for four years, which was like a mini advertising agency. This department became Mudra on March 25, 1980. So, I knew what it takes to run an advertising agency.

Similarly, before I left the job in the Archaeological Survey of India, Hyderabad, I was too dejected in my career. I just had to try something new and different. Here again, I chose a job where I had the necessary skill set. Therefore, it is crucial for any one taking a risk to have the necessary skills in the chosen field. In other words, it should be a calculated risk.

Q. In the chapter Dhirubhai and Friends, you mention how your work had to not only impress Dhirubhai but also his friends. How did you manage to walk the tightrope and how did you keep yourself motivated?

This was the time of true enlightenment for me, which stood in good stead for the rest of my life. The enlightenment was – if people don’t like you, chances are they don’t like your work as well. It is as simple as this. Before my encounter with Dhirubhai’s friends in Reliance Textiles, I had a totally different belief system. It was – good work sells automatically, by itself. I picked up this insight during the years spent at Shilpi. However, once I moved to Reliance in 1976 and encountered so many close friends of Dhirubhai, who had diverse beliefs, personalities and a say in Vimal’s brand communications, it became truly a bare essential for me to somehow ‘manage’ them. The strategy I employed was to become their ‘friend’. 

Possibly, I was the only person who was friendly with several camps at the same time. As I look back, I think this strategy worked wonders. I have followed this ever since. Even in Mudra, I had no camps. I belonged to the whole organisation and every one belonged to me.

Q. Are there any professional regrets (referring to Kersey Katrak’s offer of Dazzle to Mudra, which you refused and regretted)?

No major ones, though Kersey would have speeded up my learning process.

Q. You had the opportunity to be part of Reliance’s media efforts. Why didn’t you foray into it?

I have always been a creative person and a communicator. The finest moments in my life were always when I created a robust brand strategy, guided my team to a great television commercial or when my columns/books were published. This is the case even today. No other discipline interests me.

Q. If you could live your professional life once again, what would you do differently?

If I could go back in life, I would have left Mudra in 1993, after MICA was started. By 1989, Mudra became the third largest agency and by 1993, the dream of starting a post graduate school in communications was realised. That would have been the right time to quit Mudra. If that happened, I would have had 10 more years at my disposal to try something new and more exciting. But truly, no regrets. Life has been generous to me. I have been writing columns, publishing books and building more brands, after leaving Mudra in 2003.

(This article appeared in afaqs! on June 24, 2013)


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