The business world will toss numbers; will talk of the magical growth he showed in the time he led Hindustan Thompson, now JWT; first as head of the Delhi office, which bobbed up from No.7 in that city to No.1 in just one year of his taking over; he did the same with the Bombay office and finally as CEO of HTA, India, he walked the agency up a steep climb to the pinnacle; success following him like a poodle.
And those who do not know him will have visions of a man like some others with similar achievements, men who draw attention to their success with big flourishes of the corporate wand and the abracadabra of individual style.
With Mike there were no flourishes; no conjurer’s patter, no abracadabra showmanship. He almost seemed like a novice with a pack of cards, slowly dealing them out, stopping to spit-wet his fingers when suddenly you would notice: he has dealt you an ace. And then another and another. You looked in awe. And there he was, unimpressed with his own magic, intent on just dealing you those aces.
But the aces we are talking about are not those numbers; of billings, growth, profit or industry ranking; facts and figures that even then placed him on the throne of the advertising industry. Oh there is much to be said about all that and the business world can talk about it at length. What ‘Thompsonites’ will talk about are other aces, their own personal ones, for which they will remember him most. From secretaries, studio artists and accountants to members of the executive committee, all have poignant stories to establish their personal relationship with Mike: of how on a bad day, he sat them down, got to the heart of the problem and sent them away with a new spring in their step; of how they came to him with clenched fists over an issue with a colleague and how a cuppa tea with him would end in handshakes all round. A creative director will tell you how, on the occasion of the global CEO’s visit, her presentation was delayed by an hour, and how Mike went up to her, put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Relax. This is not the end of the world.” “I could have kissed him then,” she said. “But I went about getting the job done.” An office manager narrates how on his wife’s birthday, he had invited Mike home for dinner, at which he demonstrated the five-finger-and-palm bhangra clap.
His manner was calming. He broke down difficult and high tension situations with his quiet, unbeatable logic to resolve both business and even creative crises. his intuitive feel for the moment, touched with humaneness, his ability to get down to the root of the matter at hand to help you with a problem and above all, his sense of fairness were among the aces up his sleeve. These were the aces he dealt around.
Early this morning, on the 7th of June, the mobile phones of those who worked with Mike were clogged with messages, all of them saying that they were still holding in their hand the aces that Mike had personally dealt them: the ‘can do’ spirit. The freedom to try and fail. A strong sense of self-worth. Fairness. Integrity. Leadership. Challenge. A sense of fun. Aces that they hold close to their chest. Aces that have led them to where they are today. Many are now happily retired and a good number are CEOs, chairmen of companies and leaders in their fields. They are all of them echoing one line,”I am what I am today because of Mike.”