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Ambi Parameswaran is the Founder of Brand-building.com, a Brand Advisory. In a career spanning 30+ years, Ambi has handled assignments in Marketing, Sales and Advertising with companies like Rediffusion DY&R, Boots Company and UDI Yellow Pages before dropping anchor at FCB Ulka where he spent about 25 years finishing as ED & CEO of FCB Ulka Group. Ambi has also been a prolific author and his latest book is SPONGE - Leadership Lessons I learnt from my clients.

The book (SPONGE) discusses some of the key lessons Ambi has learnt working with his clients over the years. It talks about his interactions with leaders ranging across Ratan Tata, Azim Premji, M. Damodaran, Karsanbhai Patel, Dr. Varghese Kurien, Vinita Bali and Rohinton Aga. We spoke about his insights from the book around how leaders take risks, how they leverage wisdom from experts, how they keep connect with their consumer and more.

We also spoke about lessons from his journey and his thoughts on building a credible personal brand and his perspectives on how leaders can get better at the art of story telling given his rich experiences.

Published in Oct 2018.

Making early career choices

Ambi talks about how he has approached some of career choices. He specifically talks about some context behind moving to IIMC after IITM and then after graduating from IIM Calcutta, he discusses how he spent some time on the Agency side and the Client side before committing to a direction with the Agency world at FCB Ulka.

Listening as a leader

Ambi talks about how effective CEOs set a climate so that their teams feel comfortable presenting risky ideas to them. He talks about how if you don’t set the right atmosphere in the organization, the team below you can hedge their bets and focus on managing their image with the CEO than really solving for what is right for the organization. He discusses how you can create a culture where the team focuses on “winning in the market” rather than “winning in the system”.

Smoke Signals in a relationship

Ambi talks about what it takes to develop and maintain an account over a period of several years. He speaks about the criticality of having tentacles across the organization to get a pulse on the relationship. He also underscores the criticality of the role of the CEO in ensuring that he/she sets the right climate for the troops to share any potential cracks that are appearing in the relationship.

Influencing without authority

Ambi talks about his key insight around what it takes to influence clients. Given Advertising is a domain where there is arguably a lot of possible subjectivity, it is an interesting canvas to see how advisors influence clients. Ambi shares that it is often more about the intent and then followed by the content.

Building a trusted relationship

Ambi talks about his first interaction with Pradipto Mohapatra (a legend in the retail industry with the RPG group and ex Chairman of Coaching Foundation of India) and how he had a very unusual client meeting where everything except the “work on hand” was discussed. He talks about the notion of what it takes to develop and build trust with individuals.

Trusting the expert

In the book – Sponge – Ambi shares an illustration. Let us say, you have an architect who designs a house for you with 5 pillars. You feel that this doesn’t look good aesthetically and you want her to design it with 3 pillars. She does so and builds a house for you. A few months later, the house collapses. Whose fault is it? Architect’s or yours? Ambi talks about how clients with varying styles (ranging from Dr Varghese Kurien to Mr Rohintan Aga) work effectively with experts to get the most out of them.

Judgment - Balancing head and heart

Ambi discusses how some of the leaders he has worked with combine science and art in making good judgments. He talks about how some of these leaders walk the fine line between following process and using well-informed gut to make superior decisions over time. This is specifically relevant in the world of Marketing and Advertising where the production values can vary by orders of magnitude.

The art of story telling

Ambi talks about what he has learnt from individuals like Late Pradipto Mahapatra, Late Mr Rohinton Aga and Mr M. Damodaran when it comes to storytelling. He draws the connection between storytelling and listening and discusses how it is not a skill-set that can be suddenly implanted into a team or an individual but has to be an integral part of the culture in an organization.

Building a personal Brand

Ambi talks about how we can all learn from the world of brands to think about our personal brands. He talks about the criticality of sharing ideas that are in line with the what your brand should stand for. He also discusses the criticality of collaboration in ensuring that you are able get the word out about your brand and what you can offer to the world.

CEO connect with end consumer

Ambi talks about how leaders like Karsanbhai Patel of Nirma have an intuitive understanding of the customer need. He specifically talks about the “chaiwalla test”, a concept he discusses in his book, to talk about how some leaders find smart ways of getting a quick pulse from the real demographic rather than making misleading assumptions.

In Summary - Playing to Potential

Ambi talks about some of the key choices he has made over his journey that has helped get to where he has. He also spends time talking about his curiosity (that led him to do a PhD when he was past his 50) and how it has helped him grow over a period of time. Referring to his latest book, he talks about the criticality of being a SPONGE and learn from around us as we move forward in our respective journeys.

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