Conrad Saldanha (Connie to all his legion of friends), Rediffusion old hand, who was responsible for recruiting and training some of the biggest stars of Indian advertising, passed away yesterday in Auckland, New Zealand.
He had recently suffered from pneumonia, and that led to further health complications. The end was then not very far. Saldanha, who worked at Rediffusion for more than 25 years and was a pillar of the Indian advertising industry, had emigrated to New Zealand about 15 years ago, after he retired.
All day yesterday, condolences and obituaries flooded various advertising and marketing WhatsApp groups as the industry remembered and praised one of its foremost stalwarts. But, for once, for a life-time ad-man few talked of Connie’s advertising exploits or his brand campaigns. All the stories and narratives were about the ‘gentle, genial, genteel’ gentleman who touched hearts and gave the advertising profession its most humane face.
I met Connie for the first time in 1994, exactly 25 years ago, when I joined Rediffusion as head of new business. He was then heading Rediffusion Bombay, by far the biggest office of the agency. We were like chalk and cheese. He was a pucca South Bombay-wallah, very polished, cultured and propah. I had my Dilli-wallah rough edges still. He was very quiet, reserved and aloof in our first meeting. I made a presentation that day to Diwan Arun Nanda and Ajit Balakrishnan on my plans for business acquisition. Conrad too attended. Throughout the three hours that I spoke, he hardly uttered a word; just nodded a few times; and smiled once, maybe twice. But once Arun and Ajit had left the conference room, he walked up to me, smiled and patted me on the back and with a twinkle in his eye said, “This is the best new biz presentation I have ever seen. Very focused. Very sharp. You can count on me for 100% support”. I had least expected this sudden surge of support and admiration from this gentleman who till then had been distant and cool. He took my hand, and squeezed it. And the smile became bigger, warmer and more radiant. In that moment in time I became his most ardent fan and follower: Conrad’s honesty, sincerity, warmth and candidness had that effect on you.
In 1997, I became president of Rediffusion, and moved to Mumbai. I had never worked before in the city in advertising. I hardly knew anyone. Conrad was by then the HR head of Rediff. He became my mentor, my guide, my guardian angel in the Maximum City. Conrad knew everyone in Mumbai; more importantly the whole of Mumbai knew Connie. Not only did they know him, they respected him, loved him. Conrad helped me settle into Mumbai … got my daughter Carol her school admission at Villa Theresa, helped me find a beautiful apartment in Cuffe Parade, got me my Bombay Gym membership (he was head of the balloting committee of the club for years and years), introduced my wife Tanya to his bank manager … Connie ‘mothered’ the Goyals till we finally got into the rhythm of the city.
But it was at work that Conrad became my biggest ally. As I said before, Conrad knew the whole of Mumbai. One day, for example, he walked me in to the offices of BPL Mobile … the CEO AP Parigi and the COO Krishna Angara were his ‘good’ friends. We walked out with the BPL MOTS business, one of the biggest wins of those times. Another time we flew to Bangalore to meet Sunil Alagh, MD of Britannia, and an old IIM-Calcutta class-mate of Connie’s. Sunil just couldn’t say no to Conrad despite a strong existing relationship with Lintas. We walked away with his dairy brands. Connie took me to Madras to meet Cavinkare. The MD was his ‘old’ friend. We flew back with a substantial part of the account. Conrad just had friends in all the right places … he was always warmly received, hugged and kissed, and welcomed - and no one dared say ‘no’ to him lest it break his heart! And no one would ever want to break Connie’s heart … he was such a gentle soul! While I earned myself the reputation of a new biz champ, it was Conrad who was really the unsung hero of all our conquests together.
I could go on and on about Conrad, my pal. But all day yesterday, I have been receiving tributes and anecdotes from Connie’s friends and admirers and it would only be in the fitness of things to share some of those with my readers …
Diwan Arun Nanda, chairman, Rediffusion
“Conrad. A wonderful human being. A friend who always stood by you. Always cared for others and there to give a helping hand whenever needed. Soft spoken and compassionate. A gentleman’s gentleman.
Sorely missed by me. There will never be another like you”.
Vishnu Mohan, Chairman & CEO, Havas Asia
“There are very few people that spellbind you instantly with their radiance, charm and genuineness. Human, kind, sincere, caring – the list could go on and on. That was Conrad.
Such was his gravitation that I don’t know when and how a relationship that began 28 years ago as a management trainee turned into being and believing in him as a parent.
The 7pm whisky, the cricket we saw together, the laughs we shared, the immense love for my daughters, the reprimands and advice replay endlessly.
He taught the world and me how to always stay young.
A loss for the industry, his friends and his colleagues. For me I lost my Dad”.
Harsha Bhogle, cricket commentator and Rediff alumni
“When I joined Rediffusion, I was petrified of Conrad. I thought he was stern and hard. I was to learn later what a facade that was! Conrad was kind, understanding and played a big part in making generations of entrants to Rediffusion feel comfortable. He was as much a guide as a boss. Our WhatsApp group is in grief but also full of stories of his help, his support and his guidance. He was, just simply, a good man”.
Sunil Alagh, marketing whiz, member Prasar Bharti board
“Conrad (Connie as I knew him since 1966) having passed away has left me stunned and speechless. I was so looking forward to his annual visit next month and had recently wished him on his b’day. By far the nicest person I knew - always helpful, heart of gold with a sense of humour. I will miss him immensely. I pray for his soul. In sorrow - Sunil Alagh”.
Shiv Sethuraman, former CEO of Cheil
“My ever abiding memory of Connie Saldanha will be the twinkle in his eyes and his chortle. They both invariably made many appearances over the course of an evening spent together. Generous with his time, his praise, his laughter and his affection, Connie was adored by everyone I knew and proof that nice guys succeed. Heaven must have thrown their gates wide open to welcome their favourite son. Cheers, Mr. Saldanha, you are that one in a million, a good human being. Nay, a great one”.
Aarti Dwarkadas, writer and foodie, former Rediff
“In 1993, Conrad hired me as a cub copywriter after a 5 minute interview at Sterling Centre. He immediately took me under his large, protective wing.
At a calamity struck shoot in Kuala Lumpur where my bags went missing, a storm washed out the set and the director was hospitalised with food poisoning, Conrad kept his cool, took me shopping for new clothes, made a few calls and organised a new director and indoor set in a matter of hours.
Conrad’s secret superpower was his vast network. He knew everybody.
After he and Lynette moved to NZ, Conrad was a migratory bird who arrived in Mumbai each winter. My husband and I met him often at the Bombay Gym bar where he would be every evening. I was looking forward to catching up with him this November. Connie my boss and friend, you will be missed”.
Adrian Mendonza, former National Creative Director, Dentsu
“I first met Conrad Saldanha at his favourite haunt, The Jewel of India, near the Nehru Planetarium, nursing a single malt and smiling genially at the world, as was his wont. He was supposed to interview me for a creative position at Rediffusion, but the meeting progressed less along the lines of advertising and more into the world of single malts and the other deeply important rarified pleasures of life.
I believe that ‘genial soul’ is what best describes Connie. He always saw not just the positive, but the sweeter side of everything. Perhaps, one got that impression because he was always spreading a genuine sweetness around him. And there was not a man (or woman, young or old) who did not like him, once they they had been showered with the ‘all is well’ brand of Conrad sweetness. Rest in peace, gentle, genial Connie. The Gods will be pleased to meet you over a single malt”.
Before I conclude, I just must reproduce this piece written by Ajay Gahlaut of Ogilvy (though without his express permission), some years ago in The Times of India …
Consider the strange story of Joanne DeBrass, an ex-colleague of mine from years ago when I worked at Saatchi & Saatchi in Bombay. Joanne, a talented art director, was a slim girl of elfin charm and possessed of an intense temperament. Such was her concentration that she would shut out the outside world and actually hold a conversation with her computer. One could hear her berating it from time to time. ‘Can’t save? What the hell do you mean you can’t save!’ she would thunder at the hapless machine. One would imagine the computer shivering with fright and doing her bidding.
Apparently, Joanne had finished an art course and was looking around for a job. She had a friend who worked at Rediffusion those days, and decided to meet her to get some pointers. Joanne was waiting at the reception when a man carrying a sheaf of papers came briskly up to her and asked if she was an art director. She said she was, of course. The man, one is told, was Conrad Saldanha, the legendary old Rediff hand who was in servicing then, and later in his career moved to human resources.
That day, I believe Conrad had been bombarded with briefs by the client and had not found a single art director to execute them because everyone was busy. In desperation, he had decided to take a punt and ask the girl at the reception, because she was well dressed and “looked like an art director”.
So he found Joanne a computer and briefed her on the various assignments. She worked through the day and finished a few of them. Some, however, could not be finished, so she came back the next day to complete them. The following day, as she was wrapping up, another servicing person came and gave her three more jobs to do. So she had to return again the next day to finish them.
Thus began a cycle that continued for a month and more. She would come to Rediff every day to clear her backlog of work and someone or the other would brief her on more tasks. Being a gentle soul, she wouldn’t refuse. And she wouldn’t ask about her employment status either.
One day a servicing guy casually said to Conrad, “That art girl you’ve hired is damn good.”
“I haven’t hired anyone,” responded Conrad, puzzled.
“No, no. That thin girl, Joanne,” countered the servicing guy.
“Oh. I didn’t hire her. I thought someone else must have. Because when I asked her if she was an art director, she said yes.”
Joanne was then summoned. Conrad asked her who had given her the job. “You did!” she replied.
“You gave me all those jobs to do, which I’ve been doing for a month now. And no sign of an appointment letter, let alone a salary,” she muttered, darkly.
An inquiry was instituted to ascertain who had hired Joanne. After much investigating and questioning, it was found no one had. So in typical early 1990s Rediff fashion, it was decided to remedy the situation and hire her immediately at a better-than-starting-salary.
Well that was quintessentially Connie!
Many more of Conrad’s friends called/connected. Ravi Shastri, Apurva Purohit, Bugs Bhargava, Ravpreet Ganesh, Supriyo Gupta … everyone who knew him had a moist eye for sure yesterday. Conrad was a gem of a man. A rarity, if not an oddity, in the world of advertising. Nothing ever was cut-throat about him … a general norm in our business. Nothing ever got him hassled. You would never get him to bad-mouth anyone. Conrad … a man like no other man I knew.
Loving and kind in all his ways
Upright and loving to the end of his days
Sincere and true, in heart and mind
Beautiful memories, he left behind.
Conrad, my friend, my buddy. RIP.
(Dr. Sandeep Goyal’s obituary for an old friend is a sincere tribute to one of India’s finest advertising practitioners).