The quest to follow his father’s advice of being the best at whatever he does has stood Sathyamurthy (Sathya) in good stead. His career spanning over two decades has seen him don roles across sales, marketing and research. But it wasn’t quite planned that way.
Desiring to be a doctor or engineer like any young South Indian during that time, Sathyamurthy barely managed to graduate before pursuing his post graduation in Zoology. Choosing to keep aside his ambitions of a doctorate, he decided to explore another area of interest - talking to people and convincing them.
Taking up the job of a sales representative for Glaxo Family Products division (now Heinz India) in Madras (now Chennai) in 1988, Sathyamurthy moved up the corporate ladder and was soon promoted and shifted to Bombay (now Mumbai). His job took him to small towns and villages, where in his formal attire complete with a tie, he was expected to sell products to local shops. This is where he learnt his first important lesson of leading by example. At these shops, he would nonchalantly pull a chair, reach up and dust and arrange tins and packets of his products according to the ‘First In, First Out’ system. “I had to do it a couple of times and after that whenever I went, the storekeeper would ask his assistant to stack it in the right order,” points out Sathyamurthy. As the brand manager for the company, he launched two brands – ‘Bonny Mix’ and ‘Jack and Jill’. Both failed to perform to expectations due to various reasons and were discontinued soon. “That shows how successful I was as a brand manager,” he quips.
Moving on to become custodian of Rs 20 crore of media spends for Glaxo as media manager, Sathyamurthy took a keen interest in research as he entered the domain. Fancying the glamour of media agency business and the number crunching and media planning, he decided to switch over to the agency side following a short stint with Cadilla Laboratories which was trying to replicate the success of Glaxo. He joined Mudra in 1993 and spent over three years there, before moving to Ogilvy & Mather for a longer stint of over five years. This was followed by a stint as vice president with Euro RSCG - MPG (now Havas Worldwide).
The next phase of his career was with Media Research Users’ Council (MRUC) as its director general. A job, he describes, as his best ever stint till date. As the custodian, he was in charge of handling all the reports released by MRUC periodically. He was also mandated by the then president Arvind Sharma (of Leo Burnett) to hasten projects in the pipeline to their logical conclusion – be it by pursuing them or purging them. During his tenure which lasted just under three years, Sathyamurthy had laid in place of what would be the new consumer classification system announced by MRUC in 2011. He was also responsible for fast-tracking the radio, outdoor and print supplements research projects, which are now at various stages of evolution.
When questioned about the time delays and cancellations of some of the measurement projects, Sathyamurthy is surprisingly candid. He explains, “It gets delayed because everybody wants to take credit. That is the fundamental crux of most problems - people working for credit. Once you get out of that trap, I think you can be far more collaborative. You will have far greater number of people whole heartedly working with and for you. Moreover, unfortunately, like in many countries, people want research to ratify their beliefs.”
Elaborating, he recalls his experience of launching participative sampling for the Indian Readership Survey for MRUC. He notes that many publications financially supported it at the launch phase, and that generated significant revenue for MRUC. The moment the sample size increased the numbers got more refined, resulting in readership dropping in certain markets, they stopped funding the research, he says.
“Fundamentally, if these two things don’t change – (i) the temptation of examinees to be examiners and (ii) whole heartedly wanting to invest in research and really seek robust research output – it won’t change too much. Also, it is very unfortunate that many of these conversations get sidelined or buried because of individuals’ idiosyncrasies,” he adds.
According to him, the only way this can change is by having the next generation taking over associations. “Anybody above 40 years (including me) should not be a part of these bodies and committees because we are often very myopic. The next generation is more aware of the emerging trends and technologies that can solve most of the problems we currently face.”
Sathyamurthy says his ‘restlessness’ took him to Carat Media Services, and then to Lintas Media Group in October 2007, for yet another five-year stint. Recalling his days there, he notes, “Lintas taught me few things and Lynn taught me few things. Lynn taught me all about financial management and to be farsighted about business. Meanwhile, Lintas taught me how to manage the different kinds of people in a team and also working around the bottlenecks created by some of the managers, especially in a large system. I could say that my net practice was with Lintas, and now I am playing the match here.”
Sathyamurthy attributes Pratap Bose’s perseverance in bringing him back to the Mudra fold as president and head - media, in early 2012. “One day he showed me the brochure of Mudra and asked me to choose the verticals that I wanted to manage along with media and digital. That spread tempted me to switch over,” he reasons.
He’s donned several hats so far, and one that remains is that of entrepreneur. When asked about his future plans, he replies, “As of now Mudra is keeping me busy and happy. Even if I get into an entrepreneurial role in three or four years from now, I will still be associated with Mudra in some form or the other, as long as other things remain the same here.”
The Flip Side
Age 47 years
Where do you live? Kurla, Mumbai
What do you do to relax? I am trying to be a good Christian. I go for a lot of social events, watching movies and reading the Bible.
TV Series: Junior Masterchef – only because my family puts it on. I can’t stand serials though.
Gadgets iPad and (stupid) Blackberry
Favourite app Bible Live, NexGTV
Favourite holiday destination Sikkim
Industry professionals who have inspired you Late V Kurien, Suman Srivastava, Roda Mehta
If not in media Marine Biologist