Ramesh Narayan
Mar 13, 2024

'This one's for India': Ramesh Narayan on RK Swamy's Bombay Stock Exchange listing

As prominent media company RK Swamy listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange yesterday, ad industry veteran Ramesh Narayan shares his candid thoughts on why the moment was a matter of pride not just for the industry, but India itself

Photo: Linkedin.
Photo: Linkedin.
So, RK Swamy Ltd was listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange at 10:00am yesterday morning. But this article is not about the 50-year journey of RK Swamy Ltd.
It's also not about the fact that the company has created immense financial value for its stakeholders, including its employees. It's not even about the fact that when promoters speak about its value, it's not just that, but true long-lasting values. And finally, it's not even about a pioneering legend who dared to start his advertising agency in Madras (today's Chennai) and dreamed of building it up into one of the top agencies in India.
Actually, it is about all these things, of course!
RK Swamy is a large, well-diversified marketing services group with over 2200 employees. But what ran through my head when the promoters rang the gong at the BSE Hall yesterday was something else.
And that's what I want to write about.
I entered advertising in the mid eighties; an entrepreneur with nothing else but a dream—like so many others. In those days we were not called start-ups. I remember looking around at a business economy that was hobbled by socialist ideals. One airline. Three auto manufacturers. Two two-wheeler manufacturers. In short, a monopolistic environment with hardly any scope for brand building. The large foreign advertising agencies had either left or were restricted to private sector accounts alone, while the large public sector business lumbered along.
The mid-nineties changed everything. Wonderful entrepreneurs in the advertising space including Bobby Sista, Ravi Gupta, Walter Saldanha, Mohammed Khan and Rajiv Agarwal decided, in their wisdom, to sell off their advertising agencies.
I don't know how many readers and even how many trade journalists have heard of these greats, and their agencies. Sistas became Saatchi, Chaitra became Leo Burnett, Trikayaa became Grey, Mudra became DDB, and so on. All these wonderful entrepreneurs who had built iconic brands thought it correct to sell out to the large networks from the West.
I am not doubting their wisdom for a second. They obviously had their reasons. On the other hand, I personally knew an asinine entrepreneur with a profitable agency and three offers on the table who inexplicably chose not to monetise it, but instead, abruptly shut it down.
And then you had what I described in a prominent morning daily as "the return of the East India Company." Every agency head was just a country head reporting to some gora saheb in the West (or in Japan).
Of course there was Bharat Dabholkar who tried to start something in Africa and Shekhar Swamy who started something in the USA, but it was nothing significant. Far from spreading our influence overseas, the spirit of the large Indian wgency seemed to have died.
And that is why I saw yesterday's public listing as not just some monetary jackpot for a few people.
To me, this one was for India.
I am hoping it signals the resurgence of the entrepreneurial spirit of the India marketing individual. A desire to grow her own business in the marketing and advertising space and then take it outside the geographical boundaries of India and re-establish it as not just a superpower in software and space technology, but also in the creative fields of advertising and marketing.
And so I was very proud to witness the listing of a true blue Indian marketing services company, RK Swamy Ltd.
Another symbol of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Ramesh Narayan is a stalwart of the Indian ad industry, having founded Canco Advertising. He is also the director of Strategy for the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations and a Mancom Member for the India Chapter IAA.


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