The Bal I knew

M. G. Parameswaran | Updated on November 15, 2017 Published on January 11, 2012

The Union Information and Broadcasting Minister, Ambika Soni (right), with former advertising giant Gerson Da Cunha (left) and Bal Mundkur at AdAsia 2011 in the Capital last November. — Pic : Kamal Narang

A tribute to the first nawab of Indian advertising.

Bal Mundkur interviewed me in January 1989 and was perplexed that I wanted to base myself in Chennai and try and run the South operations of Ulka, which in his opinion was not in the best of health. But I managed to convince him that I was the right man for the job, ably prodded by Anil Kapoor who had joined Ulka as Managing Director end-1988. I did not get to work closely with Bal but did get a dose of his style in those famous handwritten memos to all of us, each one a zinger. They were written with a fountain pen and reflected his inimitable flair and style.

I remember him at a PSU account pitch in Bangalore a couple of years after I had joined. Bal was in town for a social engagement and decided to join us at the last moment. The PSU client kept us waiting for half-an-hour and then told us we had to finish in 30 minutes, at which Bal suggested that we would rather leave than make a truncated half-hearted presentation. He even suggested that the client give the next agency an additional 30 minutes! You cannot imagine the change of mood brought on by that exchange!

Well, it is said that Bal was the first Nawab of Indian Advertising, a man who demanded that clients treat agencies not as vendors but as partners.

And he got that respect from his clients because he built a team that delivered. On all counts. From creating some of the most memorable logos (Welcomgroup, PNB, SAIL), to advertising icons that have gone on to build large brands, to an ethos of adding value to the client's business by staying engaged at all levels.

Bal's love for the business continued well into old age. In fact, he managed to create a publishing company, got a team to partner with him (including Gerson D'Cunha) and created a book on Indian advertising, Ad Katha.

It was fitting to see him on stage in Delhi during the AdAsia last year, unveiling the book.

Bal was one of the first agency veterans to devote a significant part of his time to social causes and socially relevant advertising, done pro-bono, when it was a word no one understood. A lover of Western Classical music, antique chess sets and fine wine, Bal was a role model for many, many business leaders.

We at Draftfcb Ulka will always remember him and the spirit he stood for: be brave, be bold and be conscious of your limits.

God bless you Bal and may the music play on wherever you are!

(M. G. Parameswaran, ED & CEO Draftfcb Ulka Mumbai, joined Ulka Advertising in March 1989.)

Published on January 11, 2012
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