Posted on 25-03-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Communication conjures up a pictorial image in the mind’s eye, information equips you with knowledge, while a technical descriptor tells you what something is. These three bases of societal connect are often cluttered in our extravagant digi-language society. Let’s experience them through global brands. Apple is communication, its name provokes you with imagery that can be infinite. Coca-Cola being a combination of ingredients from kola nuts and coca plant is information centric. The technical descriptor is IBM which spells out what its business is, International Business Machines.

Technical Descriptor: Trade-marking trends in American and British businesses before World War II were driven by technical description, identifying themselves with technical processes. Britain started the 1750 Industrial Revolution, but industrialization with highly efficient processes first started and scaled-up in America from the 20th century. That’s reflected in trademarks like General Electric and United Parcel Service among others. They later changed to acronyms GE and UPS to storm global markets. British companies added royal nomenclature, like Imperial Tobacco Company, Imperial Chemical Industry among others. After relinquishing colonial power they democratized to becoming ITC and ICI respectively. The business logic of these two nations was different, but both created technical descriptive corporate entities.

Technical description is basic requirement in society, corporations, politics, education and entertainment, although it has no communication power. In corporate culture at the technical descriptor level, employee motivation and aspiration go for a toss. Life becomes the French proverb “metro, boulot, dodo” (commute, work, sleep). Likewise in society, a wealthy man is identified by his wealth figures, nothing else. Our education system is so technical that there’s a yawning gap between what’s taught and what industry requires. Indian movies are made with huge technical advancement, but after 2 weeks you don’t remember the storyline. Technical descriptors have a certain limit as is proved in India’s disastrous political situation where nobody bothers to connect to politicians’ talk. Parliament continues feverishly copycatting British monarchical governance which was dictatorial, even though this country is now a democratic polity.

Information: Undoubtedly electronic media and Internet very effectively unearth society’s hidden aspects, and without basic information society cannot run today. However, information overload saturates the human brain. TV information is ephemeral, with channels screeching "breaking news" and some TV journalists holding forth like they alone are the nation’s conscience. I particularly enjoy newspapers like New York Times, Le Monde, Financial Times of London, Herald Tribune that go beyond information and reporting to give readers an analysis of the news, putting it in a context and perspective without any bias.

In business, an informative brand like Coca-Cola needs immense communicative elements to change its perception of being a mere formula. Attempts were made to make Coca-Cola synonymous with words like thirst, enjoy, refresh. The Andrews sisters popularized in song, “drink rum and Coca-Cola!" But being ingredient centric, the problem that remains with this kind of brand is that it’s very difficult to move with changing trends. By saying that, I cannot ignore that Coca-Cola has for 120 years done incredible innovation in marketing to communicate rather than inform to sustain the brand.

Communication: You may consider technical descriptors and information to be part of communication, but they came later. Communication started with visual art before civilization began. That which resides in your memory very pictorially, whether through painting, design, voice, written word, body gesture or audio visuals stays as unforgettable communication.

Politicians who’ve won people’s hearts like Martin Luther King to Barack Obama did so with incredible communication skills. Being from the minority African American population, they practically had nothing other than communicating power with outstanding intelligence. Gandhiji shook up the world by changing his attire from British Bar-at-Law to Indian fakir to represent India’s poor. His 1932 landing in London wearing a loincloth in winter to participate in the 3rd Round Table Conference with British authorities is a phenomenon forever etched in people’s minds. When cinema was nascent, Charles Chaplain left proof that silent communication can be timeless. His brother arranged his audition with an American director, but on seeing him the director turned him down, saying he’s too young. Charlie on-the-spot did his comic-gymnastic act, leaving the director spellbound. Historically dictators have huge communicative power as they play to the masses, always with lies. As Adolf Hitler said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” But this is not the communication that is acceptable in any situation.

Now if you look at India, take excellent singers Manna Dey, Mohd Rafi and Kishore Kumar who’ve not written but interpreted songs. Technically Dey and Rafi were trained singers but Kishore had no voice training. Weaving his personality into his songs, he connected compassionately with people. His melodious communicative voice power remains vibrant at the mass level even today.

To lead people, your communication has to touch a sensitive human chord; education or intellectual capacity is irrelevant here. You either have, or cultivate, this power. To sustain business, only juggling information and technical descriptors is not enough. People don’t remember advertising, even when it’s oft repeated with huge investment, unless the product has some memorable aspect. When its quality is perceptibly different, communication can stroke the spirit. Communicative power boils down to the selling triad I’ve developed, the PUB Reflex. P is for Provoke, U is instant Understanding and B is for Buy-in, the acceptance. The world has no boring subject, you just need to know how to transform it with the real substance of provocation to make it communication.

Go on, be a communicator, provoke your audience with curiosity. Information and technical descriptors are necessary facts, but without communication you’ll go nowhere. X Vram Vrook is my communication headline, you’ll never find it in any dictionary. Something provoking gets stuck in your mind, you understand its significance, whether serious or frivolous, it draws a picture your imagination will cherish forever. This is communication which can make you a leader.

To download above article in PDF X Vram Vrook

Financial Express link:

(0) Comments   
Posted on 18-03-2012
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Professional CEO careers are limited in a boundary, and retirement happens. But paintings of the same CEOs are timeless. They’ll never become old or the past. Dauntless when orchestrating diverse corporate functions, from nitty-gritty internal happenings to juggling the multifarious outside environment, CEOs have something extra which made them CEOs. That’s ingenious imagination. To capture that as lasting recognition value beyond corporate work, we’ve created an exclusive Club for sensitive Painter CEOs ( Thirty six CEOs have to date spontaneously held colour in a brush to let their mind’s eye take over a canvas.

Let’s look at how the 2012 Painter CEO Club entrants painted their thoughts. Reaching Delhi’s office-cum-residence of Priya Paul, Chairperson of Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, I’d started arranging brushes, colours, palette, when suddenly a big dog breezed in, pounced at a tube of paint, and strode off challengingly like lion king who’s got what he’d wanted. “Don’t bother with him,” Priya said walking in. “He just wants to attract attention.” Watching a tree in her garden Priya displayed her fabulous perspective of colours, “Painting today made me happy, fulfilled and excited to do more.” Soon enough the dog quietly returned the paint in exactly the place he’d taken it from. “Seeing these beautiful colours and your colourful shirt Shombit, I feel compelled to paint you,” smiled Hari Bhartia, Jubilant Group’s Co-Chairman. His brother Chairman Shyam Bhartia walked in and looked appreciatively at Hari engrossed in painting. “Business is also creativity,” said Hari. “You need to create something all the time, make it work, make it sustainable.”

Travelling next to Thane, I found Aniruddha Deshmukh, President Textiles of Raymond, reflecting on his travels: “While I cannot put actual shape to thought, as I was painting I could visualize the outdoors I love, the sea, the forests. I’ve never done this, but I really felt it’s one of my most pleasurable moments.” Rajesh Jejurikar was Chief Executive of Mahindra Automotive Sector when he literally devoured the paints, giving life to nature and corporate promise, Mahindra RISE. “Our vehicles go through multiple terrains, greenery, water, dust and mud, to a destination close to the sun which enables people to rise.” Now President, ZEE Ltd., Rajesh said he’d enjoyed “expressing the spirit of freedom, energy and upliftment.” 

“I want to capture the radiance of Om,” said Gunender Kapur, CEO, TPG Wholesale. “The beginning of everything is Om. I had just these two letters in mind. It’s been a fantastic experience.” For Sambhu Sivalenka, CMD, Amrutanjan HealthCare, “Painting is a primeval urge in human evolution. Heck, the caveman did it!” He reminiscences, “Connecting brush to canvas, some old memories came rushing back. Just like life, these involutes I’m making have a beginning and end. Painting challenges you to lose the security that comes with definition and rote, the finite numbers and cash flow statements CEOs spend time with.”

“Shombit I know you could be upto something crazy, but I didn’t think you’d go even to this length of getting me to paint,” laughed Guy Goves, President Agri Business, Deepak Fertilizers and Petrochemicals. “My painting is an expression of finding yourself in nature’s beauty, a great gift to mankind. You learn from it, gain from it, share it. To keep nature intact for our children to enjoy is of paramount importance to me today.” Geometric light is what Bijou Kurien, President Lifestyle, Reliance Retail drew, “This is a huge learning experience to use brushes, contrasting geometrical shapes, experiment with flowers, put paint on paint. Having never dabbled with paints, once you figure it out, you feel a sense of satisfaction of doing something original. There’s a parallel with the way you build companies and start businesses.”

“There’s always a storm brewing,” said Vivek Mehra, MD/CEO, Sage Publications India. “One goes away, another is waiting to happen. The question is about knowing you have the courage to ride it.” Deftly painting a mysterious purple storm he said, “I’ve not held a brush since 8th standard. It’s surprisingly like riding a bicycle, you really don’t lose touch.”  Ashish Dikshit, President, Madura Fashion & Lifestyle, tried escaping this painting session since 1 year. As luck would have it, I had a meeting with Anuradha Narasimhan, Category Director, Britannia and discovered in conversation she’s married to Ashish. Anuradha sportingly collaborated with me, accepted my dinner invitation at home. Ashish was spellbound when I put colours before him, he painted wonderfully. “My expression was all about freshness, vibrancy, beautiful things, young and exciting. The experience was like any normal meeting with Shombit, unexpected, surprising, full of challenges, creativity into areas I’ve never ventured into.”

“Question mark is my favourite symbol. It’s the ovum in the womb here,” said Dileep Ranjekar, CEO, Azim Premji Foundation. He marveled at how easily paints rolled out creativity from his fingers. His wife Nandini said his circle was imperfect. While still painting Dileep explained that learning comes only when we interrogate, so the non-idyllic circle. Their husband-wife love and affection relationship was itself coming through like a painting. “More inquisitive people should be born, rebelling against the establishment, current fundamentals, seeking knowledge, change. The black spot here is like a mistake that happens and you live with,” said Dileep. “For DP Singh, CMD, Punjab & Sind Bank, this was his first attempt at painting, “I had carpentry classes in school.” His memories returned to Giverny, France, “Remember that arched bridge? I’m interpreting where Monet lived, where nature grows its own way, giving you a feeling of freedom unlike organized gardens anywhere in the world.”

Every painting of the 36 Painter CEO Club members is priceless. It arrests the CEO’s state-of-being in the most productive time of his/her professional life. Freezing these unique pieces of art into corporate memorabilia, future generations can appreciate how each CEO handled this complex, heady, industrious period. The Painter CEO Club is helping CEOs expose their embedded creative streak, so they can lead their companies towards differentiation to meet the challenges of global competition.

To download above article in PDF Exclusive Painter CEO Club of 2012

Financial Express link:

(0) Comments   
Posted on 11-03-2012
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Similarities between art and business gave credence to the Painter CEO adventure. Corporate think-tanks spawn strategies on paperboards exactly the way a painter’s brush downloads ideas. Compare colours as artists’ ammunition to industry’s raw material procurement system for producing finished products. Liken industry’s manufacturing machine to the canvas, the transformer podium between brush-colours and artist’s mind. But the big difference is that the canvas holds one piece of art, whereas industry is mechanised to produce unlimited duplications with one mold. The art of idea generation to create differentiation is prevalent in the industrial parameter even if it’s duplicated.

Studying in Paris’ 350-year-old Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the legacy of European art, I stepped into art-sphere, but let me submit that art’s uncertainty of take-home pay drove me into the corporate world to rationalize livelihood earnings for my family. I’ve always carried my corporate strategy work into my atelier (painter studio in French) but with one disparity; as artists we work alone, in corporations we work collectively. Never having abandoned art, I could instill the entrepreneurial spirit when working together with large teams. The consultative approach of delivering big creativity in all customer touch points for the client’s business growth convinced global corporations that art pays. This artistic corporate challenge often took me from country to country.

A case in point is a call from Azim Premji’s office in 1996. Nobody knew me in India then as my first consulting work with Britannia hit the market only in 1997. Mr Premji is known as that hardcore businessman who only loves his company’s growth, growth and growth. But since he found me in 1996, I’ve experienced a certain corner of emotion in my relationship with him. In flashback I marvel at this creative minded person who was so convinced with the work we delivered, he turned his company upside-down to implement the Rainbow Flower corporate symbol with Applying Thought, changing the corporate credo from Beliefs to a Promise system with a set of 4 values as enterprise drive. Wipro’s repositioning work took me 2 years before its 1998 launch. When we recommended different platforms after researching and diagnosing the company, the management team chose the “Caring” proposal with a mother-and-child symbol.  I’d explained then that IT is the engine driving Wipro’s future, but the image of all IT companies was boring, very backend industrial blue centric, whereas Wipro stood for “Essential to Intelligent” for human society. To get the whole team’s buy-in for my recommended Rainbow Flower Performing Biz Identity was proving difficult. Mr Premji was the first to totally see its colourful logic from Day 1. But in the umpteen meetings with his management team, his comments stood among other employee versions, not as the promoter’s influence. He never imposed his preference, instead made everyone fight it out. And how they all fought! Even the multi-coloured gay flag from San Francisco’s Castro District was thrown into the Rainbow Flower comparison fray. The team did extensive research with different stakeholders on the Caring and Rainbow Flower symbols, where the emotional connect and reasoning behind the Rainbow Flower proved perfect.  When everybody finally converged in acceptance, to those residual dissenting voices during its international roll-out, Mr Premji commented, “You may like it, you may not like it, but you will never forget it.” That showed me Mr Premji’s excellence of emotional balance, and his extraordinary understanding of art through the business window.

So in November 2009, as the Painter CEO initiative was germinating, I zeroed in on Mr Premji. He was travelling, so I waited. Then arriving with painting materials, I readied his corporate dining table for painting. He breezed in jovially, the perfect luncheon host; then stopped in his tracks. Like a child, he immediately threw a tantrum saying he cannot paint. But in time, in-between our usual banter on different subjects, glancing oftentimes in a friendly way at the colours, canvas and brushes I’d laid out, his fretfulness was melting away. With a smile he halfheartedly attempted negotiating, when I asked him what colours he’d like. He boldly replied, “Give me green, white, blue and black.” And then I got to enjoy his self-indulgent innocence as I’ve always done in our rapport. It may be a hidden treasure between him and me. If you look at how he looked at me just after starting to paint (which I captured on video this is the real Azim Premji I know, his eyes telling me, “Shombit, you are asking me to do a crazy job.” I can never forget that instant.

Nobody can imagine Azim Premji this way. He looked very differently intent as he picked up paint, made intrepid application on the canvas. I was the only person devouring his solid brush strokes against a beautiful January afternoon light dappling through bright pink bougainvillea outside the window. Another picture layer was getting crafted, like a painting, with Mr Premji busy at artistic creation against that flowery backdrop.  He finished one painting, it was perfect. On his own initiative he took another canvas and started painting again. Now he was fully engrossed. He left well balanced white space around as he very precisely painted a coconut tree in a breezy atmosphere. Not over-painted, very limited strokes, graceful nature clearly emerging. His movements were emotional, indicating where to start, where to finish. Twelve years after we had repositioned Wipro, I found in Mr Premji’s painting the pictorial depiction of the same spirit of continuity of the Rainbow Flower he’d so spontaneously chosen above all else.

In today’s digital world, homogeneity is so strong that business requires huge differentiation to get better net-worth in future. Visual art always contributes towards differentiation. In this parallel I’m making between art and business, irrespective of his being a hardcore global billionaire-club businessman, Azim Premji’s emotion in art will, in my eyes, always raise his value as a man beyond business.

To download above article in PDF Emotion of a billionaire businessman

Financial Express link:


(0) Comments   
Posted on 04-03-2012
Filed Under (ART) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Among Painter CEOs who spontaneously painted on my subtle nudge, let me present Jacques Vincent. He’s the key transformer of $26 billion Groupe Danone where I’ve strategized about 200 brands since 1984. One day in 1988, I got a call that Jacques, who’d just been posted back to France, wanted to meet me, but in my atelier, not office. He arrived, and talked about the liberty of expression I’d created in the hardcore strategy of corporate requirement. I later asked what made him come to my studio. Familiar with all the work I’d done for Danone, he knew I’m a painter, so was curious to find my source of creativity. Looking around my personal painting studio, he commented that the freshness in the work I’d delivered to Danone now falls into place in his mind.

He wasn’t finished exploring the creative aspect, he said. Jacques always wanted my perspective on marketing through art. He asked me to present him how art is culturally associated with food, the parallel between the evolution of classic to contemporary art and the last 100 years’ human consuming pattern. I organized our next meeting in Foundation Cartier, an artistic seminar place in Paris’ outskirts. That he agreed to spend the whole day away from his corporate world to view business through art’s fresh perspective proves that Jacques’ business success comes from lateral thinking. I gave him my take on the trajectory of art, food and how they mesh in Western society’s culture, adding that marketing would be socio-cultural rather than statistically-driven in future. This subject snowballed in my subsequent meetings with Jacques over the years. It’s important to append here how luxury brand Cartier promotes various artists in a large gallery of collections in this sophisticated contemporary art museum. Foundation Cartier shows how business can go beyond industry to support art that’s timeless.

Another sudden call from Jacques in Brazil I’ll never forget is his asking if I could design the dress “with your type of colors” he’d wear for his daughter’s wedding. I was nonplussed. Was this hardcore Western corporate gentleman joking? I made my wonderful assistant Caroline check with Jacques’ secretary. Yes! That’s exactly what he’d requested! Some other work was bringing me to Bangalore then, so I picked up violet raw-silk material and had his suit custom-tailored in Paris. I hand-painted his tie, silk coat-pocket handkerchief and socks. He accepted everything exactly the way I’d designed them.

Can you imagine Jacques, whom everybody’s seen in corporate formal dark colours only, wearing this violet suit? People at the wedding were wide-eyed in admiration. All I can say is that it clearly exposed Jacques’ creative and daring mind, the quality that allowed him to turn around BSN of 14 verticals into Danone, world leader in dairy products today. Jacques asking me to design his dress the way I do my paintings was an incredible demand from the Vice Chairman of a global company. I’ll always treasure this emotion. Pinned up in my office is a photograph of violet-suited Jacques hugging his beautiful daughter wearing a white wedding gown. This poignant father-daughter relationship really looks like a piece of my painting.

So when in 2010 Jacques re-visited India, and I’d helped him find some direction for Danone’s expansion here, our first year’s Painter CEO calendar was already out. Sitting in Jacques’ chamber at Shining Consulting, Bangalore, where we’ve allocated him a regular office as he prefers to conduct business from here whenever he’s in India, I invited him to join the Painter CEO club. “What’s that?” he asked. I explained my belief that CEOs are perforce creative as they magnificently manage diverse situations and people while striving for that bloated bottomline. Connecting to this credence, he readily agreed to paint in my Bangalore studio this time. I video-taped him ( ) as he carefully chose brushes, colours and concentrated in painting. His attentive stance reminded me of our many meetings in Danone when he’d listen intently as I spoke on consumer value and social trends. In fact in 1995 when Jacques asked me to work for Britannia where Danone had a share then, it was the first time I was coming to work in India. From Charles de Gaulle airport to Mumbai he made me talk continuously on cultural aspects of different societies I’d worked with in the globe, and took specific notes with multiple geometric shapes. Our discussions always veered on how art and culture can influence marketing.

After painting he said it was tough, very unlike his 40 management years. “You get inspiration when you put the brush in water, the colours you see and don’t see. It’s exciting the first 15 minutes, then there’s anxiety, and creativity rises again.” Jacques’ outstanding determination came through in seamless strokes he confidently made, leaving white space at the bottom, and converging power at the top. Twenty-two years after he’d visited my atelier for the origin of freshness, his painting revealed he’s still carrying freshness, as also unique focus with which he’d made Danone deliver healthy dairy and water globally.

Wait, Jacques’ artistic inclination doesn’t end there. After painting, Jacques told me his retirement plan was starting an art gallery. I was there when his Art for Smile Gallery on 28 Quai du Louvre ( was getting its interiors done. This incredible gallery is just behind Louvre Museum on River Seine, Paris, opposite to my art college Ecole de Beaux Arts. It has many fascinating styles from artists around the globe. When people buy a painting, part of the proceeds go to CARE France, an NGO.

Different CEOs often ask how I generated the Painter CEO idea. I’ve spent a lot of time with Jacques Vincent; this incredible story of a high level corporate leader retiring into the brightness of colours and milieu of artists is an inspiration, among others, that I’ve inherited from French society since my early career. Painter CEO is a truthful manifestation of CEO creativity which has immense value in society, much beyond their professional lives.

To download above article in PDF Art sustains beyond a distinguished corporate career

Financial Express link:

(0) Comments    Read More