Shashi Sinha is the Indian advertising industry’s go-to man. He is regarded as the voice of the community. He is friends with everyone. Above all, he is a passionate adman.
Sinha, who has spent nearly four decades in the advertising industry, is a seasoned professional who has dedicated the majority of his career to a single agency group: Interpublic Group (IPG). The listed American advertising company is the parent of major agencies such as FCB, McCann and IPG Mediabrands, among many others. In a leadership trajectory spanning 25 years, Sinha progressed from being the head of media at FCB Ulka to CEO of all media units under IPG Mediabrands India in 2013.
The adman is known for his active presence in various industry bodies, including as the current chairman of BARC, former president of the Ad Club, and former chairman of ABC and MRUC. His involvement in ASCI, and contributions to IRS editions and AAAI, are an indication of his passion for advertising.
Sinha has also been chairman of the Awards Governing Council at Goafest. Beyond his professional life, he contributes to social causes through advisory roles in organisations such as Akhand Jyoti Charitable Trust and TRRAIN Foundation, focusing on healthcare for curable blindness and supporting the training and placement of people with disabilities in the retail sector.
The Advertising Agencies Association will be honouring Sinha with the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award for 2023 on December 1. This is the highest honour given to an individual in India for outstanding contributions to the industry.
Storyboard18 asked Sinha’s colleagues Anamika Mehta, Hema Malik, Sanjeev Goyle, Amardeep Singh, Vaishali Verma, and Aditi Mishra to share memorable notes from their stint under the boss.
Anamika Mehta, COO, IPG Mediabrands India met Sinha fleetingly in Singapore at a UM APAC summit. “To be honest, I didn’t know then what brought him there. The real meeting was in the summer of 2006 in Delhi over lunch amidst talks of the UM and Lodestar merger in India. Typical of Shashi, it was an hour of warmth and kindness, assuaging any fears or doubts with tons of positive strokes. I vividly recall returning to the office to curious questions as we were all very young then. Thanks to Shashi the ensuing change and future didn’t feel overwhelming or daunting. True to Shashi’s style, he walked the talk, putting each of us at ease and investing a lot of his personal time and energy beyond just clients. It’s not a coincidence that all from then continue to be with IPG Mediabrands to date, a testament to his faith and belief in people through many mergers, transitions and changes over the last two decades," she recalls.
Over the years, Mehta has picked up several skills from Sinha. According to her, he nurtures relationships. “He is the ‘Wall’ who leads from the front, always at the forefront in bad times, and values relationships above everything else. To borrow from a sport he enjoys, he is Dhoni, Dravid and Kohli in one. His energy and hunger even today are unparalleled. A tough act to follow for anyone,” says Mehta.
In 20 years of working with Sinha, Mehta says she has picked four leadership lessons. One, always look out and create value for your people, clients and shareholders (in that order). Two, relationships are paramount; people work for people first. No heroes or zeros. Three, never hire for product skills alone. Four, as a leader, always be fair. “He is everybody’s friend every time. No one epitomises One Earth, One World, One Family more than him in the industry and that’s what makes him stand so tall and apart,” she adds.
Shashi Sinha during his IIM Bangalore days.
Hema Malik, chief investment officer of IPG Mediabrands India, also met Sinha in 2006, during the Lodestar and UM merger. “My first encounter with Shashi left a lasting impression. His adept handling of the merger showcased remarkable skill and sensitivity, seamlessly merging diverse cultures and client bases. Shashi’s guidance extends beyond words; he exemplifies the art of building enduring relationships and transforming colleagues into true business partners. His actions speak volumes about sustainable success,” she says.
Malik believes Sinha’s leadership stands out for its empathetic focus on people, relentless dedication to nurturing client relationships, and an infectious energy that unites and fortifies our agency community.
“Shashi’s industry-wide respect and love stem from his genuine commitment to strengthening the agency community. His investment of valuable time, tireless energy, and passionate presence in crucial industry forums have solidified his position as a revered and beloved leader,” she adds.
Shashi Sinha at field camp in Mussoorie when he was at IIT Kanpur.
Sanjeev Goyle, CEO – OOH and rural, IPG Mediabrands India, met Sinha in the 1980s. “Shashi’s leadership is distinguished by his collaborative foresight, involving the team in co-creating the future. The empowerment his team experiences underlines the endearing nature of his leadership. His industry-wide respect and love stem from his unconditional support. He's consistently been the go-to person in the Advertising and Media Industry, standing by people unreservedly. Shashi’s wisdom lies in the absence of explicit advice; instead, he collaboratively shapes the future with you. His unique approach to co-creating the path forward stands out,” says Goyle.
The perfect partner
Amardeep Singh, CEO, Interactive Avenues, has known Sinha since the mid-2000s. IPG Mediabrands acquired Interactive Avenues in 2012. One of the reasons the company decided to be a part of the advertising network was because of Sinha. “Shashi's leadership is marked by transparency, fairness, and a focus on relationships. He empowers leaders with freedom and understands the art of making partnerships thrive,” he says.
“Our choice to join IPG Mediabrands in 2012 was a testament to the culture Shashi created. The fact that both founders, Shantanu and myself, are still around speaks volumes about Shashi’s remarkable leadership skills. Shashi's advice transcends words and manifests through his actions. His commitment to fairness, partnerships, and people-centric leadership serves as a living leadership manual,” adds Singh.
Sinha’s respect in the industry stems from his unwavering support for the fraternity, embodying the spirit of ‘biradari’ in the advertising and media industry in India, says Singh.
Shashi Sinha being felicitated by the late Anil Kapoor, chairman of FCB Ulka, when he completed 25 years.
Sinha has taught Vaishali Verma, CEO, Initiative India, two important professional lessons. He taught her the importance of teamwork and leading from the front. And that building relationships with key stakeholders—clients, the industry, and internal—is always critical.
“Shashi's leadership stands out for empowering the team. He possesses a keen sense of when to lead and when to be part of a team, understanding the pulse of his people and demonstrating a strong instinct in client interactions. Shashi's industry-wide respect and love are rooted in his remarkable contributions. He advocates for the right causes and has played a pivotal role in the evolution and transformation of the media industry, contributing significantly to initiatives like BARC, ABC, The Ad Club, and more,” she adds.
Shashi Sinha with the leadership team of IPG Mediabrands India.
Mentor for life
Aditi Mishra, CEO, Lodestar UM, met Sinha at her campus interview. “He effortlessly stood out as the most easygoing member of the interviewing team, turning the discussion into an inspiring dialogue that fuelled my desire to work with this exceptional team,” she recalls.
His best advice to her as a colleague has been straightforward and powerful: “Go with what you really believe is right.” “Shashi's leadership is a blend of unwavering passion for the media business along with a deep understanding of the nuts and bolts. What sets him apart is his unique knack for identifying the special contributions each individual brings to the table and fostering a collaborative spirit that elevates the entire team,” she says. “Shashi's industry-wide respect and love stem from his unwavering commitment to driving a better tomorrow. His people-focused approach, coupled with the ability to bring multiple stakeholders together, creates a legacy that makes him both respectable and beloved in the industry.”
“RIGHT NOW IT'S REALLY ABOUT AWARENESS BUILDING, REMINDING FOLKS THAT WE'RE THERE”CHAD WAETZIG
EVP, Marketing & Branding, Crunch