“It seemed like the world had crumbled under my feet! Suddenly everything seemed to have come crashing down! From a comfortable chauffeur-driven car to an ungainly moped! Even the tea vendor outside a client office who had seen me arriving many times over in the past few months was completely bemused and looked on in shock! But a voice from above kind of reassured me that I should have known it was not going to be a bed of roses setting out to conquer the world on my own! It was an experience I would never forget ever. But even in the midst of it I looked up and felt sure He had a plan for me.”
A deeply Christian upbringing and a solid grounding in Christian values embedded through one of India’s best-known Catholic schools of the time, St Columba’s in Delhi and inspired by the Irish Christian Brothers who ran the school and three maternal uncles who were Catholic priests might well have seen a young impressionable Michael opt to join a religious order very early in life! If it had not been for his father insisting that he put off his decision till he finished College. A degree in Economics from the venerable St Stephen’s College followed and opened up a whole, new world from which it seems Michael never looked back!
“I certainly didn’t realize at that time that my Dad – a strict, no-nonsense, honest Government servant – would have such a great influence in changing the course of my life!”. But I must admit that even today, it is those Christian values and a deep faith in God that is the driving force of my life!!!
After a formative 5 years at the Usha Sales unit of the Shriram Group acknowledged then as the finest management training program in the corporate world that led to a providential career-direction into the exciting world of advertising, the entrepreneurial bug had already seemed to have embedded itself in Michael. And December 1979 saw Michael launch his own advertising agency, Maadhyam, with a strong backing from consumer-durable and realty major, DLF where he had done a brief stint after his assignment at Usha and tractor-major Eicher Goodearth with whom he had developed a great working relationship and respect for, during another stint that he took on with a medium-sized advertising agency to learn the agency ropes before he branched out on his own. Maadhyam soon built a reputation as a boutique agency that actually played a major role in the marketing and branding of what is still the country’s largest real estate development, DLF City! With some truly path-breaking campaigns for an industry that had never seen professional marketing efforts of such consequence. Maadhyam, in fact, actually built the gold standard for real estate marketing not just in India but to non-resident Indians located all over the world. Over the years, Maadhyam added blue-chips like the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, Hero Honda and international airline major, KLM to build an impressive profile. A profile that interested agency conglomerates enough to enable Michael to exit at a time when he decided it was time to move on to another more exciting medium of communication and entertainment.
A chance to visit an entertainment technology expo in Singapore with an erstwhile colleague suddenly opened up a whole new frontier in Michael’s brain that led to the brand called Showtime in a space then loosely called events but is now more cerebrally known as experiential marketing. Michael’s fascination with the dramatic opportunities of laser technology saw Showtime make huge investments in lasers, thanks to an almost fully-underwritten commitment by an extremely forward-looking scion of the Hero empire, Pawan Munjal who actually went on to play a major role in making Showtime the technology leader in the event industry. In fact, every single technology in the event and entertainment business made its way to India through Showtime – from water curtains and screens to large format Xenon projection on buildings and water, 3D holography, 270-degree projection, 360-degree projection and the current favorite, projection mapping! “I made it a point to visit entertainment technology exhibitions and build relationships with major technology players across the world – from Germany to France and even Las Vegas. It’s fantastically satisfying to see the entire event industry in India adopting these technologies almost seamlessly today!”
It was no wonder then that Showtime became the agency of choice for the corporate world. It launched every 2-wheeler for Hero and almost every new car that hit the Indian roads, beginning from the small-car trio – the Hyundai Santro, the Daewoo Matiz and the Tata Indica in the late 90s to the whole range of models that came out of these stables over the early part of this century to the entire Fiat range, the Volkswagen Polo and Vento and a whole set of ultra-luxury sedans and SUVs for BMW. Showtime also worked extensively with the Tata Group – the Taj Hotels for whom the 100 Years of the Taj event was a game-changing signature event, Tata Motors, TCS and Tata Global Beverages for whom the Starbucks launch in India was another landmark event remembered fondly even today. Michael also worked closely with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to take Brand India across the world through signature events at the WEF in Davos every year since 2006, the Hannover Messe and India@60 in New York where Showtime did a nerve-wrangling 42 events in 3 days across the city.
But it wasn’t always as smooth a ride as it looks to have been! Time and again, God had to make a special appearance! Like at the launch of Indigo, now India’s largest airline, a simulated projection of a plane landing and the crew emerging real-time from the plane threatened to be a non-starter when the projection computer just refused to ‘take-off’ until God intervened at the last, last second and no one was the wiser!! As Michael always says” I sincerely believe God is on our Board of Directors and probably on the Board of many event companies as otherwise we could well have been history many times over!!!! “
Michael has now passed on the Showtime baton to his son, Avik who is adding new dimensions to his father’s path-breaking endeavors. Michael himself now plans to devote a lot of his time to give back to the industry, by playing a larger role in the apex event industry body he helped found, particularly in building relationships with design and management institutes to develop specific skill-building courses and initiatives, that could make it future-ready for the digital century that the event world is still coming to terms with.
He is also enjoys being able to get Showtime to add exciting technology dimensions to the current Indian Government’s initiatives in several fields. The pivotal role played by Showtime in driving India’s presence at the recent Climate Change Summits in Paris and Marrakesh and closer home in the Startup India initiative have only whetted his appetite and he hopes to make a major contribution in other critical Government endeavors soon. He is also active in supporting CSR initiatives that Showtime should and could contribute meaningfully to today. A recent experience of working for a project for the differently-abled community run with the support of the Tata Trusts and his mentor from the time he worked with him, Mr. RK Krishna Kumar, the erstwhile Managing Director of Tata Hotels, and his wife, Ratna has had a deep and abiding impact on him and he hopes he can extend this kind of support to many more similar initiatives.