RANJAN: A REMARKABLE MAN, AND A CHERISHED FRIEND...
Roger Winter, Chairman of Gravitas Partnership, and a close friend of Ranjan Kapur, talks of the intellectually honest, irreverent, fiercely proud yet unassuming man he has known over the years
Ranjan was a close and dear friend of mine for over 40 years. We met in 1975 in New York at the Ogilvy & Mather office, then at 2 East 48th. St. on the corner of Fifth Avenue. We had both come a long way - Ranjan from Mumbai and me from London. Typically, they put the two foreigners in adjacent offices. Ranjan worked on the General Foods business, I worked on Lever Brothers. The then head of the General Foods account, who later ran the agency worldwide, tells the story of how he called the senior client to tell him Ranjan was joining the team. There was a brief pause, then “Does he speak English?” No pause, “Better than you” and could have added “Smarter too”.
Different times! We both left New York in January, 1978 - Ranjan to return to Mumbai to work with Mani Ayer and me to Bangkok to manage the relatively new Ogilvy office there. We had a joint farewell party at an Indian restaurant close to the office. Ranjan, Jimi and their daughter Tina loved New York and were sad to leave, but it was time.
We saw each other regularly over the years, either in India or at regional meetings. I was technically on the Ogilvy Indian board, but my role was not to advise Mani or Ranjan, God forbid, but to be a conduit to the wider world and help in any way possible. At the time, there were stringent currency controls and it was tough to import much-needed equipment and supplies, or even fund overseas travel. Then in 1984, I moved to Singapore, and soon after, so did Ranjan and we worked again in the same office. Ranjan and Jimi loved Singapore - cosmopolitan, big Indian diaspora, and immediately (thanks to Jimi) they made tons of friends… and also, of course, were close to home. We remained friends, individually and as a family, ever since, seeing each other all over the world… Hong Kong, London, New York, Bangkok and, of course, often in Mumbai. I vividly and fondly remember a trip on the ‘Palace on Wheels’ with other ex-Ogilvy colleagues through Rajasthan.
Ranjan was one of the smartest guys I knew, with an innate ability to persuade people that his was the correct view… never condescending, which so often is the purview of really bright folk. Under a laid-back demeanour, he harboured a passionate zeal for what he believed was right. He loved, and I mean loved, to argue and hated to lose an argument. Logic might sometimes slow him down, but he inevitably found a way to circumvent it! He had a dry, even impish, sense of humour and we spent many an hour happily zinging each other. He used, back then, to enjoy playing squash… I think mainly to persuade himself that despite his chain smoking, he could! He finally decided, and one has to really decide, to quit smoking. Over the years I’ve ‘smuggled’ cartons of cigarettes for many people, but Ranjan was the only one to ever ask me to ‘smuggle’ Nicorettes… he didn’t seem to grasp the concept that Nicorettes were a conduit to morph you off cigarettes, not become a replacement!
Ranjan was irreverent, scared of nobody… well, maybe Jimi at times. Fiercely proud. Proud of his heritage, proud and protective of his family, loyal to friends, Ranjan revelled in being a mentor. He was intellectually honest, and, in turn, abhorred evasiveness; he couldn’t stand phonies. He was, like many talented people, understated and unassuming, seeing no need to boast of his painting, sculpting or poetry writing. Remarkable guy, and more importantly, a cherished friend. David Ogilvy, who was himself passionate about India, said Ogilvy & Mather should aspire to hire “Gentlemen with brains”… Ranjan was the absolute personification of that.