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Rediff.com  » Business » He hated the moniker, but 'marketing guru' he was

He hated the moniker, but 'marketing guru' he was

January 04, 2003 13:17 IST

He disliked the term 'marketing guru' but that's what the world best knew him as.

Marketing legend Siddharth Sen, well known as Shunu Sen, who created several successful brands for Hindustan Lever Ltd., died of a cardiac arrest on Friday morning.

"He was the among the biggest contributors to HLL's success in India," said marketing consultant Jagdeep Kapoor.

However, according to close associates, Sen, who finally became the group marketing advisor to the Unilever business in India, often said that he had more failures than successes at HLL.

His humility notwithstanding, HLL's detergent brand Wheel was his baby and together with Lintas' legendary creative brain Alyque Padamsee, Sen made Surf's Lalitaji a household name in the country.

“Shunu was not only a colleague but one of my closest friends. He was the man who taught us all to smile in the face of adversity,” said Padamsee, the erstwhile head of advertising agency Lintas.

His joie de vivre coupled with a tremendous sense of humour is what Padamsee remembers most.

Once, when Sen was being admitted to Mumbai's Breach Candy hospital, his wife Indu met with an accident while crossing the road.

But instead of cursing the heavens for the mishap, Sen apparently retorted: "Thank God, it wasn't my nurse." "That was Shunu. He literally laughed his way through any adversity," said Padamsee.

That Sen was an out and out marketing man who understood the pulse of the consumer is well known.

What is not so well known is the fact that before Sen suffered a chronic spinal problem, he was a great jazz fan and a rock-n-roll dancer.

Helen Anchan, former media director of Lintas, who worked closely with him, said that he was an exponent of rock-n-roll. "He was my guru. He has moulded many a manager," she said.

Sen joined HLL as a management trainee in 1960. At that time HLL and Lintas (now Lowe) were part of one big family.

Gerson da Cunha, then with Lintas, recalls that he was struck by his brilliance during his early years at HLL.

"He wasn't just your classic HLL sales manager but more of a creative copywriter, knowing what would go down well with the consumer," he said.

Gerson da Cunha's memories of Shunu Sen go back to the latter's school days. A product of St. Mary's in Mumbai, Sen helped his school win many prizes in the spelling contest.

DaCunha, who was about 21 then, remembers hosting a children's programme on the All India Radio that included a spelling contest. No prizes for guessing who won it.

"Even then he was so full of beans. But I will always remember him dancing. He was the life and soul of a party," he added.

After retiring from HLL, Shunu Sen worked with the RPG Group as president (marketing) for two years.

In 1998, he set up the strategic marketing consultancy, Quadra Advisory. Quadra, a joint venture between the $13 billion WPP Group, Shunu Sen and advertising professional Suhel Seth, offered consultancy services in marketing, distribution and sales and branding and positioning.

It boasts of a closely guarded yet impressive client list including Maruti Udyog Ltd, ITC, Nirula's, CII and others.

Talking about Sen, advertising agency Equus Red Cell CEO, Suhel Seth said that he was much more than his business partner. "He was truly a marketing guru who had a fresh perspective on everything," said Seth.

He recalls having barged into his house in 1996 with a request to join the Equus board.

"I was meeting him for the first time and he asked me to give him a proper proposal," remembers Seth.

Finally, Sen relented and agreed to become the non-executive chairman on the Equus board.
BS Bureau in New Delhi