Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Ronju (Pradeep) Dutt - an uncelebrated legend

Pradeep (PK) Dutt - Guru of Marketing Gurus passed away in Calcutta

Article first published in The Economic Times (click here for link)

An IIT Kharagpur Civil Engineer - he landed at the Backbay Reclamation Office of Hindustan Lever for an opening of Marketing Manager - after changing some 7 jobs (as per his own count) including trying his hand in Transport Business (when he couldn't see his own face on the mirror at night - because of the malpractices in the trade). The great raconteur that he was - Pradeep Dutt (PKD to his colleagues and Ronju to friends) would regale young Management Trainees with the story (perhaps made up) of how the topic of group discussion at the HLL interview was "The Rising Trend of Mini-skirts" - when he stunned the panel by asking whether it meant "Mini-skirts were getting shorter, or more and more women were taking to wearing mini-skirts". This piece of witticism he claimed clinched the job for him among many MBAs in the group.  It is this touch of humour and large-heartedness that set him apart from many of his peers and protégées - some of whom went on to do much better than him professionally.

His rise at Hindustan Lever was almost meteoric. As they say success has many fathers - so while a lot of people claim credit for the launch of Liril Soap and Fair & Lovely - PKD had a major role in both. Though the latter ('FAL' as it was called in Unilever parlance) - is a "politically incorrect" product to talk of now  - PKD (in early 80s) proudly displayed in his room a letter of thanks from someone living in a remote Tamil Nadu village, who thought had it not been for Fair & Lovely his daughter would not have found a good match. From there, Pradeep Dutt went on to become the youngest ever Managing Director of Lipton India - sitting in their old Weston Street Office in Central Calcutta and was the lead player of the company's turn-around story.

It is at Lipton, PKD touched the lives and shaped careers of many. Always a bon-vivant - he was arguably the most magnanimous of the Lever's Marketing doyens - perhaps, with the sole exception of the legendary Shunu Sen. But, ironically, it was also at Lipton's PKD met his professional "waterloo" in the launch of Tree-top - a tetra-pack range of drinks - and '21' an Ice Tea clone - which were perhaps much ahead of their time. But, PKD had the old world leadership values of backing his lieutenants to the hilt - and then taking the blame upon himself if things went wrong - a quality that has gone missing in today's corporate world.

Around the same time - PKD lost his wife Padma to cancer - who was really the anchor of his life. It his from here that his personal and professional world began to fall apart. If one call it hamartia - it was the blind faith he had on colleagues and subordinates. This, many friends and admirers believe, was also the cause of his next professional setback in a multinational company - which he had to leave in a somewhat forgettable circumstances.

His later years were spent between Calcutta and Santiniketan (where he took pride in saying his regular rickshawallah also double up as a boot-legger) - until he sold of his house there. At Calcutta - he was a regular at the Clubs. Always surrounded by friends - he was never spared himself on food, drinks and cigarettes. But, that neither dimmed his wit or took the edge off his sharp marketing mind. Many former colleagues would turn to him for advice on Brands - which he would dispense freely. Anyone else in his place - would have made a fortune out of it. But, PKD was too proud to do that. The outpourings on Facebook - at the breaking of the news this morning is a testimony to the popularity of the man as was the large gathering of friends and associates at the crematorium.  One elderly gentleman who came for the last rites - was carrying a bottle of mineral water. A friend quipped - you haven't come to Ronju's funeral with just plain water but mixed some gin into it - else he wouldn't forgive you. That in a way sums up the man that was PKD.