Monday, 28 November 2016

Graphisads and the Journey of Alok Gupta
Alok Gupta, the young director of Graphisads, speaks with maturity that belies his age. As he describes it, “Graphisads is a 4 decade old family run business started by my father Mukesh Gupta in the field of advertising and media. Our’s is a 360 degrees advertising agency and a leading outdoor advertising media owner dealing in print/electronic media, creative designing, events and exhibitions and digital media”. A second generation entrepreneur, Alok candidly appreciates his father’s wisdom in not pushing his children into their established and flourishing advertising and media business. “While growing up, I was always certain that I would never work for someone, as in a full time employment. I always knew it was business that I wanted to do. After completing my education, I immediately took the plunge by joining our family business. Not content with the work, I always wanted to start something of my own. Dad was always supportive and I started independent/ unrelated business of e-commerce/ Home Shopping, burnt my fingers, started a business of electric bikes and eventually learnt to see value in our family business. While I was never away from our traditional media business, post the failures, I joined back family business voluntarily and happily. Dad allowed me to taste failure and in hindsight I believe it is better to fail early on”, he said. Talking about his induction, Alok says,”Family business is a learning curve. Getting the tuning right with your employees and bringing new changes in the organization becomes a challenge. Whenever a young family member joins an organisation, his quick growth through the ranks is considered as a given. But in my case, I was trained in all aspects of the business, and then thrown in the deep end of the ocean to swim to save myself. Dad felt that it was necessary for me to work with and work like other employees to understand their point of view.”

Looking back at his journey of last ten years, Alok feels that the biggest challenge was communication, despite the fact that they are in the business of communication! “It is far easy to prepare market communication strategies for clients than actually communicating with father, uncles and old employees” he said laughingly. Alok’s attempts at professionalizing the work culture and setting up systems and processes was resisted and attempts were even made to drive a wedge between him and his father Mukesh Gupta. “It was Dad’s faith in me and our strong family values that helped us bring in the desired changes. Some employees took it positively and co-operated while some left us. It was tough but necessary to pave the way for a modern flexible business”, Alok said.  These changes made their team agile and flexible gave them the ability to diversify not only into allied areas like digital media, events and exhibitions but also set up new verticals in construction, waste management. Asked which business is closest to his heart, Alok says that a big drawback of small businesses is that they get emotional instead of being rational towards their business. “I am passionate about all my businesses but at the same time I am detached. The world today is dynamic and fast paced. There is no point in holding on to businesses that have so scope in future.”

Talking about the most important influences on his career, Alok cites the strong family values imbibed in his childhood and the education he received at University of Birmingham, UK and SPJAIN, Mumbai. More than the education, it was the exposure of staying independently in UK and then in Mumbai which was a great experience. He feels that his grandfather’s insistence on all the family members meeting for the Sunday lunch to be a very good family initiative that promotes sharing and discussion amongst all the branches of his family. This practice was started by his grandfather after Family Business was mutually split between Alok’s father and his two brothers into three segments consisting of outdoor media, TV production, and print media. The business had grown and the common understanding of the three brothers was that it is best to split the verticals amongst them and grow them as independent businesses. Somewhere along this, the three brothers also moved with their families to separate and bigger houses. All these happenings made his grandfather institutionalize the Sunday lunch meeting practice to ensure that the family bond remains strong. These weekly lunches ensured that the brothers and their families retained close ties and complemented each other’s business strengths. As Alok puts it, “Our grandfather started a family tradition that whole family should sit together every Sunday. Now it has been 20 years that we have been following this. Though he recently passed away, we feel that it is now our duty to carry forward his legacy and maintain the same harmony. This particular tradition has helped us create a very strong family bond internally. Every Sunday we all meet, discuss each other’s problems, business and family developments and new business opportunities”. When the government policy[1] on hoardings and billboards changed in 1997, it was this family understanding and support that helped Mukesh Gupta to shift his core business from outdoor media to print publications, which was already being handled by one of his brothers. Alok goes on to say that instead of any feeling of rivalry and competition, he and all his cousins happily pass on work to each other’s firms and pitch in to help as required. Another very important factor that has led to the second generation cousins being very close to each other is the family business course all five of them did at SPJAIN. In Alok’s words, “Because of MBA in FMB, now all of us are more or less aligned in our thought process. This is a great space to be in. Usually families get on to a self-destructive mode between 2nd and 3rd generation. Ours is just the complete opposite”. Thus the three branches from the original business started by Alok’s grandfather and his sons are now flourishing with third generation trying to step in big shoes!

Written by Dr Minu Mehta in collaboration with Alok Gupta.
AIFMB ,2016