Stairway to a second career

Stairway to a second career

R Sridhar branches out as an innovation consultant to a host of top-notch firms.

At the age of 50, R. Sridhar decided to take a relook at his career. One thing was sure: as a director with O&M he had enough of the mad world of advertising. “I needed to find some sort of a spiritual fulfilment through my work,” he says. Reading Laurence G. Boldt’s Zen and the Art of Making a Living, he realised that it was not too late to invest in a career—a second career. A career that would help him earn as well as give him the edge that had slowly dissipated in a 25-year-old advertising career. The year 2000 was crucial for Sridhar.

His daughter was to leave for the US for studies, which meant an outgo of a lot of money. However, he had planned his finances well and this expense was taken care of. In May he quit his advertising job to relaunch himself as an innovation consultant. He also launched his website “I realised I needed to leverage my biggest USP, which was my communication skills. And my research showed that there were many companies that lay stress on innovation but had no processes in place to make it happen,” he says. The choice of a new career seemed to kill two birds with one stone. The first one was to slow down the pace of work and thus regain a balance between work and life.

 Secondly, his desire to work solo on people-oriented projects finally fructified. “As an innovation consultant I could focus on companies’ growth, help them leverage the power of innovation in people, products, systems and strategies,” Sridhar explains. In workshops he pushes people to think harder, to isolate and focus on core issues and to articulate the mission statement of the company.

He strongly believes that playful minds are fertile ones and people come out with their best ideas when they are relaxed and free from tension. He creates game formats that help clients look at the issues from various perspectives. He also includes online advice on how to plan, design and conduct in-house brainstorming. Sridhar is quick to admit that his skills were discovered and honed in O&M, which he joined in 1975. It is just that he is using them in a different milieu. “My first teacher was Frank Simoes, the guru of Indian advertising. He set very exacting targets. And O&M was like a university where hunger for knowledge, creativity and innovation were applauded,” he says.

His growth in O&M, though not meteoric, was consistent and Sridhar got a chance to set up its Bangalore office six years after joining the organisation. In the years that followed, he did some hard selling, pitched for clients, beat deadlines, got the creatives and clients see eye to eye and, above all, mentored some very vibrant teams. The wide spectrum of duties helped him in developing an understanding of both the market and consumer. “Client serving in an ad world is an excellent training ground in customer relationship management (CRM),” he says.

He moved to direct marketing in 1988. “It is all about one-to-one relationship with the consumer and requires a very different set of skills,” says Sridhar, who went on to head O&M Direct in 1989. It helped Sridhar in getting attuned to the consumer’s psyche on a personal level. Most of his projects involved consulting clients and Sridhar knew if he ever wanted to branch out, it would be as a consultant.

With a client list that includes Intel, Microsoft, Tata Motors, HDFC and Infosys among others, Sridhar seems settled well into his new career. And there has been no dip in his earnings. Choosing only clients and projects that stimulate him, he is at peace with himself, Sridhar says contentedly.