Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Alec Walker



An unforgettable character:
                                            Alec Walker

This is the story about an unforgettable character in my life.  About an Anglo Indian Manager I had  worked with almost five decades ago.  A man who recognized  my leadership potential, very early in my life, and  helped me get onto the  fast track of growth in the advertising profession. His name was Alec Walker.

Though I do not have details about his early life, I know that he was a retired Major from the Army who was working in Dunlop India Ltd at  their Headquarters in Calcutta, in charge of administration. Dunlop was a client of Clarion Advertising,  which was the second largest advertising agency during mid sixties and early seventies, where I was working then. When Clarion heard that Walker was planning to quit Dunlop, they promptly hired him as the Chief Administration Manager to sort out the administration problems of the company. In 1965 Clarion had entered into a tie up with McCann Erickson to become Clarion McCann resulting in big business coming its way. 

Based out of Calcutta, Walker was supposed to look after the administration of all the branches of the company. Since he was directly reporting to the Chairman of Clarion he had a lot of clout which he utilized to take quick and effective decisions in the interest of the company.

I had joined Clarion as a Management trainee in 1964, in their Bombay office, which was the biggest beneficiary of the tie-up in terms of getting many   blue chip clients. To handle the booming new business, staff at all levels was being hired without any proper administrative systems in place. I remember during the first year of my stint with clarion, I had no fixed table. I used to occupy any table, which was unoccupied because of the absence of some executive or the other. There was total confusion as all the senior managers were very busy dealing with the slew of new clients and  had no time to look at the admin problems.
It was in this chaotic situation that we heard the good news that the H.O was sending Mr. Walker to Bombay office to set things right. Walker`s reputation preceded him. We had been already told that he was a very upright man (both in character and his physique) who brooked no nonsense from anybody. While he had a tough exterior, he had a humane approach in dealing with people and problems. The entire staff, including me, was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Walker.

When Walker walked into the office on a Monday morning along with a couple of Managers, he did not disappoint me. He was of medium height, fair and stocky with a majestic disposition. He exuded a feeling of friendly authority. After the mandatory introduction to all staff members, Walker got into business without wasting any time. His first act was to ensure that people came to office on time. He himself walked into office five minutes before time every day and left office exactly at the closing time. He was a strict disciplinarian. He believed in practicing what he preached. It was said that while he was in the HO at Calcutta, he would not hesitate in `marking` even  the MD if he came late to office. He did not believe in empty rhetoric’s and false promises. Within a few weeks of his coming to Bombay,  the staff could feel a subtle change for the better in the atmosphere of the office. But he still had a long way to go and address a lot of other issues which were craving for his attention.

It was at this stage that I decided to make my presence felt as a `self starter` with Walker. Even before Walker had come to Bombay, the confusion prevailing in the office had prompted me to prepare a detailed note to the Management, analyzing the problems being faced by the office and outlining the solutions that I had to offer. With some trepidation I decided to hand over the note to Walker.  As he was busy, he took it from me and kept it aside. He did not even ask me what the note was about. I came out of his cabin wondering if I had done the right thing. Will he appreciate my initiative or pull me up for my impertinence in doing something which was not expected of me as a junior account executive in the company. I went home with a tinge of apprehension.

The next morning, as soon as I reached office, I was told that Walker wanted to see me.  Even before I could dump my brief case near my table, he walked across to where I was standing and gave me a bear hug. He then lifted me off of my feet, turned around a full circle before dropping me on the floor. I will never forget his words, “You will go places young man, God Bless You`. He then took me to his cabin to discuss my note. There were a few staff members who were a witness to this scene.

Naturally, the word got around the office. This episode couple with my growing reputation as an excellent client service man helped in enhancing my stature in the eyes of the rest of the staff.  So much so that the Management would have no hesitation in handing over all troublesome clients to me to handle, earning me a nick name `Crisis Rajan`. Not a trouble maker but a trouble shooter! I believe Walker`s open acknowledgement of my initiative surely helped me gain more confidence to take on greater challenges that came my way. 

I left Clarion after my bond with the company expired. He was very happy when he heard that I had rejoined the group after two years, and became a CEO of ACIL (Advertising Consultants India Limited) a sister company of Clarion at the age of 31 within 8 years of joining the advertising profession.

After spending some more years In Clarion streamlining the administration of the company Walker decided to finally retire and settle down in a small independent house in Whitefield in Bangalore with his wife Margaret. His only daughter Sylvia, a spinster was well settled in London. I visited him a couple of times in the early years to pay my respects but lost contact with him later. 

I understand from a good friend who had worked very closely with Walker for several years, that after his wife pre-diseased him,  he sold his house and moved to a small guest house close to the Church to which he was attached. He spent his last days lonely but maintaining his trade mark cheerful front to people who came visiting.  I can never forget Walker for the important break he gave  me early  in my life as an advertising professional.

3 comments:

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  2. I can't express my delight at reading about Uncle Walker in your blog! I woke up yesterday remembering him! I don't know what prompted me to google "Alec Walker Bangalore," and to my utter surprise your tribute to him showed up! I had tears in my eyes as I read what he meant to you! I got to know him rather late in his life, when he was living in a small room in St. Joseph's Convent in Whitefield. My then husband's family had known him for a while, and after my former husband, Makarand Paranjape and I returned from the U.S.,in 1986, he took me to see him. We clicked instantly! And that visit resulted in a unique bond that lasted until his death. I lived in Delhi but every summer when I would visit my in laws in Bangalore, I would go see him. He and I corresponded quite regularly, and I still have some of his beautiful hand written letters. As the years passed, his eye sight was failing but never his cheerful disposition. He always was so incredibly positive! He was surrounded by his books and family pictures. When I heard of his passing I felt really sad, but I knew he had led a full life with no regrets. I went to the cemetery to pay my last respects--- at the time the grave didn't have a tomb stone. So many years have passed, but whenever I think of Uncle Walker I see the twinkle in his eye and hear his laugh. I was truly fortunate to know him. Thank you for your beautiful post----for remembering an outstanding human being.

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  3. Alec Walker lived a puritan life and helped many people. I had the fortune of spending some years in an Ad Agency where he was the Chief Executive . I used to visit him in Bangalore after retirement. I haven't known a greater soul that uncle Alec! Dr ARK Pillai

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