Where others were blindsided, he built India's 2nd largest ad agency network


Ashish Bhasin, South Asia head of Dentsu Aegis Network, speaks about the roadmap to his success, and betting on the digital space early on.

He holds the distinction of having made many millionaires with the 13 acquisitions he made over the last few years. Combining organic and inorganic growth, under his leadership, his company has metamorphosed into a profitable heavyweight with 3,500+ staff across a large number of advertising agencies.

Meet Ashish Bhasin, Chairman and CEO, South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN), who dislodged an old rival to claim the Number 2 position among Indian advertising companies in less than 10 years of foraying into the country.

Ashish Bhasin, Chairman & CEO, South Asia, Dentsu Aegis NetworkAt the recently concluded TechSparks, Ashish spoke to YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma in an auditorium packed to capacity as young entrepreneurs crowded in to listen to the man who bet big on the digital space in advertising and communications.

Ashish said he hit the bull's eye by betting on the digital space early on, which is now rapidly changing the very face of the industry. “Ten years ago, we were small and could not take on the big agencies, but saw the emergence of digital and decided let’s take leadership in this segment.”

"I really didn't have much of a choice. Aegis media was a small company, and I was about 88 years late in the market. I had no option. If I took them head-on on TV and print, it would make sense. The thing that I did realise was that the rest of the world was going digital rapidly, and it was going to happen in India. They were all blindsided, they were all saying that is only four percent of the advertising market."

Today, Dentsu Aegis boasts of having 1,650 digital experts as part of its team. On the acquisitions he has made, Ashish stressed chemistry is important. In fact, the audience was hooked on the fact that DAN is known to be the type of acquirer that entrepreneurs love to work for – many founders whose companies it acquired have stayed on, and continue to thrive.

"People underestimate the chemistry part of it. I put in a lot of emphasis on the cultural fit on the companies that we are acquiring. For an entrepreneur, the company they have built is their baby and their life, you've got to give them that freedom, independence, ecosystem, respect but at the same time there are entrepreneurs who need support and help to take the company to the next level."

The entrepreneur needs to feel like they own the company even though the share-holding might have transferred, he said.

Ashish had a word of caution for young entrepreneurs and startups on the importance of discipline. “Many a time, I have seen young and passionate entrepreneurs who build an innovative product, but do not have the discipline to continue and build a large business,” he said. On what discipline meant to him, he assured the audience that no mail sent to him goes unanswered, and within the hour. Ashish added that if he was travelling, expect a slight time lag, but no more than a few hours!

M&As not a strategy

Acquisitions cannot be a strategy but it should actually accelerate a strategy.” Ashish's first acquisition was Communicate 2. "I had realised that it would take me five years to build what he has already got, so why not partner with him and make it a win-win. That is how we acquired Vivek Bhargav's company. Yes, it takes a lot of courage of conviction. It takes courage for anyone to put in money but when your track record starts building, it helps."

"One of the three things that an acquisition should do for me is - It should be a strategic fit into the overall strategy, second, it should be innovative - something I cannot get - and three, because I am a late entrant, it should help me scale my business."

As the reach of the digital medium grows fast and strong, Shradha asked whether the presence of large internet giants like Facebook and Google was a deterrent to new players entering the digital advertising segment. Ashish's reply was cryptic, but loaded. “India's market is a large ocean and when the tide gets higher, all the boats will rise.”

The internet population in the country is close to 400 million, and is expected to double soon. “By 2021, the reach of internet and telecom will be the same,” he projected.

YourStory's annual extravaganza TechSparks brings together the best and the brightest from the startup ecosystem, corporate world, policy makers, and of course, the investor community. Over the years, it has grown to become India's most loved tech and startup platform for knowledge sharing and networking. The ninth edition of TechSparks also marks YourStory's 10th anniversary. A big thank you for all your support over the years and keep reading and watching YourStory.