Five Questions with WPP’s Prasanna Kumar

About Prasanna Kumar

Prasanna is a digital evangelist with astute commercial acumen. He is currently managing some of WPP’s largest clients as Global Managing Director and is also responsible for building the capability in e-commerce and data/technology. Prasanna lives in London and travels extensively across the globe. Some of his personal accolades include ‘We are Pioneer’ award at APAC EMMIES, ‘Business leader of the Year’ MPower Award, and multiple other awards in the field of marketing excellence.

In the recent few years, Prasanna has been engendering interest around GreenTech / TechForGood to ensure we can leverage technology not just for building our brands but also to do good for the planet.

He is an active advisor and also an investor in startups. Prasanna has given guest lectures for executives and joined as a speaker/jury for various forums including advertising & media conferences, publisher events, and startup launchpads. He also runs a professional blog on digital & technology and has a patent filed for the inventions in a similar area.

He is an adventure traveler and has visited some of the most fascinating & extraordinary places, which include a bike ride across Himalayan mountain ranges, ice fishing, husky sled & northern lights chase in Tromso, ice festival in northern China, primeval tribal villages in Yangshuo, wild moose forest in Russia, Amish village in Lancaster, Komodo dragon islands, Hadzabe & Masai village in Tanzania, and most recently, the largest human congregation on earth for the Holy Dip, Kumbh in India. The list goes on, and he believes it gives him a “glimpse” of cultural diversity as well as the belief system that operates beneath and drives the world we see.

Five questions with Prasanna

1. How did you get to where you are today?

It comes down to several factors, the first of which is definitely rising to the right challenges. At the beginning of my career, when I was the most junior executive in the company, I was lucky enough to get to work directly with the most senior leader in the company. It was tremendous pressure but I learned a lot, including how to work with the most challenging clients and cross-market developments.

I entered China in 2009, when most of the companies’ digital investments were less than 3%. Today it’s already 50%. It was an incredibly steep learning curve, riding on that momentum. I somehow became a digital evangelist in e-commerce, thanks to China being the leader in this area.

The second is help from the right mentors. One of the many career-making opportunities given to me by mentors were at MediaCom, when I was just two years into the industry. Within just two weeks of joining the company, I was asked to take up the largest pitch in the region, which was unheard of for people only two weeks into the job. My manager trusted me and coached me. We won the pitch. After that things changed and many opportunities followed. 

The third is the awesome team members. We had tremendous work pressure: China works from early morning until midnight. We were able to grow the team from four people to more than 100 people in less than two years. It wouldn’t have been possible if the team hadn’t believed in us, and they absolutely gave their 200 percent. 

The fourth is the clients who value our opinions and expertise. I was able to incubate some of the most iconic works the industry has seen. Winning more than 10 Cannes Lions is not a trivial matter. It was possible because the clients trusted us and our visions.

Next is being the hardest working person in the room. This is not very common these days: people believe in smart things nowadays. My team used to call me a workaholic, and they still do. It’s not really a good thing. I’d like to think of it as a mindset, and that’s what I am. I can’t really change it. Another factor is the self-motivation to do things a bit better every time, again and again.

When these factors start coming together, you will start feeling the magic and making the magic. 

2. What advice would you have for someone looking to get into your space?

Constant learning. There are so many platforms available nowadays. Your degrees do not define who you will become or can become anymore, it’s the constant learning. Whether from your network, your colleagues, your job, online learning, etc. constant learning is very important. 

Experiment in the first 10 years of your career as much as you can. Do not settle. Experiment with different profiles within the company, different markets, and different challenges. These first 10 years will help you realize who you are and what you can do. This is instrumental in helping you explore your full potential. 

Focus on impact and not just input. People used to talk about focusing on output and outcome. I’d say focus on impact. Think about your impact on the wider ecosystem, not only on your project but also on your team, your clients and your partners. Because the system is so interconnected, this will define how others see you as a future leader. 

I’ll advise people to avoid the comfort zone and feeling scared of uncertainty. With the coronavirus, the past few months have shown us how unpredictable things are. It was us who thought things were only moving up and we could predict the future with all the technologies that we had, but that’s simply not true. The reality is, that’s how things are. Unpredictability is a fact of life. Being able to embrace it will help you go further than what you planned.

3. What have you learned about building a great company culture?

No doubt it’s always been “people first”. At Mediacom, our motto was to focus on people first. It’s very close to my heart and I strongly believe in it. Take care of your people, who will then take care of the business. Companies that understand this idea have come a long way, not just in term of earning profits, but also in creating a culture which people love and are loyal to.

The right balance of opportunities and challenges helps people get excited about the work and do better. That’s how humans are. If there were no challenges we’d still be living in caves. Giving too much comfort goes against this fundamental principle. 

Finally, leadership is the most critical, if not all. If the leader were a dog heading a pride of lions, the lions would fight like dogs. If the leader were a lion leading a pack of dogs, the dogs would fight like lions.

4. What excites you about the future of technology?

I love this question. Technology is a scalable way to make the unexpected possible, that’s the beauty of it. We know that the future is unpredictable–beyond our imagination!–but technology is also making your imagination possible. What could be cooler than this? 

A lot more waves of transformation have yet to hit their peaks. There exist huge opportunities to shape humanity using technology. For example, people in South America, India, and the Middle East are using mobile, but e-commerce has not reached 50% of the population there.

Transformative technologies, ones that will dramatically change the entire way we do things such as blockchain, have not had its early success to even get started. Imagine the potential that technology can bring to the world. What we know about Artificial Intelligence today can be compared to mobile technology in the early days. What we see today is not at all what AI can do in its full capacity, and that’s what makes it so exciting.

5. One habit that has the most impact on your life

Nurture a sense of inquisitiveness, an eagerness to learn. That has helped me be an innovator throughout my career, no matter what industry or country.

Bonus: One cool thing

Besides technology, if there’s one other thing that will define the future of the world in the coming years, one thing which we should learn and master, it’s our humanity. 

The world needs more healers, lovers, nurturers, sensitive, compassionate, empathetic individuals rather than the dollar hunters and money chasers. Be one for the humanity.