Jeetendr Sehdev (HBS ’04) is a Brand Strategist at the world’s leading advertising agency in New York. Not your typical HBS alumnus, Jeetendr is a self-confessed pop-culture junkie with looks more suited to a fashion runway than a 40th floor office cubicle. He was born and raised in the United Kingdom where he attended a famous public school, graduated from Oxford University and after stints in both banking and consulting, headed to Harvard Business School to get his MBA. We caught up with him in New York’s hyper-trendy Soho district where, with copious charisma and a quintessential British accent, he spoke to us about his darkest obsessions, the importance of being ambidextrous, corporate responsibility and, the Dalai Lama.
Harbus: How would you describe your HBS experience?
Jeetendr Sehdev: Too much of a good thing. I had so much fun in Boston but missed everything London. The greatest thing about my years at Harvard was that I built relationships that I know are going to last for a very long time.
Harbus: Why the Communication services industry?
JS: My infatuation with brands and my addiction to everything popular. I truly believe that the most successful brands are capable of living in the moment while remaining true to the brand’s core essence.
Harbus: Would you elaborate?
JS: Well, advertising that really turns me on taps into popular movements in its efforts to build brand relevance and resonance. Just think of the most recent work from the Diamond Trading Company as perfect examples. Work like this forms deeper, more emotional connections with consumers and for me that’s what it’s all about.
Harbus: What does the industry most need today?
JS: I think the industry most needs a new breed of bilingual managers. That’s my way of describing talent that’s fluent in both the language of business and the language of creativity. It’s really a tough call but you know it’s so true. There are plenty of excellent managers out there but they’re usually only one or the other. We all know Excel whizzes or poets at business school, but how many people do you know who truly identify equally with both skills? How many truly believe they’re split down the middle and have a balance of right brain creativity with left brain analytics? I think the marketing communications industry today needs authentic bilingual talent.
Harbus: Wow, that’s a tall order.
JS: I know – ambidextrous brains are so hard to come by!
Harbus: How important is a passion for pop culture?
JS: I think it helps me a lot in my work. In this industry you’re almost always marketing to a popular main-stream audience so you need to be able to get into their heads and figure out what makes them tick and also what turns them off. Take the teen market, for example, is totally tuned into the latest trends in music, fashion etc. They really relate to the scene they’re on whether that be Pop, Trip-hop, R&B or Dance. I couldn’t think of marketing to teens without understanding how Britney influences their lives or what the hottest Play Station game really means to them. Consumers are also way more intelligent than we give them credit for and can be very unforgiving, so it’s important to be able to relate to your audience on multiple levels. Talking about new trends, have you checked out the latest Pumas?
Harbus: Which people have most inspired you in life?
JS: My Mother, Francoise Montenay, Tamara De Lempicka and the Dalai Lama.
Harbus: What do you say to those who are skeptical of the role of MBAs in Advertising?
JS: I say that’s absolutely fine. In fact, I encourage MBAs to question where they want their degrees to take them. If you’re looking for an environment where you can wear your Harvard badge, advertising is probably not the best place for you. Most of my colleagues don’t know that I’ve graduated from Oxford and Harvard and that’s okay with me. I hope my work speaks for itself. But if you’re edgier and have a more creative streak, marketing, media or entertainment might just be the right place for you.
Harbus: Which ads are among your favorites?
JS: I think the Motorola campaign is very intelligent. For me ‘Moto’ evokes a world in which life is simpler and more fun. Successfully placing a technology piece in such a harmonious space is clever marketing. Of course when the iPod ads came out I really thought they were great, especially the psychedelic visuals. I remember the black silhouettes against the super-saturated colors reminding me of the Bob Dylan posters which we all love. This month, I think the Hewlett Packard ads are simply intriguing.
Harbus: What appeals to you most about Advertising?
JS: It’s so much fun. The people I work with are phenomenally talented and chilled at the same time. Their creativity is nothing short of inspiring and I feel like I’m learning something new everyday. You could say that I’m obsessed with learning and being exposed to new influences so much so that even though the hours can be long, I often feel like I’m not at work per se. Having said that there have been days where all I want to do is shout until I’m blue in the face…
Harbus: How’s the industry’s work-life balance?
JS: I think the industry really recognizes the importance of balancing your work and personal life. Hours can get crazy, especially when you’re working towards a tight deadline, but it’s safe to say that people here do recognize that in order to both conceive and create you need to have your own space. Inspiration for work here often comes from sources much closer to home.
Harbus: What’s the role of corporate responsibility in marketing today?
JS: I think international businesses should be held accountable to the highest levels of corporate responsibility, period. A lot of people don’t immediately see how advertising agencies are affected by corporate responsibility. It’s not as if we’re a petroleum company or employ garment workers in developing countries. But advertising is a very people-focused business and those who work in the industry shouldn’t feel like they need to leave their values at home. Also, so much advertising is criticized and becomes the target of questionable ethics. I’m sure we can all think of spots that we’ve found scandalous or appalling in one way or another. So it’s important to create a workplace where nobody needs to compromise their ethics and where difficult issues are openly discussed.
But you know that’s what partly drew me to the business. I’m interested in provoking consumers and making them think about things in a way they may have not otherwise had to. I’d also like to think that I look at all my work and creative recommendations first and foremost through an ethical lens.
Harbus: What types of people work well in Advertising?
JS: All sorts of people can work well in advertising. That’s the great thing about the industry there isn’t one particular type of person that works well here. People in agencies are not clones of each other. They do have a few commonalities though: they’re creative, have something to say, and aren’t afraid to try something different.
Harbus: What are your plans for the future?
JS: What’s most important to me at this point is that I keep enjoying what I’m doing. As far as career paths in the industry go there’s no one set formula that people stick to. Many keep progressing within their divisions; others decide to move over to other disciplines like public relations or the client marketing side. Some have moved into CEO positions.
Harbus: Safe to say we’re sold! Thanks for your time.
JS: Absolute pleasure.