Moving Beyond Competence - With Strategion Srinivasan

“It is crucial for a business to establish a value system before defining its vision and mission,” says the business strategist S B Srinivasan, founder - Stategion. As the interview took turns to explore the aspects of advertising, branding, marketing and strategies, the importance of the value system emerged as an umbrella that shadowed these modern enchantments together. And that Srinivasan believes should be the foundation of any organization per se.

Srinivasan is the founder of Strategion, and also serves as a visiting professor at PSG Institutions. He is a professor of practice at Woxsen University in Hyderabad. Additionally, he holds honorary positions as member, Board of Studies for various Visual and Mass Communication University Programmes.

Recalling his journey…

As he strolled through the streets of Triplicane, Chennai in 1987, following his participation in the common entrance exam for the Public Relations Officer position at a national company, he serendipitously discovered an agency called BRIGHT Advertising. Little did he know that this chance encounter would eventually mark the inception of him into the world of advertising. Following a meeting with Mr. Jamal Khan, the CEO of BRIGHT, he joined the Coimbatore branch of the agency as a copywriter for a princely salary of Rs. 600, marking the beginning of his advertising journey. He mentioned how 600 was a decent sum and although his family was not dependent on his earnings, he said there was a practice of children sharing their earnings with their family once they started to earn. Good old days! He also recalled Mr. R Swaminathan with whom he worked for 2 years at Sasi Advertising.

Later Srinivasan joined the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad as a trainee manager for the outreach cell of NID at Bangalore, where he developed profound insights into design, branding, advertising, and communication. One notable experience was working under Shri Vikas Satwalekar, the then Executive Director of the National Institute of Design, on the rebranding of the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore. Additionally, he spoke of the design of the logo for the State Bank of India which was inspired by the shape of a keyhole from a Godrej cupboard; since Godrej was a "trust brand" for keeping money and valuables safely at home. 

According to Srinivasan, Branding is akin to the developmental stages of a baby, commencing from the very inception, much like the growth that begins in the womb of a mother. Just as an Indian mother is encouraged to listen to devotional chants and wear glass bangles that emit positive sounds (the tingling of bells), the process of value building is essential for a brand right from its inception. After the child is born, the role of grandparents comes into play, primarily focusing on instilling beliefs, faith, character, culture, and values. Similarly, it is the responsibility of an entrepreneur to imbibe the brand with core values. Brands are better off when treated as living entities.

Srinivasan fondly remembered the wise words of Shri P S Govindasamy Naidu, the founding father of the PSG group, who advocated, “Let there be charity, so others can share my family's prosperity.” He also commended the wisdom of emphasizing to the next generation that education and healthcare hold greater significance than mere charitable giving, as that only can make us self-reliant against British colonization. He also lauds the TATA group for their significant contribution to nation-building. According to him, "There is an aspect of nation building in every action of the TATA group." Furthermore, he attributes the availability of quality salt in India to the TATA’s, stating that before their intervention, there were no established quality standards for salt and it was merely being sold as a commodity product.

While Srinivasan credits the National Institute of Design for his understanding of value-based branding, he attributes his technical expertise in advertising to his 8-year association with Shri Jagannath Ramasamy of Profad (Professional Advertising and Design Agency), Chennai. Notably, he initiated the Coimbatore branch of Profad. He takes pride in stating that the knowledge he imparts in various educational institutions is a direct outcome of learning strategic thinking during his tenure at Profad.

When companies neglect the foundational value system and hastily proceed to define their mission and vision, they adopt a fast food format of running an organization rather than a value centric approach which has a core purpose at its heart, making the entity more sustainable and closer to the heart of its stakeholders.

When Srinivasan founded Strategion in 2004, he made a commitment to establish a brand with specific values. He vowed not to overcharge clients, to utilize customer funds judiciously, to promptly compensate employees without delays, and to refrain from overburdening or requiring employees to work beyond 6 PM. Recognizing the importance of work-life balance, he affirmed that employees deserve time for their families, enabling them to return to the office the next morning with renewed enthusiasm. He also firmly believes in exceeding expectations and iteratively refining designs until he is personally satisfied, even if the client is already content. A quality worth emulating for all.

Srinivasan shared his experience with the Coimbatore Police Department during a project on enhancing public relations for police personnel. Commissioner AK Vishwanathan aimed to make police stations more public-friendly and Srinivasan suggested a unique approach, where slips were distributed for police to note problems that were categorized, and solutions drafted. After a 3-month execution, they found attitude adjustments were key, emphasizing that values require the right attitude for execution. Srinivasan was commended by Commissioner AK Vishwanathan for his work and appreciated the fact that the Police Commissioner always wanted to make the police force a more citizen friendly force”. The findings were compiled into a booklet titled 'Yanaiyum Kosuvum' (The Elephant and the Mosquito, suggesting that the problems seen as elephantine often has solutions that are of a size of a mosquito). This was compiled by a participating police officer which was well appreciated and was distributed across all police stations in the region. 

When addressing the entrepreneurial growth gaps in Coimbatore, he noted that the Coimbatore Businesses are good manufacturers but hesitant marketers. Many companies cut back on marketing investment (it is worthwhile to consider marketing as an investment rather than an expense) to compensate for declining profits, which he sees as a strategic mistake. He emphasized that entrepreneurs should recognize the intrinsic value of brand building, even if it isn't immediately visible. Additionally, some successful brands fail in effective communication. He cited ELGI's innovative flag mast compressor, opining that its patriotic nature should have been better communicated to the world. When transitioning a business from one generation to the next, it's crucial to train the next generation by a ground-up approach and not start them from the top. 

While talking about the success of businesses he said “A company should also pose the question, 'What if the company fails?' The benchmark for evaluating the soundness of a company lies in the scenario where, in the event of liquidating all assets, the liabilities should not exceed the value of the assets.”

Srinivasan highlighted the need for a revamp in the educational system. While acknowledging the sustainability of the current syllabus, he emphasized the necessity for careful scrutiny of the quality of teachers. He pointed out the gap between students' knowledge and their industry readiness, stressing the importance of incorporating theory, concepts, and practical aspects in education. He suggested that this approach should be implemented across all educational institutes on a national level, not limited to a select few.

Notably, Srinivasan is also a hobby-farmer, dedicating his weekends exclusively to farming. He draws inspiration from his uncle, L M Naidu, who dedicated his life to cooperative farming. Appreciating government schemes for Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), he believes that farmers working collectively will bring about a significant revolution in Indian farming.

When asked for advice to future entrepreneurs, he emphasized that they build their business based on values and communicate those values through their activities. He also suggested that leading brands, such as those producing pumps, could establish clear brand awareness during events like floods and natural calamities showcasing their product in community action - an effective way of brand communication that combines social responsibilities with brand trust. Additionally, he recommended investing in intrinsic charitable activities that contribute value to one’s business.

Branding is not advertising. Branding goes beyond promotional activity and communication. Branding needs consistency in expression, continuity of thought. It should mean something to its stakeholders. Staying relevant is very important.

Srinivasan has been an ace brand management consultant who through his works has built many brands in Coimbatore. What stood out for us was his vision that Coimbatore brands should occupy their deserved place in the global stage. Here's hoping that Smart Coimbatore imbibes the value systems and strategic thinking of Srinivasan.

|| Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah ||

Vigneshwaran, Senior Correspondent of is both a skilled digital content writer and marketer by profession, as well as an avid independent writer driven by his passion. His literary talents extend to crafting beautiful poems and captivating short stories. In addition to these creative pursuits, he has also authored a book titled "Halahala," which can be found on Wattpad.

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