Bharat Thakrar, a Kenyan national, is the founder and CEO OF WPP Scangroup, East Africa’s largest Integrated Marketing Communications company. In 1982, Thakrar founded Scanad, his first advertising agency, and through a blend of organic growth and acquisitions, built it into Scangroup, an African marketing communications behemoth that is listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange and has a market capitalization of more than $70 million.
In 2013, Thakrar, 63, and other shareholders ceded a controlling stake in the business to WPP, a British multinational advertising and public relations company. Scangroup subsequently rebranded to WPP Scangroup. Thakrar still remains the company’s CEO and the largest individual shareholder.
He recently recounted to me how he got started in the advertising business and mused on the future of the industry.
Walk me through the story of how you got started in the advertising business.
I was born when Nairobi was still referred to as ‘the green city in the sun’. The city was much greener with a lot less people. Traffic flowed, allowing you to easily move from one end of the town to the other in less than 10 minutes. Life was less complicated and the media was not as sophisticated.
I began my formal education during the colonial period when the European, Asian and African children went to segregated schools. Highridge Primary School where I went served the Asian community but it was not well funded by the government and lacked library facility making us take a bus to the McMillan Library or the Nairobi Museum to conduct our research.
My exposure to the advertising industry began with my father quite early in my life. He was commercial director at Skyline Advertising Agency, the largest advertising agency in Kenya at the time. I remember accompanying him to work where he would put me in an empty office to study in preparation for my Certificate for Primary Education (CPE) examinations. Whenever I got tired of reading, I would sneak to the studio on 5th floor and watch in fascination as artists created advertisement letterings by hand. Soon, I picked up on this skill and began to create my own scribbling.