Mahinder K. Khanna, popularly known as Mike Khanna, the man who oversaw the transition of Hindustan Thomson Associates into J Walter Thomson, died over the weekend. He was 76.
JWT started operations in India in the 1920s, but it really started growing in the 1970s. By then, its name had changed to HTA.
Khanna’s immediate predecessor, the late great Subhas Ghosal was responsible for many of the strategic and creative interventions that made the ad agency’s name, but it was only under Khanna, who ran the agency through the 1990s and part of the 2000s that HTA became an agency renowned as much for its creative ads as its processes and planning.
Khanna retired in 2005 and was replaced by Colvyn Harris. Earlier this year, Tarun Rai took over from Harris as CEO of J. Walter Thompson South Asia. In January, Harris was appointed as executive director for global growth and client development.
In Khanna’s time, HTA represented some of India’s biggest brands, Hero, Pepsi, several Unilever brands, and Air India.
Khanna, whose clipped anglicised accent was as ubiquitous as his well-cut suits wasn’t a dasher like his contemporary at Lintas, Alyque Padamsee. He was, like the third person who made up Indian advertising’s ruling trinity in those days Mani Iyer at Ogilvy and Mather, more of a classic advertising manager, and, according to more than one person who worked under him, a man who recognised and groomed young talent as well as he nurtured brands.
More importantly, he oversaw the integration of HTA with its parent, paving the way for the internationalisation of the ad business in India (it was a process that also happened in Lintas and O&M around the same time).
Khanna had been ailing for some time and died early Sunday morning.