At the tender age of 21 she came to Dubai to visit her best friend. What began as a 7-day vacation for Kanaka Banerjee turned into a 27-year long journey of learning, breaking stereotypes and going on to building a successful business in a time the term “Woman Entrepreneur” was yet to be coined. I was introduced to Kanaka Banerjee founder of Communique Advertising and Sahara Dates at the soft launch of breakfast menu Farzi Café, Dubai and had a brief window of 10 minutes to strike a conversation with her. In that 10 minutes I knew that I wanted another meeting with her, a slightly longer one where I wanted to go all geared up to ask Kanaka enough questions to last 45 minutes. Kanaka Banerjee talks to Megha Polali about her journey from Kolkata to Dubai, her bold decision to stay back and work in Dubai, starting Communique Advertising, her relationship with money and all things that led to her growth and success in the last 25 years.
Q: How did this all start
A: During the course of our conversation I learnt that Kanaka Banerjee came to Dubai not with an intention to work or least of all start a business. She was here on a 7-day visa and had come to Dubai to visit her best friend. What started as a joke with her mother “wherein she had told her mother that she is not coming back and this joke happened to become the truth of her life”. During her visit, she started applying for jobs and by the end of 7th day she had a work visa and 3 offers at hand. She chose the one which gave her the maximum exposure to learn and monetarily less than the other two offers and started her career with Fortune Promo Seven (FP7).
Q: You mentioned you chose an offer that paid you monetarily less than the other two companies – how did you develop that relationship with money and your work?
A: “I never gave much importance to money, for me money is just means to end. I am not saying money is not important, but when money becomes your sole focus in life you lose out on the bigger picture.”. All her working life was approached with this philosophy and hence decisions to choose what’s next in her career were relatively easy as she was very clear on her goals and things she wanted to accomplish.
Q: What is the one thing you attribute your success to?
A: With a twinkle in her eyes she says, it’s not one thing, it’s actually 2 things “focus and hunger for learning”. Right from the beginning of her career she was hungry to learn, so much so that she would run out of things to learn in her chosen field. This simple approach to life and her career made her the Studio Manager from a Junior Artist within just 1 year of joining FP7. She feels that one should be like a “sponge” and absorb as much as possible.
Q: Point where you decided to start “Communique Advertising”
A: Within 4 years of joining advertising she had learnt more things than 24hours in a day would permit and she says “I had reached a point in my career where I had more freelance clients than I could manage, this was the time I decided it was time to take the next bold step and start something on my own”. With this decision made, Communique Advertising was born and the Mashreq Bank now was Communique’s first big client and there was no looking back from that point onwards.
Q: First client to working with Americana for over 20 years – the Journey!
A: It did take burning one too many midnight oils she says and laughs, but these things didn’t matter to her as her sole focus was on making Communique Advertising matter. There is no bigger testimony of this than serving Americana for 20 years now. “Today, we are an agency focused on food. A large part of our client base is from the food & beverage space”.
Q: Things are changing overnight – how does Communique Advertising stay relevant?
A: Without even blinking she answers “learning”. She says “one needs to adapt a learning mindset and by doing so, changing with time and staying relevant will not be seen as a hurdle but only as an opportunity to learn something new”.
Q: You mentioned you have couple of businesses, “Sahara” the date brand – tell us the story behind how did Sahara happen!
A: She says, “it was a natural progression after being in advertising, creating and developing brands in this region for the last 25 years. This first-hand experience over the years has taught me that 95% of the buying decision is made by the packaging on the shelf and there is no such thing as brand loyalty in today’s overly crowded market place. This insight coupled with our capability to develop brands made me hungry to launch a brand of my own and ‘Sahara Dates’ was born. Now if you ask me why dates, simply because we wanted a product which is healthy, which is from this region and loved by the people of this region. It is now 8 years since Sahara Dates was launched and slowly but steadily we are taking it to a level that I always wanted to take it to. If I have to summarise it in one line, the future for Sahara looks bright and positive”.
Q: On a parting note – one message for the younger generation who want to pursue entrepreneurship!
A: “I see that focus is missing in the younger generation. One can achieve anything in life if your focused and singular minded”. She smiles and says “focus” is the only ingredient needed to succeed in life.