Six months into his BSc in Geology, Sunil D’Souza (32) lost all interest in the course and decided to indulge his passion for piano-playing.
“We’re all ‘rock stars’ anyway, we would joke in college,” he says, laughing.
Realising too late that he should have done Arts, D’Souza decided not to beat himself up about it but go with the flow instead, training in classical piano and participating in competitions and the annual festival and other events that his college, St Xavier’s, organised.
“In this way, I started to get a feel of the entertainment business — as a participant,” he says.
He didn’t know it yet, but what he felt before every piano recital — the nervousness, the pressure to get it right, to ensure everything went off without any glitches — would soon become his life.
After graduating, certain he didn’t want a career in science, D’Souza did a few jobs in sales, a website-designing course and then joined an agency that organises promotional events, where he got his first real feel of the events business.
In 2000, he got a call from Fountainhead, one of the top five event management agencies in the country, and joined as an executive, the lowest rung in that career’s ladder.
Over the next 10 years, he has gone from managing various accounts to heading a team, then a branch and now an entire organisation of 65 employees in Mumbai, two teams in Delhi and Bangalore and a whole bouquet of corporate clients including MTV, the Aditya Birla Group and Turner.
“I learnt the ropes along the way,” says the newly-promoted COO of Fountainhead.
But it’s been hard work, he admits. “Nothing’s simple and quick in events and the stress levels are extremely high. You have to learn to stay calm when things go wrong, learn to firefight.”
After all, when you’re doing a live event, anything is possible. “The stage can collapse at the nth hour, the sound can go wrong, the branding may not be in the right places, then the production team will be running late, it’ll start raining — you just have to learn to deal with the unexpected,” says D’Souza.
Then, of course, there are the everyday challenges: Subtly reminding clients about missed deadlines for content or material, reassuring them when they get jittery.
“You need great people skills for this job,” says D’Souza. “And you need to be able to think on your feet. You don’t get a second take.”
Like the time D’Souza and his team realised, just before a performance was about to begin at a music event, that they didn’t have the artist’s music track.
“He was kind enough to cover up by singing a capella, but that was something I will never forget,” says D’Souza.
Now, as corporate clients invest more in marketing and promotional events, these make up about 80% of Fountainhead’s business.
“Entertainment events planned directly for the consumer are still few and far between in India,” says D’Souza.
As the clients and projects change, stress levels fluctuate through the month, D’Souza adds. “Sometimes, we may have a year to prepare for an event; sometimes, it’s just five days.”
D’Souza makes up for all the stress by trying to switch off on the weekends, relaxing with his wife and few close friends at his home in Kurla. An annual holiday is essential too.
In fact, D’Souza has just got back from a month-long holiday to the US, where he travelled to New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco and decided to turn the tables, attending a whole bunch of fun events.
“NYC is the entertainment capital of the world, so I had to make the most of my time there. I caught a John Mayer concert, a US Open match, a Brazil football match and a few Broadway shows,” he says. “The scale of these events is phenomenal. There is a lot we have yet to learn.”