The Advertising Age Interactive Hall of Fame: Rishad Tobaccowala, president Starcom IP

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Rishad Tobaccowala spends a lot of time on airplanes, flying from one client of Starcom IP to another, racing from Chicago to London to Hong Kong and back again-seemingly in the same day.

That's probably where Mr. Tobaccowala, 41, president of Bcom3 Group's Starcom IP, does most of his thinking. And that's probably why, when asked to spare 15 minutes to share a few thoughts about the future of interactive advertising, the conversation stretches to almost an hour.

"My sense right now is that this business is more real than it ever has been, but it still has a way to go," he says. "IP [Internet protocol] has always been much more about a new way of thinking, of organizing and of marketing than about technology and acting cool."

This is not a conclusion Mr. Tobaccowala has reached lightly-nor does it trouble him that many high-flying dot-coms have come down to earth. He's been working in digital and interactive media since before those terms became industry buzzwords, and "I'm likely to be working in this industry for many years to come."

As president of Starcom IP, he helped found the company in January 1999, develop its vision and attract and provide strategic counsel and service to its clients.

Mr. Tobaccowala has more than 20 years of marketing and strategy experience, virtually all with the Leo Burnett/Starcom empire, working across a range of clients. Mr. Tobaccowala holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Bombay, India, and a master's degree in business administration from the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago. He began his career at Leo Burnett as a media buyer-planner in 1982, working his way up the ladder in a series of media-planning positions including founder and director of Burnett's Interactive Marketing Group. He decided to leave Leo Burnett in 1996 to serve as the president of Giant Step, the agency's interactive unit.

During his three years as president, Giant Step grew from an eight-person staff to about 100 employees and clients including Maytag Corp., General Motors Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co. Mr. Tobaccowala took that experience to start Starcom IP, which as a Bcom3 Group sibling agency shares clients with Giant Step.

"Giant Step was an opportunity to bring together new people, a new organization and a new way of doing business, something that I couldn't achieve at that time at Starcom," Mr. Tobaccowala says. "Stepping outside [Burnett] while still being at Burnett was a chance to move more quickly into the next stage of interactivity."

Firmly back in the fold and in command at Starcom IP, Mr. Tobaccowala has overseen a steady build-up of clients, including, Nintendo of America and Miller Brewing Co., handling more than $75 million in billings in 2000.

"Despite everything that is going on right now [with many dot-com businesses folding], this interactive world is for real," he says. "Most organizations are increasing their commitment to understand how interactivity is forever changing the way they communicate with customers."

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