This article about me was posted in Crain’s Chicago Business in 2002.
Executive vice-president, managing director
Digital branding practice
Zain Raj is a portrait of contradictions.
Despite a buttoned-down business education, colleagues see him as highly creative. Born and raised in India, he now calls Naperville home and has become the consummate Midwesterner. He is pragmatic, yet proposed to his wife in a Bombay taxi three months after meeting her at his brother’s wedding.
It’s true Mr. Raj has an atypical background for an ad man — an undergraduate degree in economics and finance and an MBA from the University of Bombay. And, yes, his early career aspiration was to become an accountant.
But those who know him say he can create brands for new economy clients that would knock the socks off any slacker who thinks he knows what it takes to sell stuff in the Internet world.
In his current role as head of FCB Chicago’s digital branding practice, Mr. Raj has helped create ad campaigns for Internet pioneers such as Amazon.com Inc. He’s also taken FCB’s digital branding unit’s billings from zero to $125 million in less than a year.
Mr. Raj was 19 when he veered away from a career in accounting to pursue advertising. After listening to a university guest speaker describe the business, he realized it offered a perfect fit for all of his interests.
“If you look at economics and finance, it’s pretty creative, but it wasn’t really what was exciting to me,” he says. “Finding a way to get a consumer to do something different, though, is really cool.”
Mr. Raj started out at Grey Advertising in India, racking up $52 billion in billings for the company’s start-up Delhi office.
He joined FCB Chicago in 1996, and since 1998 has worked exclusively on e-commerce branding. His energy and enthusiasm easily match, if not surpass, those qualities in his clients, says Dana Anderson, FCB Chicago’s managing director, who worked with Mr. Raj at rival ad agency J. Walter Thompson. He gets a charge out of exchanging ideas, she says.
“He likes to bounce things back, like pingpong.” And his well of ideas is rarely dry. “Just when you think the idea is over, he’ll be back. It’s part of the DNA that is Zain.”
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