Stunning Turnarounds

Updated: Dec 29 2002, 05:30am hrs
Ive struggled ever since FE On Sunday charmed me into writing this piece. Should I write about people who are global achievers, and therefore remote I could wade through, picking up the biggest wealth creators, or the most successful wealth rescuers. Or should I write about people I know, whom I can almost touch and feel Would familiarity bring a conflict of interest Yes, but thats okay. After all, I live with that conflict every day, being a practising journalist and entrepreneur, all at once! So I intend to exercise my judgement. I hope my readers will see its merit, and not the inevitable conflict. I will go for someone who has i) rescued a faltering corporation; ii) launched an incredible new operation; iii) pulled back from what may have seemed like inevitable oblivion; and iv) created an immortal legacy.

The first category is easy (and perhaps the most pregnant with a conflict of interest!). My vote goes to K V Kamath of ICICI Bank (heres an honest declaration: ICICI is a universal bank for TV18). Be that as it may, I say with impunity that he has pulled off a stunningly positive coup! When everybody thought the organisation would collapse under the weight of its bad loans, he has not only survived, he has changed its internal chemistry. What used to be a staid bank is many things toady. A technology powerhouse! A coveted retail brand!! A bank that straddles the wholesale and retail markets with equal aplomb!!! A bank that has overhauled its balance-sheet!!!! And more importantly, a bank that has not run away from its legacy, has acknowledged its weaknesses, not stone-walled problems with empty bravado, not got over-confident, not got defeatist. And through this whole process of ageing, its actually got younger!

Now to my second category, an incredible new kid on the block. Balaji Telefilms, led by the indefatigable mother-daughter duo of Shobha and Ekta Kapoor. I have not met either of them. But they belong to my industry (oops, another conflict of interest!), so if anybody can truly appreciate the odds they have conquered, you can bet I do!! Just look at what they have achieved: 10 out of the top 10 shows on Indian TV! Inside two years, revenues scaled up from Rs 15 crore to over Rs 100 crore, profits up several multiples to over Rs 40 crore!!! In a creative industry, where volume is not a simple matter of cranking the assembly line faster!!!! They own the prime time across all three frontline mass entertainment channelscan you imagine one company producing all the prime time shows for ABC, NBC and CBS!! Frankly, I disagree with their business model. I think they must begin to own media assets if they wish to win in the long term. But boy, in the short term, they have left us utterly flat-footed with their fantastic ability to handle scale, in a creative business!!!

In the third category, the chaps who have rescued a product from threatened oblivion: my current editors (oh my God, another conflict of interest!!). M/s Shekhar Gupta and Sanjaya Baru. Both these gentlemen have transformed the dowdy Indian Express and Financial Express. Quite easily the most improved media product on display today. I mean, if you wish to read news, REAL news, you simply have to pick up the Express. And since money follows success, I am told the papers are picking up commercially, too. More power to your elbow, guys!

And finally, who wins in legacy terms Who else but the late Dhirubhai Ambani! Mercifully, I have no conflict of interest here. Sure he is accused of using very questionable means. But it is equally true that he created an awesome industrial asset. I met the legendary creator of Reliance only once. And that too for all of two minutes, inside the lift at The Oberoi, Mumbai. Almost instinctively, I ressed my palms together in a reverential namaste. He smiled back at me. I think he recognised me from my television shows. I also think he mumbled something about keep it up and God bless you. Perhaps I imagined that bit about God blessing me. But what the hell! It came from somebody whose business achievements I can only gawk at with unrestrained admiration. So even if he never said it, and I only imagined it, I continue to be perfectly thrilled with that illusion!

Mr Behl is MD, TV18 India Ltd.