Take risks, follow your passion: Insights from business chiefs

Once you achieve success, it is important to not get complacent, say industry leaders

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Mumbai: Whether it is in the creative field or in business, gaining excellence has some common ingredients: following your gut, taking risks, being passionate about what you do, working for the greater good and not resting on your past laurels.

These common themes emerged at InsightStorm, a day-long conference on Wednesday that got creative and business people together to brainstorm on what it means to be extraordinary and “do extra ordinary”.

So for instance, Ajay Bijli, chairman and managing director, PVR Ltd started his career by following his passion for movies with a small single-screen theatre owned by his family—instead of the family’s larger trucking business—and building it into the multiplex chain it is today. Likewise, Neeraj Roy, managing director and chief executive officer, Hungama Digital Media Entertainment quit his job as an investment banker to start an entertainment company over the Internet as he felt that is the medium of the future.

Success sometimes is about turning your disadvantages into an advantage. When general entertainment channel Colors launched, it was the twelfth in the genre which was then dominated by Star TV serials. There were no expectations from the channel which then broke away from the clutter with a focus on social issues and live reality shows like Khatron ka Khiladi and Bigg Boss to become the No.1 channel within 10 months of launch, said Raj Nayak, chief executive officer, Colors, Viacom18.

This was also true for Madison World, an Indian-owned media buying agency that competed with multinationals like Starcom MediaVest owned by Publicis Groupe and GroupM, a unit of WPP PLC to win Procter & Gamble Co.’s India units complete business in 1995. “Most of our competitors were billion-dollar corporations. We were constantly reminding ourselves about this,” said Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison World, while explaining that this meant that the company had to work much harder and smarter to survive.

Equally important is to not get complacent once you have achieved success. “Success is not an end. There are worlds to conquer,” said actor Kabir Bedi, who was the first Indian actor to go from Bollywood to Europe to Hollywood. In the case of Colors, the channel stopped taking risks and failed to invent. It was only doing stories that were of a Colors genre, which is similar to what was already on air. “Our success became our baggage,” said Nayak who lost the No.1 place to Star Plus in 2010 and needed a nudge to re-invent itself. The channel is now oscillating between the No.1 and No.2 spots. A sign of a good organization is also grooming the next generation of leaders. “Hire your replacement so you can focus on what has not been done,” said Roshan Abbas, managing director of Encompass, an events company, while explaining that in the initial stages, it is fine for start-ups to work on “spirit”; however, as they grow, there is a need to put systems in place.

Ananya Birla, founder of Svatantra Microfinance Pvt. Ltd captures it in one line. “Leaders’ most important job is to make more leaders,” said the 22-year-old daughter of Aditya Birla group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, who started her first company two-and-a-half years ago and is now working on her next entrepreneurial venture as she has built a team of capable people at Svatantra.

Meanwhile, for companies that spend crores of rupees on advertising, it may not necessarily be the best way to build the largest brands. Brands like Zara, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Starbucks don’t spend anything on advertising and they are the largest in their respective segments. “The less you advertise, the more you win. Every time I see a full-page advertisement, I say this is going to shut down,” said Mahesh Murthy, founder of Internet marketing firm Pinstorm and co-founder of Seedfund—a venture capital firm, while sharing that his fund has built companies like redBus and CarWale without any advertising and successfully exited from them.

Lastly, taking risks and breaking rules and being different are part of the DNA of successful organizations. “If it’s safe, it is risky,” said Arnab Goswami, journalist and editor-in-chief, Times Now, while explaining that if he had followed the rules of journalism not to voice his opinion and just report the story as taught in journalism schools, he would never have achieved success and would be retiring now. As for those who have been trying to achieve success but failing—don’t lose heart. Ashwin Sanghi, author of best-selling novels like The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant and Private India: City on Fire among many others, got is first book published after 47 rejections.

As for the secret recipe for success, there is none. According to Sanghi, “Ninety-nine per cent is good luck. The remaining one per cent is bloody good luck.”

InsightStorm was organized by consulting firm Storm the Norm in partnership with the All India Management Association (AIMA) and Mint.