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The Great Indian CEO Hunt

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The Great Indian CEO Hunt

The Indian media industry has not seen a churn like this in years, and where talent is becoming a matter of concern in the senior management and middle management levels of various media entities, the top management has not escaped the pressure either. At least five media organisations are currently ‘headless’ or without a CEO or CEO equivalent.

These include STAR News, who lost its CEO Uday Shankar to STAR India. Even in STAR India, Shankar has gone as a COO, while Paul Aiello, CEO, STAR TV, is currently the acting CEO of STAR India. With Rajat Jain finally announcing his move to Mobile2win, Walt Disney Television International’s hunt for a CEO is even more accentuated.

Shantonu Aditya’s move to UTV Communications as CEO has left Sahara One Media and Entertainment without a CEO, Radio One lost its CEO Rajesh Tahil recently and no replacement has been identified yet. Also on the list is aMap, who lost its CEO Tapan Pal to INX Media, where he has joined as Chief Research Officer.

Viacom-18, the newly formed entity between Viacom and TV-18, is aggressively looking for a CEO; Reliance’s plans for CEO for its entertainment entities has been known for a while, and the media even had rumours of Sameer Nair and Peter Mukerjea heading in that direction, when Nair and Mukerjea were still with STAR India. There have been speculations about Miditech looking for a CEO for a new channel it has been contemplating.

Then there are examples like Fever 104 FM, where Keerthi Vasan, Business Head, HT Music, is the head of the station, however, the station as yet does not have a COO or CEO. To think that so many more ventures are in the pipeline makes the CEO hunt a lot tougher.

Some CEOs are already surrounded by market speculations – one of the recent names was none other than Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s CEO Pradeep Guha. The rumour was quashed even before it made it to some section of the media, but the fact that the rumour was there reiterates the pressure on the professionals at this level, and even worse on the people who are looking for talent at this level.

Challenges of the CEO Hunt
Players from the field like Rekha Koshy, Director, Accord, an executive search firm where Koshy leads the Media, Entertainment and Communication vertical nationally, believes that not just the CEO, but the second rung, the CxO rung is also a difficult level to look for.

Giving the broader picture, she said, “The Indian economy as a whole, and the media and entertainment industry in particular, is seeing unprecedented growth leading to a huge demand-supply mismatch for ‘Leadership talent’. The industry and most players had not anticipated this level of growth or mismatch, and hence, have been caught unawares and are clearly struggling to handle this situation.”

Agreeing with her, Korn Ferry’s Partner Ashutosh Khanna asked, “Where is the talent? Just a year ago, if a CEO moved on, you just knew the names that were there for the post, where are the names now with the number of positions that are vacant?”

Palak Ahuja of Essnee Managment Consultants, a media executive search company, shares a similar view. According to her, “It is a combination of the fast expanding industry and the increased opportunities which are leading to a shortage in availability of professionals at the top-most level. Combined with that, the dynamic nature of the industry where the rules of the games are being rewritten every day, it is not easy to find the right fit for any organisation.”

While lack of talent is the first challenge, the second challenge identified is that media as a sector is at a nascent stage in India with limited in-house talent, particularly in emerging areas like radio, filmed entertainment, animation, film exhibition and distribution, etc. Koshy said, “Many Indian managers have not successfully scaled up to global expectations due to multiple reasons such as operating in monopolies; lack of competition; a lack of exposure to matrix organisations; and lack of training to move from functional specialist roles to general management roles.”

The challenge interestingly has been the unrealistic expectations from the India market. The HR head of a leading broadcast network explained that one problem that had led to so many vacant spots was the expectations from the international giants following their investments in India. The HR head said, “India is on the globe and everyone wants to invest, but there are unreal targets, and failing to achieve those has put pressure on the heads of various organisations.”

The final change is the lack of leaders in the making. Koshy elaborated, “The media business in the country for a long time perhaps was best described as more entrepreneur/iconic CEO personality driven business rather than a business that built effective second line of managers. Thus, in a period of rapid growth it has resulted in a cross migration of talent which has been exposed to fluid, dynamic, competitive conditions in global matrix-ed organisations across developed industries such as consumer, FMCG, and financial services moving into this exciting growth area.”

The trail ahead on the CEO Hunt
Khanna is of the opinion that an organisation without the CEO is an organisation without a vision. “Such a scene can last a few months, but beyond that it is a problem in the longer interest of the organisation. I think many in the industry have realised this, and not only are they working towards solving this ‘hunt’, but also on finding long term solutions.”

“There is a small but good talent pool, and tried and tested leaders will be wooed to lead other media business with perhaps more attractive options resulting in increased salaries. Additionally, we see a trend over the next 18 months of talent getting picked from related industries, markets and geographical locations. Also, we believe that both clients and employees now clearly understand the difference between various life cycles within a company and hence, focusing on the best fit – a newer trend that will result in the emergence of the ‘start-up CEO’, ‘the grow the business CEO/team’ and so on would also be seen,” added Koshy.

The observers also explained that as India established itself on the global entertainment and media map, one would see global talent movements to make up for the obvious shortages. Also, there are expectations to see an emergence of local talent from the middle management rungs that would be forced to take on larger responsibility earlier on in their careers.

As the business grows larger and ownership becomes diversified, the need to get in a professional CEO leads to a search of appropriate professionals and with the lack of talent within, it would take time, effort and a lot of handholding and learning for the promoters, investors and the possible candidates, in making that transition. The challenge would be to manage this process most effectively, which we believe we are uniquely positioned to help our client do.


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