Rajan Kohli, President, Hindustan Times, is likely to move out of his current position in the next few months. Kohli, when contacted by exchange4media.com on April 4 for his comments on this, said “I am very much at Hindustan Times”. But reliable sources have said that the promoters of Hindustan Times had decided to replace Kohli from his current position and that a formal announcement to this effect would be made soon.
Sources said the promoter’s decision has already been communicated to the senior management in the company.
Kohli, who been at the helm of HT since early 2000, was not available for confirmation on the development. In the past too there was speculation of his leaving Hindustan Times. However, this time around information regarding Kohli’s exit from the post percolated after a senior editorial member, known to be close to the promoters, shared the information during an editorial meeting.
As of now, the promoters have not named a successor to the post, said sources.
In an interesting related development, Dinesh Chandna, Chief Information Officer, was also seen to be on his way out of HT. All these developments have come at a time when Hindustan Times is readying to launch a paper in Mumbai in October 2005, after having raised capital for expansion plans last year.
Kohli is credited with bringing in a high degree of professionalism in a predominantly promoter-led organisation. Of course, most media organisations with the excerption of STAR are promoter-led. Kohli brought in seasoned professionals, empowered them suitably and is known to have given ample space to the team to deliver. But inside information has it that he was not forthcoming with hard decisions and was seen to be going soft on crucial matters.
Critics says several senior professionals had joined and left after short stints during Kohli’s tenure. Aarti Mehta and Mrinalini Gupta who joined at the level of Vice President (Marketing) left the organisation. Gupta is now Senior VP with Bharti Enterprises.
Amrik Mohan Singh and Yash Yadav who joined HT as Vice Presidents in charge of Human Resources had also left the company. VP Sales & Circulation R L Saxena and VP (Strategy) Anant Dehadri also joined the company but exited soon.
Anand Bharadwaj was brought in from Electrolux last year. He overseas the marketing of the company.
Last year, head of Ad Sales and Media Marketing, C S Sadasivan, had also left the company, following which HT brought in Suresh Balakrishnan to oversee the crucial, revenue-generating function.
Some insiders in the company are critical of the high turnover of senior professionals seen during Kohli’s tenure but expert opinion has it that a company like HT, which is in an expansion mode, is bound to see a churn.
The criticism notwithstanding, HT in recent years has grown in advertising revenue. The image makeover, made possible by the combined efforts of the core management, marketing and editorial teams, too was well received in the market.
Kohli and his team are also credited with the launch of satellite editions in MP (Bhopal and Raipur), Jaipur, Kolkata and Chandigarh. The Chandigarh edition has been doing well under the stewardship of Rakesh Sharma who, of course, is now back in Delhi.
The Hindi newspaper Hindustan has also seen considerable gains in terms of readership (as reflected in the readership studies) and is becoming a player to reckon with under the editorial leadership of Mrinal Pande.
The Internet edition of HindustanTimes.com led by CEO--Internet Sanjay Trehan is doing well and is likely to turn profits this year. HindustanTimes.com recently launched a UK edition too.
Among other recent developments in the organisation, Vir Sanghvi was elevated to the post of Editorial Director and Shekhar Bhatia was brought in as the Editor to oversee the newspaper’s days-to-day operations.
Though reasons for Kohli's exit are unknown, two issues that continue to haunt the media company are the very strong, thorny labour union in HT and the company not having a national footprint and multiple editions like The Times of India has.
Some insiders at top levels have also hinted at increasing promoter intervention having cramped professional decision-making within the organisation.
The organisation had lately incurred huge expenditure with the launch of satellite editions, colour revamp, installation of new machinery, etc. In fact, there was a move at some point to raise funds by mortgaging its prime real estate which, however, got stalled for certain reasons with the intervention of the labour union and others.
For now, Hindustan Times is busy going about its business as usual and working to launch its Mumbai edition and build on its gains, led by S Bhartia and assisted by media heirs Shamit Bhartia and Priyavrat Bhartia, ably supported by a core team of professionals including a heavyweight editorial team.