He has often been heard of, but very rarely seen. Haresh Chawla, Group CEO, Network18 and Viacom18, does not believe in attending industry events, making an appearance in forums or even commenting on industry developments. But he is the invisible force that makes things move in the Network18 Group. To him goes the credit for establishing brands such as CNBC TV18, CNN-IBN, IBN7, IBN Lokmat, Colors, MTV, Nick and others under the Viacom18 umbrella and for making the Group a profitable enterprise.
As he is poised to bid adieu to Network18, it is but natural to dwell on the difference he has made to the company, and his contribution in transforming a single channel to one of the top media conglomerates in India. For IMPACT, Chawla is always in conversations around the IMPACT Person of the Year, because he has made it to the list a lot more times than others. This year, IMPACT awards Chawla IMPACT Person of the Year 2011 – Editorial Choice to acknowledge and celebrate the work that he has done for Network18, Viacom18 and for the industry at large. Edited excerpts from a conversation with him:
What were your first thoughts on receiving the IMPACT Person of the Year – Editorial Choice award?
Deeply honoured. I want to thank everyone who had voted for me to be nominated, especially since it is my peers in the industry who voted. It is an honour to get this award.
The year 2011 is a landmark for you, not only for all the achievements of Network18 Group and Viacom18, but also because you announced that you are leaving the company. What are some memories that you will take with you?
The most satisfying thing for me is that I have been able to build a team of very talented people. That is the legacy that carries on in both Network18 and Viacom18, which are two companies that one has really built up in the last few years. It is my biggest delight. We have had an exciting year. We put our distribution bouquet Sun18 together, and it has begun to show results now. We launched History, we launched our HD services and we are planning to launch a couple of more channels next year. We have had a lot of energy in the Group and in both the companies. Network18 and Viacom18 are extremely well poised to really take the Group to a much larger space, as we will see the digital business establish itself in the cable business space. Plus, the entry into the regional space that we are contemplating very soon would add to the business. Both the companies are well placed right now with the right teams and right leadership. I feel very satisfied with what I have done, along with this team, and what I leave behind.
You had told us that you would be at Network18 until the succession plan was in place. You have now announced your successor. How soon will you decide on a Viacom18 CEO?
That is a process we are working on and it will take time. I am there till the process is really well on its way. We are working on it very dedicatedly and we hope to have someone in place soon. There is a certain culture that seeps into a place, and right now there is aggression and energy at Viacom18. It is run differently – there is no central sales team and each of these channels is run as an SBU (special business unit) with a very good leader and teams. Colors has gone through a transition, the content team is also seeing new leadership, so the drive is there, and structurally the company is on a forward-moving route.
Would you like to say a few words about B Saikumar being appointed Network18 CEO?
Sai has been a very close colleague and a friend, and he has been a part of the build-up of Network18. He has seen the ups and downs that we have faced as a company. He is a very mature individual. My sense is that he is the best person to take on the role at Network18. We have built a lot together and my hope is that he would do a better job from here.
Network18 has a young leader in Sai. Is there a message in that to the industry about young talent?
The industry itself is very young. I became CEO when I was 30. It comes down to how passionate you are about what you are doing. It is about how you put your ideas to the task at hand and he has done a phenomenal job. I don’t think age is a defining factor. Our business is fairly young and therefore there are young professionals who are running it.
How do you identify the right people, motivate them and get them to be innovative in a structured manner?
There are two things in the media business - flexibility and humility. The way our products and competition dynamics change, it is important for us to realise that we cannot assume we are doing the right thing – consumers are the final test. Most products fail because someone has decided that his way is the right way. Being able to have an open mindset is critical. A structured approach in our business can also be dangerous. You need an entrepreneurial mindset. The industry has grown dramatically -- talent availability has been a challenge. You need the right mindset for this business. All of us consume media to understand it.
Any word on your plans ahead?
I am not in a position to disclose my plans. It will be a few weeks or months. Once I have finished the transition in both the companies, it would be time for me to discuss the next step. But it would be sooner than later.
Let’s guess - a start-up in the media space again?
No, I am not so sure, and not necessarily media. I am looking for options even outside of the media, so let’s see what excites me. There are several things that are coming up, I am contemplating now. It is important for me to figure out how I will spend my time. As I had said earlier, I want to do something new and different. The team may not like it because they are used to having me around but I have done this for many years, and I want to do something different now. My life has been Network18. Somewhere, this is also me asking what I want to do from here. As and when something does materialise, you would know. You never say goodbye. Network18 is something I will always be proud of.