The silent leader: IMPACT Person of the Year 2014 Punit Goenka

Punit Goenka, MD & CEO, ZEEL, traces with us his journey so far, sharing anecdotes from the past and his vision for the future

e4m by Srabana Lahiri
Updated: Dec 8, 2014 8:14 AM  | 13 min read
The silent leader: IMPACT Person of the Year 2014 Punit Goenka

Punit Goenka, the 39-year-old MD & CEO of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, is IMPACT Person of the Year, 2014, for being at the forefront of change in television audience measurement in the country, driving profitability in the broadcast sector, and steering ZEEL to steady growth

Punit Goenka, Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL), is perhaps one of the most soft-spoken people one comes across in the industry, but that doesn’t belie the strong leader within.

He runs a network that his father owns – albeit one of the biggest in the country – but leads the company with aplomb, setting his own pace of success while carrying his father’s vision forward. After joining Zee TV in 2005 as a business head, Goenka took over as CEO in 2008. Today, ZEEL with a revenue of Rs 890 crore in FY14, offers 34 channels. The latest to join the arsenal was Zindagi this year, bringing Pakistani content to Indian viewers. The network is all set to launch yet another Hindi GEC in the last quarter of the current fiscal. With a strong foothold in the Indian market and a presence in 169 countries reaching over 670 million viewers, Goenka now has his eyes set on expanding Zee’s global footprint and reaching a billion viewers by 2020. This lofty vision follows a realignment in philosophy and the tagline ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (meaning, the world is my family) that was promoted when the network completed 20 years in 2013.

Goenka is at the forefront of reforms in the broadcast industry, joining hands with other broadcasters to push digitization through the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF). As Chairman of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), Goenka leads the initiative to create a new architecture for the television audience measurement and ratings system in the country. “BARC is committed to building a television audience measurement system that becomes the gold standard in its class worldwide. Given that BARC addresses a population of over 1 billion, of which over 0.6 billion have access to television in some form, I am confident that BARC will settle for nothing less than being the best,” Goenka says.

Zee now sits at a comfortable No. 2 position in the TV firmament, but on his own success scale, Goenka gives himself a score of 3 out of 10, setting ambitious goals for his network. Here, Goenka traces with us his journey so far, sharing anecdotes from the past and his vision for the future.

“I never thought I would be running Zee myself...

Right from the time that he was vice-captain of the rugby team during his student days in Switzerland, Goenka saw in himself the makings of a leader. “It required a lot of leadership effort to bring the rugby team together,” recalls Goenka, who entered the business at a very early age, learning his ropes rather than getting into a top position right from the start. The leader’s role, when it came, was thus a natural progression for a man armed with hands-on experience and perspective about the business.  

Of course, it had always been clear to Goenka that he belonged to a business family and that’s where he would be one day, but he never really thought about which business he would take up. Very early on, he was enamoured by the Hospitality business. Even his early training at Esselworld was in sales, and he sold holiday packages to schools, with Virar as his territory. “I really enjoyed Hospitality. Now with Zee, entertainment is somewhat in that space... so it has pretty much played out as I imagined it would, though I never thought I would be running Zee myself,” admits a candid Goenka.

Today, within his organization, there are certain qualities he looks for in people to single out the leaders from the rest. “The most critical factor in a leader is – is he a team player, is he a collaborator, does he carry not just his own team but even work seriously with peers? That’s where I start. Integrity is another big quality that I look for, as we value integrity a lot,” he adds. 

“Live in today, do it well, rather than think about what next...

The best mantra that Goenka believes in is – Live in Today. “What I have today, I would rather do that better than even think about what next,” he says. “Of course, I’m still young and do aspire to achieve larger goals personally – whether that’s through Zee or Esselgroup, time will tell.”

The evolution of Punit Goenka, from the early days at Essel Group to MD & CEO of ZEEL, is a story of hard work and determination. He had his share of unsuccessful businesses before moving to Zee. “I used to run the music publishing business that shut down in my time. I used to head our very aggressive satellite infrastructure programme as well, which didn’t take off. I think I have wasted a lot of the Group’s resources in my early years, and that has taught me the value of money. All those learnings helped me make Zee what it is today. A lot of learning had to happen from ground up. Today, I do believe that Zee is at a position where it will take off into something even bigger and better. I am happy that I was able to consolidate the business and restructure it under the guidance of my Chairman and father, Subhash Chandra. He is the visionary and I’m the implementer and that’s how we complement each other,” says Goenka, adding that he has always been known as Subhash Chandra’s son; but the biggest achievement of his life will be the day Subhash Chandra is known as Punit Goenka’s father.

“Zabaan ki keemat is more important than the written word or letter...

Goenka says his constant learning from his father is that first and foremost, a man has to be true to his word. “In our business, zabaan ki keemat is more important than the written word or letter. We’ve always learnt from him that at the end of the day, the interests of the entire extended Zee family – our staff, suppliers, customers and share-holders – have to be kept in mind before any decision is taken. That has helped me in making Zee one of the most profitable media companies in the country, and also in terms of margins globally,” says Goenka.

When he was being given charge of Zee TV, it was in a dismal GRP of 77 points. Goenka remembers the Chairman telling him, “Isse bura toh tum kar hi nahin sakte, satattar GRP pe main tumhe de raha hoon, isse bura kya kar loge...” His own thoughts were that he only had room to go up. He relates an anecdote here: “At our monthly reviews, I used to present Zee TV. We had launched a show called Kam Ya Zyaada, which flopped miserably. The team had prepared a 30-slide presentation on why the show didn’t work. While reviewing the presentation, I said it was sounding too defensive, and we needed to play on the front foot, whether we are outside or within the company; that’s the only way to make things work. So I removed those 30 slides and put one slide, and it had the F-word. It said ‘We F-ed it up’. During the review meeting, in front of about 30 people, I said if anyone wants more, I have a 30-slide presentation, but the fact of the matter is this. The Chairman then said, ‘Move on, what’s next? How do we build it back?’ I took a risk and despite my team’s apprehensions, said, ‘Sir, the only way to build this channel back is going to be very slow and very painful. If you have the patience for it, I’m the person. If you don’t have the patience for it, then there is nobody who has an overnight formula.’ That’s when he said ‘Okay, I give you time, you have 12 months to show results. Before that nobody will question anything that is being done.’ That kind of gave me and my team the confidence to go out and make it happen. The rest is history!”

“We heard out the consumer and gave him what he wants...

To get Zee back in the reckoning, Goenka and his team had to go back to the consumer, and ask, ‘Why don’t you like our content?’ What they heard was: “We don’t like your content because you are still living in the ‘90s. When the market was much smaller, the content was available only to the affluent class, the masses don’t relate to a Kitty Party or Lipstick. We want social dramas.” That’s how Zee picked up social issues like Saat Phere, a dark girl syndrome marketed very differently. “We actually showed a mother and a son sitting – possibly the darkest mother and son available in the country – but the mother was saying, ‘Mujhe bahu toh sundar aur gori chahiye. Beta kitna hi kala ho, bahu lekin gori chahiye.’ These were very hard-hitting. Another show called Betiyaan, in which a father became so crazy about having a son that he married twice, while totally neglecting his daughters and even denying them education. Why this discrimination against girls? People caught on to such content, and started liking them. When my competition was showing opulent sets, I aired the story of a girl living in a jhopdi in Bihar. We created a clear differentiator in content and the consumer liked it. Thus, we earned back their respect,” relates Goenka. “I can’t say that I came up with an idea that made it successful, it is the consumer that we went back to and heard him and gave him what he wanted. That is the strategy.”

“I build a great bond with my team, they are more like friends...

In 2005, when Goenka had just joined as business head of Zee TV, ratings used to be discussed on a Friday-to-Friday basis. They had just launched Saat Phere, and on Thursday night, somebody texted Goenka: ‘Congratulations on the ratings of Saat Phere’. He was taken aback. How could somebody outside the company know the ratings before even he got to know? He called Tarun Mehra, the marketing head at that time, and asked how anyone could quote a figure that had not come from the ratings agency. Mehra said the ratings get uploaded on Thursday, and the practice at Zee was to download them on Friday. To Goenka, that was not acceptable. He summoned the entire team to the office, right then, which was a little past midnight. “Every Thursday night, as the ratings come, we will discuss them, make the plan for the next time period and then you all are free to go or I can even buy you dinner and drinks if you want after that. But until then, our day doesn’t end,” he told the team. Those were the early days, and it got him a lot of respect from the team that he wanted to take action immediately rather than lose 12 hours waiting for morning. Goenka thinks such checks significantly contributed to the turnaround of Zee TV. From a very poor No. 3 at that point of time – Zee slowly but steadily came up to today’s strong No. 2 position.

“I build a great bond with my team, whichever team I work with. Therefore, they’re no longer my subordinates, they become more like friends. They joke with me, they laugh with me, they eat with me, they drink with me, and we work together. It’s a good feeling,” shares Goenka, relating an anecdote about somebody asking him about his path to success right after he had been made CEO: “I said I only told my team one thing on Day 1 – all successes are yours, and all failures are mine. So don’t be scared of failure, because most often you don’t take a decision because you’re scared of failing. All the blame for failures will come to me, all success will be recognized as yours. That’s how we made it back.”

“BARC is a legacy that I will leave behind for the industry...

“I think the biggest achievement for me is that I’ve been part of this Group at IBF, if you want to call it that, which has helped in shaping a lot of the future aspects of the television business – be it digitization which we led as a team or the 12-minute ad cap that I drove personally, that led to a lot of value increase for us. Apart from that, BARC is of course something towards which I’m working very actively. My target is that it should come out very soon, and start publishing data. The high is that it will redefine the way viewership is measured in this country and therefore how advertising is sold in this country. It’s a legacy that I will leave behind for the industry and hopefully people will appreciate that and give me some credit, if not all of it,” says Goenka. 

“If I had to score from 1 to 10, I would say we are at 3...

Ask the young Zee chief to rate his own success in reaching his avowed life and career goals, and he gives himself a stark 3 on 10. “I don’t think I have reached anywhere close to my career goals. In the global scenario, we have only scratched the surface. Given a country of our size, and the talent that exists here, nobody has actually tapped that fully. We only talk about formats being adapted from international markets to India, we have not even thought about or started working on how to create formats from India which can go global. Today, if the entertainment or television business contributes largely to our bottomline, there’s no reason why new media cannot be equal to that, if not more. Did we launch Ditto for just three million subscribers? No. it’s supposed to cater to a much larger audience base. It is a good service, but it’s nowhere close to what it can be.
If I had to score from 1 to 10, I would say we are at 3 today. The journey is long and a lot can be done,” says Goenka. 


Read more news about (internet advertising India, internet advertising, advertising India, digital advertising India, media advertising India)

For more updates, be socially connected with us on
Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook & Youtube