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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Way back in 1986, when Mrs. Shobhana Bhartia decided to actualize what she had been contemplating for years, and certainly been working towards it in her own little way, that of assuming the mantle of taking one of India’s leading media groups to what she thought was its rightful position i.e. top of the leader board, apart from expressing obvious surprise, some perhaps even disapproval owing to the fact that she was a female, no one could have imagined that she’d be soon brushing shoulders with the who’s-who of the industry, and admirably so, on her way to success and glory. The fact that she was able to transform the Hindustan Times from a single product entity to a multi-edition daily, besides exploring allied yet diverse segments of the media industry, and succeeding, bear testimony to her remarkable achievement of carrying forward a great legacy -in fact enriching it along the way- whose foundations lay in the vision of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Her rise as a media baroness and as a highly successful entrepreneur is a reflection of her contribution to the industry itself as indeed of the changing times we are in, when women-power seems to be, after all, rising and making its mark in various spheres of life. The lady has been an inspiration and a guiding spirit for both her sons, who were inducted in the family business (Jubilant Life Sciences Ltd.), and who have, due course, chartered their own paths to success. They run the highly successful 'Dominos Pizza,’ franchise across the country and the 'Monday to Sunday,’ chain of convenience stores in Bangalore.

Early Days

Born to Krishna Kumar Birla, of the illustrious Birla clan, in 1957 in Kolkata, this granddaughter of Ghanshyam Das Birla had, despite her pedigree, a very simple childhood like any other girl hailing from predominantly patriarchal societies did. She had her schooling from Loreto House, a non-Birla-run school in Kolkata where her surname was not of much consequence. After successful completion of high school education, she enrolled into a B.A (Hons.) from Loreto College, Kolkata University. But this, expectedly, was also time for her betrothal to a successful suitor. She was married to billionaire Mr. Shyam Sunder Bhartia, the Chairman of Jubilant Life Sciences Limited. She dropped out of college upon insistence from her family but, eventually, completed her graduation through correspondence. So then, one would have thought her to lead a life of a normal house-wife, or perhaps dabble in some hobby that women in such positions usually resort to. That was all there was to it. Or so people thought.

Birth of the Spark

But for all we know, she had always nursed a secret ambition. Although marriage and family life (she had two sons) did serve as minor hindrances in realization of her long-cherished goals, she had not completely dropped-the-ball on her ambitions. She had merely held them back -only to reinvigorate them after she had children and the little matter of seeing through their infancy. It has to be said that no one, at this point, could have so much as hazarded a guess about what this progeny of the Birla’s had in mind vis-à-vis her career. Family and friends were both slightly taken aback when she informed them of her decision to take the plunge into the family business. More so as the field that her family plied their trade in was extensively male-oriented and, on top of that no one else, certainly not the girls, in the family itself had ever harbored such aspirations. Even so, when she started looking after the Sunday Magazine of the daily, all one thought was that she was being, at the most, her father’s apprentice. But soon, all of it was to change. And change like it had never been before. All of just 29 years of age and with very little experience to bank upon, Mrs. Bhartia’s entry into the highly competitive, risky yet rewarding field wasn’t much heralded. But, she was not to be perturbed by such notion. Though neither substantial nor adequate, her stint of supervising the Sunday mag as indeed scrutinizing the newspaper itself and giving feedback to her father, had taught her enough of the industry to feel confident of her success. She backed her instincts, education, knowledge, and importantly, her vision of where this prestigious newspaper had to progress to while at the same time respecting and retaining its standing in the eye of its millions of readers.

Her rise, and effect

The pursuit of her vision warranted that she could not have just tagged along with the then current structure and practices, and let things happen just as they did before. For sure, she had to break away from tradition and start to work toward realizing her vision, which she did with all the gusto, enthusiasm and earnestness one can employ. Before the advent of Mrs. Bhartia, the daily was run like a government bureaucracy, with very little leaning for either merit or professional management. And, if she had to see it reach the heights and achieve the goals she had set for the newspaper, then all this had to change. It was not going to happen over-night, as a complete shake-up was out of the question. Especially since, despite all the apparent lacunae, the daily had been doing quite well for itself and, also because her plans would be hugely dented owing to the characteristic aversion to change. But she adopted methods of her own, and so very masterfully ensured the newspaper turned over a leaf or two and treaded on a path she had envisaged for it. The fundamental strategy that she would employ to a great effect in all her business decisions and activities, and which would bring about unprecedented success and growth to the group were these: diversity as a focus, quality as a cutting edge, and global benchmarking and partnering as the media to create robust brands.

Very early into her leadership role (she took over as Executive Director of the Group in 1991 - and was the first woman chief executive of a national newspaper in India back then), it was quite clear to Mrs. Bhartia that the plans that were laid out for HTs future by the change in guard meant that it had to have a fresh infusion of resources. Apart from garnering all the support and encouragement that it could get from both the industry and its readers, HT needed huge outlay of funds if it were to obtain the success envisaged. And she was upto it. As the readership and popularity of the newspaper grew and the business was in a position to bank upon its brand equity, Mrs. Bhartia was quick to make good of the situation. Expectedly, in 2005 she a floated a very successful IPO and raised about Rs. 400 Crores that have helped the group in effecting its fundamental strategy (discussed above) for success and growth, and in creating a niche for itself.

Achievements

Her achievements have been numerous: from launching new products and entering new markets to overseeing the IPO in 2005. Slowly but surely, Mrs. Shobhana Bhartia has transformed HT in the truest sense of the word; from being a privately held family run business to that of a professionally managed, publicly listed national powerhouse. A part of her vision was to see Hindustan Times as a reader-friendly newspaper without ever compromising on values for which it had stood for well over three-quarters of a century, or the quality of content, and also by dispensing with the mundane and brining in fresh perspectives.

Under her guidance and leadership, HT media has chartered new paths and explored new frontiers such as moving to outside of its traditional bastion of Delhi in to the fiercely competitive and risky media market in Mumbai, or extending further to bring out a business daily called 'Mint’ in collaboration with Wall Street Journal (they have an exclusive content-sharing deal) or aligning with Virgin Asia to launch FM radio (FEVER 104) channel and, importantly, seeing them become successful. What’s more, being a person with a futuristic vision and always aware of the dynamics of an evolving media industry, she has even gone ahead and joined hands with an adversary i.e. Beckett, Coleman & Co (Times of India) to launch Metro Now, a morning tabloid in Delhi aimed at younger readers, a space which is fertile for potential forays by other big players of the sector. That besides, the group has also expanded its activities into areas few other media groups dared to venture into like a social networking site (desimartini.com), media platform (HT Mobile), a jobs portal (shine.com), and an education portal (htcampus.com), to name a few. To her credit also goes the distinction of bringing in one of the first FDI ventures to the country.

Her extensive experience of the media industry spanning 25 years has seen her assume many roles and responsibilities, one particularly in the public life, which she has discharged with utmost sincerity and great success. While it may not be possible to list here all her accomplishments, few of them are noteworthy.

Her shrewdness and business acumen have won her praise and respect from one and all, manifest in her being instated to numerous significant positions of many corporates. While Mrs. Shobhana Bhartia presently serves as an Editorial Director and Chairperson (since January 2010) at HT Media Limited, Holding company of HT Music and Entertainment Company Limited, she has also been donning myriad roles such as the Independent Non-Executive Director of Hero Honda Motors Ltd., from August 22, 2005 to April 13, 2011, and its Additional Director since March 24, 2005. She also serves on the board of Indian Airlines Limited and on the North Regional Board of the Reserve Bank of India. She has served as Director of the Press Trust of India Limited.

Her best recognition came in February 2006 when she was nominated for the Rajya Sabha (The upper house of the Indian Parliament). Her not-so political career includes stints in various capacities such as Member of Committee on Finance (March 2006-Dec. 2006), Member of Committee on Empowerment of Women (April 2006 onwards), Member of Committee on External Affairs (Dec. 2006-March 2007), and Member of Committee on Defence Member, Consultative Committee for the Ministry of External Affairs (March 2007 onwards upto the end of her tenure as an M.P. in February, 2012), and Chairperson of Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) from 2006 to 2007. She has been a Member of the Council of Management of ABC since 1999 and served as Deputy Chairperson from 2005 to 2006.

In addition, she was also a Member of the High Level Group comprising of 18 persons chosen by the Secretary-General, United Nations to work on "Alliance of Civilizations"; Member of the Board of International Press Institute (an apex Global Press Body), and a member of the Commonwealth Press Union International Press Institute, Vienna, besides being a Member of the Board of Governors, Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), PIlani, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and the National Institute of fashion Technology (NIFT).

Awards
1National Press India Award, 1992
2She has received the Global Leader of Tomorrow award from the World Economic Forum (1996)
3She is also the recipient of the Outstanding Business Woman of the Year, 2001, by PHD Chamber of Commerce & Industry
4She was given the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the year 2005
5She is a recipient of PadmaShri for excellence in journalism by the Government of India in 2005
6She has also won the Business Woman award in 'The Economic Times Awards for Corporate Excellence' awards in 2007

Philanthropy

Mrs. Shobhana Bhartia’s father Mr. K.K. Birla was known to be both a pragmatic businessman and a whole-hearted philanthropist. Mrs. Bhartia, who was in a way his protégé, had seen the world through his lens and honed her skills under his supervision and guidance, and which had helped shape the personality that she was going to turn out to be in the future. She is indeed a chip-of-the-old-block. To be inspired by one’s father is normal; but to be inspired to such an extent that one almost redefines success in everything one did, and takes it to the next level is quite different altogether.

The India Development Foundation (IDF) of Overseas Indians set up as a trust under the aegis of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA), has been aiming to serve as a single window for the Overseas Indian community to engage in philanthropic activity in India. But when it became apparent that there any philanthropic undertaking that it was to take up, it will be confronted with systemic constraints, the need to address them through an appropriate institutional arrangement was warranted. As a result, a board of trustees comprising members of the expatriate community and resident Indians was instituted. Owing to her exemplary conduct as well as her pedigree and general concern for the country, Mrs. Bhartia was selected as one of the trustees of the Board. Ever since, she has been actively involved in the promotion of philanthropy by overseas Indians through innovative projects and instruments, such as micro-credit for rural entrepreneurs, self-help groups for economic empowerment of women, 'best practice’ interventions in primary education and technology interventions in rural health care delivery.

She is currently the chair of non-profit organisation, Endeavor India, that has pioneered the concept of high-impact entrepreneurship in emerging markets, whose mission as we know is to lead the global movement to catalyze long-term economic growth by selecting, mentoring, and accelerating the best High-Impact Entrepreneurs around the world.”

Quotes

1.“We adopted two mantras: change with continuity and content is king."
2.“If you have the wrong man doing a job, then things would go completely wrong... So we really try and identify the 'appropriate people’, we empower, try and give them a sense of belonging.”
3.“I think one must have the patience to constantly pursue one’s dreams.”

Hope viewers caught up the spark...

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