Subhash Chandra: Serial Entrepreneur Extraordinaire

29 08 2009

It is hard to say what the real business of Subhash Chandra is. Most people refer to him as a media mogul, but that hardly does justice to his interests in variety of businesses, which form part of the Essel group. Managing a diversified conglomerate is not such a unique distinction. What sets apart Subhash Chandra from the rest is that he was the pioneer in most categories and he saw opportunities in new areas, which was not visible to many established business houses.

Born in a business family in Haryana, Chandra’s family was engaged in rice trading. When Subhash Chandra took the reins of the family business, the family was in debt of Rs five lakhs. He along with his brothers got into rice trading and exports. His company used to procure and supply rice to Food Corporation of India. He earned a fortune exporting rice to Russia. On being asked pointedly by the interviewer, did he really make a huge fortune in that contract, he admitted that in 1983, there was an income tax claim of Rs 150 crore on his company.

He invested the capital created to enter the packaging business. Essel packaging was the first company in India to introduce laminated tubes for packaging toothpastes. Seemingly, packaging appears far removed from rice trading. Yet, Mr Chandra informed that while storing rice in open yards, he got exposed to variety of packaging materials and caught his attention. Today, Essel packaging is a world leader in laminated tubes with factories in all the five continents. It has a 38 % market share in toothpaste packaging worldwide.


The next venture of Subhash Chandra was Esselworld, India’s first amusement park. Although not very profitable, this gave him an insight into the family entertainment business, which had a big role in days to come. He  confessed in the interview that the Maharashtra government of the day was very oppressive and bureaucratic, compelling him to look outside the amusement park business for growth. He wanted to enter a business where there will be minimum hindrance between the entertainer and the entertained. This made him look at the television business.


Zee TV was the first Indian language channel on the satellite television. This went on to be a huge success. Subhash Chandra and ZEE did face a lot of difficulties in dealing with Rupert Murdoch and later even broke away from STAR. Zee lost its pole position in the General entertainment space in Hindi to Star Plus. Even today it is among the top 3 GE channel along with Star Plus and Colors. Zee TV network today has over 15 channels in many languages and as per Subhash Chandra, as a network they have the largest number of viewers and market-share in India.


Not content to sit on his laurels, after the Zee success, Subhash Chandra wanted to enter the satellite communications business, through Agrani. This was around the time when Motorola was launching the Iridium project. This technology had its inherent problems and could not compete with the cellular phone. Although Agrani, never saw the light of the day, this experiment led to his entering the Direct-to-home TV business, through Dish TV. Once again, the first private business house to enter the DTH business. Among all the listed companies of Essel Group, Dish TV has the highest market capitalization.


Subhash Chandra also pioneered the online lottery in India. Playwin had its brief period of success, later got mired in various legal troubles, as many states banned lotteries.


Essel group also has a moderately successful newspaper in DNA. It has been able to make a mark of its own in the crowded space. Subhash Chandra claims that during this recessionary times, DNA is doing better than others because of its low advertising tariffs.


One failure that may be causing Subhash Chandra a great deal of heartburn must be the Indian Cricket League (ICL). ICL had most of the ingredients to become hugely successful, except for the blessings of BCCI. Indian Premier League (IPL) which has borrowed many ideas from ICL has been a monster hit, in its two editions. Through means, fair and foul, ICL has been decimated by BCCI, so much so, that some of the best players it had contracted have left ICL. Subhash Chandra could have become the Kerry Packer of India if ICL had become successful. Nobody can refute that ICL was the first T20 league in India and credit must go to Subhash Chandra. 


Now, Chandra is itching to move on to something more exciting. He is also keen to enter businesses which are more annuities like, rather than the high-maintenance media business which requires continuous management attention. One idea his group is working on is in the area of creating a chain of wellness clinics across the country.


Subhash Chandra has his share of critics. He is considered a very mean competitor. He also has a poor record of professionalizing the management of his share market boom, Zee stock was among the favorites of the market. It got closely linked to Ketan Parekh. When the bust happened, many an investor incurred heavy losses in the stock, which they have not recovered to this day. He has had failed ventures too like Zee computer education and KIDZEE.


Yet, one cannot but admire this entrepreneur who has been spotting new opportunities and creating successful businesses, one after the other.


– G. Mohan




2 responses

30 08 2009

Truly admirable, indeed! This man has turned the theory of “Core competency” on its head with businesses as diverse as packaging, television, lottery, cricket etc. Or maybe that is his core competency: pioneering. I wonder if he has ever entered a business (after his rice trading days) where he was not a pioneer. I cannot think of any. And it would interesting to know whether he would be successful in a me-too business.

23 11 2011
Kanwal Chadha

can some one give me his email address I want to congratulate him on winning da presitgious Emmy award

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