Subhash Chandra is one of the wealthiest men in India, heading the Essel Group conglomerate that owns several companies including Zee news and entertainment networks, SITI Cable digital and broadband services, packaging company Essel Propack, gold refinery company Shirpur, and amusement park Essel World.
He was recently in Singapore for the opening of the Covette Clinic at ION Orchard, a new high-end aesthetics clinic by Global Wellness Group, which he has an investment in.
At 67, Dr Chandra has come a long way from his days as a teenager forced to drop out of school to help his ailing family rice business. Not only did he turn the family business around, he branched out into packaging and amusement parks.
Then in 1992, he started his most successful business yet – Zee Television, which expanded quickly and now reaches out to more than 1.5 billion viewers in some 171 countries.
After helping to launch the Covette Clinic in Singapore, he is set to open the Yo1 Wellness Center in New York, a 1,310-acre resort focusing on health, fitness and natural healing.
Industry observers are watching it keenly to see how well Yo1 does in the competitive wellness arena in the US.
Why have you decided to move into the wellness industry?
We have been in the wellness space for more than seven years, mostly through our Zee TV network in America, which offers programmes on holistic approaches to health and wellbeing.
These approaches are Eastern-based but the content is wholly produced in Hollywood.
The next step then is the opening of Yo1 Wellness Centre in New York which will have some 120 rooms to promote things like naturopathy, ayurveda, yoga, meditation, reflexology and acupuncture. It will also incorporate Covette Clinic in Singapore.
We believe that when prosperity comes to any country, people want to look and feel better. Hence the demand for aesthetics medicine would increase.
People are always looking for alternatives to all-chemical allopathic medicine, and we offer these through minimally-invasive or non-invasive therapies that don’t require surgery.
You seem to have your finger in many pies. Any other industries you’ve set your eyes on as well?
Currently, health and wellness are our major thing. We are very well-entrenched in the media sector, of course: We have 1.5 billion viewers all around the world. And apart from having programmes in eight major Indian languages, we have programmes in nine foreign languages and we’re expanding our programming in those foreign languages. So that’s our current focus.
The media industry has undergone several shake-ups in the past decade or so. Attention is divided more broadly than ever before. How is Zee Entertainment coping with these rapid developments?
Our experience within India is a little different from that of our counterparts in, say, North America. People there are consuming a lot of content on handheld devices.
In India, they are also consuming online content while they are on-the-go or in the office. But when they’re home, they watch TV with their family. It’s a communal thing, and there’s still a captive audience there.
Of course, some millennials have completely stopped watching TV. So for them, we’ve created special digital content for handheld devices only. We’ve paid close attention to how to present online content effectively. We try to catch their attention within the first five seconds – otherwise, they click onto a different content. Because the screens for mobile devices are smaller, we take a lot of close-ups instead of long shots, so our audience can see better.
We’ve changed our production techniques entirely to fit these new demands. The trick to navigating changes is always to remember that the customer comes first. We prioritise our consumers’ demands above all.
What about your newspaper business?
We’re not a big presence in the newspaper business, but we are growing. Again in india, our newspaper business is growing whereas it is declining elsewhere. We have a regional paper and a paper in English called DNA (Daily News & Analysis).
For the English title, we find that people who don’t speak English will buy it because they want to improve their English – there’s an aspirational reason behind the demand. But the English title is stagnant, whereas the regional title is growing.
You’ve found success in several industries. Why do you think so many businesses falter? What are they doing wrong?
I have a long answer, but let me briefly say that sometimes, when we as human beings encounter failure, we are not able to accept it, so we remain stuck there for a long time. But if you accept failure, then you can improve on it. It’s funny though because, on the flip side of the coin, I’d say that if you don’t accept failure, there is no failure.
So in a nutshell, learn from your failures, yet in an odd way, don’t accept it as a failure and just go on. That’s the way I’ve been working for the past 50 years of my life.
I think a lot of young entrepreneurs find it hard to accept failure. They keep asking: Why did this happen to me? What have I done to anyone to deserve this? What is the world telling me? I don’t think so much about this, I accept the reality and move on.
What is the single most common mistake people make in business?
See, for any business to succeed, you must solve some problems the customer has. People often think they’re solving someone’s problems but they are not. As they’re solving these problems, they’re also correcting structural and technical issues along the way. But for that to happen, you must solve someone else’s problem.
This story was originally published in The Business Times.