An Entrepreneur who was first at everything

In the early 1990’s the face of Indian television was totally different. There was Doordarshan, a government owned television channel that were broadcasting some few Hindi serials and news and were the only source of television entertainment in India. Just then Cable television, which was a new concept, was introduced in the market and provided some services like broadcasting movies on television for about three to four hours in a day. Cable television was not taken seriously by many investors and therefore never supported any such projects morally and financially. But, there was a man born in a Parsi family and raised in Mumbai who estimated the success of such concept to be a big success in the future and therefore began to work in that field.

This man would go on to own a very successful television channel and a leading film studio in India. We are going on a journey of a successful entrepreneur Rohinton Soli “Ronnie” Screwvala and his company United Television Group (UTV).

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Early Life

Ronnie Screwvala was born in a Parsi family in Mumbai. He studied at Cathedral and John Connon School. From a young age Ronnie was interested in theatre and acting. He actively participated in lots of plays and did theatre. He enjoyed and once dreamt of pursuing his carrier in acting, Bollywood being next door to him and a dream for every person living in Mumbai, a home to Indian cinema. He did his Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com) from HR College and never went for Masters, and with a spirit of entrepreneur in him went in the field to test his abilities. For various reasons he stopped going to rehearsals and diverted his mind to concentrate on his toothbrush business.

In his early 20’s, while visiting United Kingdom with his dad, he  randomly went on a site visit to a toothbrush company there when he saw two couple of years old scrap machine which was not in use, then came the idea of the famous toothbrush business. He says his ‘nothing to lose stage’ in life helped him take brave decisions as even if he failed, could start from the initial point.

His toothbrush business in a joint venture with Colgate was a flourishing business, as they being the biggest manufacturer in India at that time.

Early experience in television network

To try his hand in the media and entertainment business, he organized music shows and suffered his first loss; luckily his mother bailed him out of the loss of 50,000 rupees, a princely sum at that time. After an initial failure Ronnie moved his steps towards television.

Ronnie began his early carrier in television network.  He founded his own cable company as a local cable TV operator in Mumbai in 1981. He became the first cable operator of India, going door to door to look for desired customers. For a year, he went to society to society explaining what a remote control was, a knowledge which was unknown to many television owners. Then there was only one television channel and therefore the remote was used only to switch on and off the television. Ronnie introduced a different idea from Doordarshan and seems to be bringing a revolution in the Indian television by cable services.  Along with working as a cable operator, Ronnie also began producing advertisements and contents for Doordarshan with some serials.

United Television group (UTV)

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     Ronnie with his early experience in the cable industry founded his own television company called UTV Group in 1990. He started the company with 37,500 rupees. His company was a huge success making UTV one of the leading names in the Indian television industry. Now, Screwvala is the Managing Director of Disney- UTV India, Managing Trustee of the Swades Foundation and Founder & Advisor: at Unilazer Ventures Ltd., (a privately held PE/VC & Business Company).

He sold UTV in 2012 to Disney. He explains the reason behind selling a company which he build for 20 years in an interview as; “when a business has reached a maturity which you think you cannot take it to the next level, it is very wise to sell it. A business is also about the people, the team, the asset, the infrastructure, the IPs, and whatever else you have created in it; most important the people.”

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A Leader and his qualities

Ronnie became a great success due to his leading qualities. He says that as an entrepreneur we have to believe that we are always building, never subtracting. Ronnie is known for introducing a new concept or project every 6 months. His idea has always been, to see if 2+2 can be 22 and that’s the reason that he went on working for Disney after selling UTV to it. Describing himself a painful, demanding and a democratic boss; he is pretty convincing, it is said he once convinced one of his employee to not attend his own wedding to complete a deadline assigned to him. Good at implementation, believer in team work and believing other to lead his employees is some of his fine qualities described by his colleagues. Gifted with a sharp memory and a soul believer that nothing is impossible, he likes to see his work done. Having a thought that is 20 steps ahead of its time and having a brain functionally which is continuously running inside and still being calm and peaceful from outside is his another fine quality.

Achievements

Ronnie has been named on Esquire’s List of the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century (September 2008) and ranked 78 among the 100 most influential people in the world on the Time 100 (complied by Time Magazine, 2009). He was also listed amongst 25 Asia’s Most Powerful by Fortune Magazine, titled the Jack Warner of India by Newsweek, and named Entrepreneur of the year by Ernst & Young.

Ronnie Screwvala Pic

Ronnie and his ideology

Ronnie believes in any stage of life, however well you are doing, cost is a stage of life and therefore is known to be very cost efficient. He has always inspired the new entrepreneur. When complaining to him about the funds, he explains them, when a company is new, the initial investments are easy to get but when a company is running the real test starts. When the ship is running and you run out of money, it is then your real test begins, you have to be calm and determined because you cannot go back, from there you just have to move forward. His stubborn will to challenge himself has given him many ‘first’, UTV Motion Pictures being one. He gave many new directors a platform to create a whole new wave of movies and test every genre possible that have gone on to become critically acclaimed blockbusters.

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