Subhash Chandra is the founder of Zee TV, India's first private TV channel. Though he did not go to college, he had the entrepreneurial skills to set up new and profitable ventures.
Subhash Chandra was born on November 30th 1950, in Hisar, Haryana, a small town in north India. He dropped out of school after completing his 12th due to adverse financial conditions. His family was in a debt of Rs. Five lakh. He was just 19 and started his own vegetable oil unit. He entered the family business of exporting rice along with his brothers. The family business was to procure and supply rice to the Food Corporation of India.
Birth of the Spark
His astuteness and street smart attitude in his own words -- "If I had creditors worth 10 lakh rupees (US$21,750 at Rs45.98 = $1) and if I had US$2,000 coming as a receipt of the sale proceeds, I would put it in my bag and I would go to each shop. If I had to pay somebody US$500, I would give them US$100 there and then. So it became my reputation: Don't go to his shop for recovery of money; as soon as the money comes he will come and pay. Then there was no stopping. Building the confidence of people taught me a lot."
His astuteness and acumen helped improve his business. He became wealthy by exporting rice to the Soviet Union.
A visit to a packaging exhibition in the 70s led him to set up his own packaging company, Essel Packaging Limited in 1981. Initially, they made laminated covers for the FCI to store surplus agricultural produce. Then, they also manufactured laminated tubes for use by Colgate Palmolive and Hindustan Lever. It was firmly established only by 1987-88. Later, it merged with the Swiss group Propack A.G. and was renamed Essel Propack Packaging limited. Today, it is the largest specialty packaging company in the world.
Subhash Chandra launched Zee TV in October 1991, the first Hindi satellite channel, at a time when many Indians were keen to follow news of the Gulf War. The idea was conceived when he was watching the news on CNN in the office of Ashok Kurien. At that time, they used to watch the Gulf War being televised in some hotels. At the time of the launch of Zee TV, the Indian viewers were restricted to content broadcast by public sector owned network. He was the first to harness the huge business potential of satellite television channels. It was his pioneering vision and efforts that brought about the birth of satellite television industry in India. Zee television became India's most popular network and has become a global brand. The value of Zee's stock rose drastically by 15000% in a short span of 7 years (1993-2000), making it the fastest rising Indian stock of all time. In a short period of time, Zee TV has grown immensely and is giving tough competition to international media barons like Rupert Murdoch, who owns Star TV. Zee TV is amongst the largest producers and aggregators of Hindi programming in the world, with an extensive library housing over 80,000 hours of television content. With rights to more than 3,000 movie titles from foremost studios and of iconic film stars, Zee houses the world's largest Hindi film library.
Subhash Chandra invested all his profits in land in Mumbai. He developed EsselWorld -- India's Largest Amusement Park in 1988 and Water Kingdom – Asia's Largest Theme Water Park in 1998 designed by French architect Jean Michel Rouls. It was built on a sprawling 64-acre and became a getaway to a complete leisure destination. In his own words, "I felt that in Bombay or even in India a lot of people do not have clean and healthy entertainment. So that's why we built the amusement park." Its never-before seen attractions set amidst unique architecture with international standard amenities and hygiene; catapult Water Kingdom into a different league. It is the only, truly international water park experience in India. It is India's first eco-friendly amusement park.
Subhash Chandra commenced SitiCable in 1995 and started a joint venture with News Corp. Siticable, which he jointly owns with Rupert Murdoch, has become the biggest provider of cable Internet services in India. Both Subhash and Murdoch own equal shares in Asia Today Ltd (ATL), a Hong Kong-based Broadcasting company that provides television programming to various stations. He also launched two new channels – Zee News and Zee Cinema in 1995. In 2000, the company launched Internet over Cable services, adding another feather to its pioneering achievements. Zee became the first service provider of Direct to Home (DTH) services in 2003.
The Pioneer of television entertainment industry in India, Zee's well known brands include Zee TV, Zee Cinema, Zee Premier, Zee Action, Zee Classic, Ten Sports, Ten Cricket, Ten Action+, Zee Cafe, Zee Studio, Zee Trendz, Zee Khana Khazana, Zee Salaam, Zee Jagran, Zing, ETC Music and ETC Punjabi. The company also has a strong presence in the regional language domain with channels such as Zee Marathi, Zee Bangla, Zee Telugu, Zee Kannada, Zee Talkies and Zee Cinemalu.
Subhash Chandra is the founder and Chairman of Essel Group, which is among India's most prominent business houses with a diverse portfolio of assets in media, packaging, entertainment, technology-enabled services, infrastructure development and education. It has metamorphosed into a conglomerate that is a symbol of the ingenuity and power of Indian entrepreneurship, with worldwide operations and a workforce of nearly 8,000 dedicated employees.
Subhash started a cricket league, Indian Cricket League in 2007. It was set up parallel to the League run by the BCCI and followed the T20 format. However, this was one of his ventures that did not last.
His businesses cover television networks (Zee), a newspaper chain (DNA), cable systems (Wire and Wireless Ltd), direct-to-home (Dish TV), satellite communications (Agrani and Procall), theme parks (EsselWorld and Water Kingdom), online gaming (Playwin), education (Zee Learn), flexible packaging (Essel Propack), infrastructure development (Essel Infraprojects Ltd) and family entertainment centres (Fun Cinemas). Mr Chandra has charted a course of growth and success, unparalleled in business history. Subhash knew nothing about programming, distribution rights, but he knew the Indian sensibilities and had his finger firmly on the pulse of the people. He was a self made man who used his native smartness to further his business.
"Paths are made by walking and walking down beaten paths is for beaten men"
"Basically, human resource development is the biggest [leadership] challenge. First, to select the right people; and, second, to nurture and develop them."
Awards and Honors
- The Hall of Fame for Continuing Contribution to Industry (Entrepreneur) at the annual Exchange4media Indian News Broadcasting Awards (EINBA) in 2010
- 'Global Indian Entertainment Personality of the Year' by FICCI for 2004
- 'Business Standard's Businessman of the Year' in 1999
- In 1999, Ernst & Young honored him with the 'Entrepreneur of the Year' title
- Chandra has also been chosen by The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) as the Chairman of the CII Media Committee for two successive years
- Emmy award in 2011
Chandra also played an instrumental role in the formation of the Brain Trust of India which identifies & nurtures the gifted children of India.
Transnational Alternate Learning for Emancipation and Empowerment thorough Multimedia TALEEM Research Foundation was set up by Chandra as a literary, scientific and charitable society and trust in May 1996.
He is the President of the Global Vipassana Foundation in his capacity as a Vipassana meditator. Having completed the Vipassana course in the 1990s, he was impelled to spread the philosophy of mental purification through self-observation.
Chairman of Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of India, a charitable trust that initiates, supports and runs non-formal one teacher schools called Ekal Vidyalayas all over the country. The movement aims to help eradicate illiteracy from rural and tribal India by 2011.