Outlook is my baby and I wouldn't like to harm it: Maheshwer Peri

By Dhaleta Surender Kumar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | January 21, 2009
As Peri gets on with his own publishing house, Pathfinder Publishing, he talks to afaqs! about his plans and his relationship with Outlook

For most & #BANNER1 & # people, 28 is an age when their career is just warming up. Maheshwer Peri got the 'hot' opportunity to be the publisher of Outlook, one of India's largest selling magazines, at 28. Today, 11 years down the line, he's on the verge of starting his own group, Pathfinder Publishing, which will bring out publications on education, information and knowledge.

Peri was not always a media person. An investment banker, he worked with SBI Capital Markets, the largest investment bank in India, from 1991 to 1995. He joined the Rajan Raheja Group, which also owns Outlook magazine, in 1995 as an investment analyst with Hathway Investments. However, publisher Deepak Shourie's departure from the group changed everything.

In 1998, when Shourie quit, speculation was rife that Outlook was up for sale. Peri was given the task to quell the rumours and steer the ship on. And he did it. "When you are pushed against the wall, you have no way but to go ahead and take up the challenge," he says.

How did he use his financial acumen in publishing? "When I came into publishing, I realised that there were far too many people who understood marketing, but few who knew how to convert it into commercial success. My background helped me to make the correct projections and then decide whether to go ahead or not."

Meanwhile, the Internet was just taking off and, like most publishers, the Outlook Group, too, thought of riding the boom and came up with, among other sites. When the dotcom bubble burst in 2002, was on the verge of closing. "It hit us hard," says Peri.

The turnaround came after Peri's visit to a book fair in London. He bought a few travel books at the fair and gave them to his team. "Look," he told them, "here's how we can do things - either we be the masters or we close down the division. You decide."

It was, he declares, a chance to redeem themselves. "When you tell people that here's an opportunity to prove yourselves, the way they perform is phenomenal," he adds. The outcome was 52 Weekend Breaks from Delhi, which has sold more than a million copies.

In the same year, the group went through an income tax raid. "As a publisher, you are in the firing line and have to absorb the threats so that those around you don't get affected. If you are clean, you'll come out clean," says Peri. He confesses that he is not a born leader. "Experiences have taught me to be wise," he says.

So where does he think the magazine business in India is headed? "The magazine business can change the fastest because magazine readers are willing to pay for content. Four years ago, Outlook was selling for Rs 10 - it is priced at Rs 25 now. Outlook Money, too, was priced at Rs 10 four years ago, but now sells for Rs 30. It's not that easy for newspapers and TV because readers/viewers do not pay for the content so readily."

From a general interest magazine to a finance magazine to education and information, what is the rationale for another publishing venture? Peri says, "After completing their education, 99 per cent people are on the streets because they don't have a Plan B. There are many good institutes around, but they don't know about them."

Pathfinder's magazines (Peri has a 90 per cent stake in the venture, while the rest is held by Rajesh Jain of Netcore Solutions) will be targeted at the age group of 17-35 years. The magazines will also be of interest to entrepreneurs. "Whatever I do at Pathfinder will be to influence people in how they think," says Peri.

Peri, who'll continue as the publisher of Outlook, dismisses the conflict of interest question: "Outlook is my baby and I wouldn't like to harm it."

(Profile is a regular column which peeps into the career path of senior advertising, media and marketing professionals, who are currently in the news.) This article was published in the last issue (January 16-31) of The Brand Reporter.