I joined Xerox in 1986. I performed a variety of responsibilities over the years, moving across the country in the process, but the most notable was the period when I made base at Xerox's Mumbai office in 1990. My entire stint at Xerox - each day, each year - was a continuous challenge, and proved to be a defining period for me professionally.
Xerox was a demanding organisation. You had to be on the top year-after-year to grow and even to survive within the company. So, from the very beginning of your career you were moulded in a way that compelled you to perform and take risks if you had to. Thus, it honed an executive's risk-taking abilities at a young age.
My next defining moment came in April 2002 when I joined Sony Entertainment Television. Sony had just won the rights for the World Cup for 2002-2007, and I had no clue about the media business back then. The network had paid a substantial amount - over US$200 million - a sum that was unheard of in those days. KunalDasgupta, the then CEO, was very keen to get someone from outside the media business to head sales. He wanted a different perspective and believed that only an outsider could develop a new approach to the business. That excited me because it was a very big challenge. The World Cup was the biggest property on television in those days, the kind of money involved was huge and yes, the media had written off Sony stating that the network would never be able to make money. They believed that Sony had paid just too much!
Since I came from another industry, I carried no baggage. My focus was to monetise the property, and make it profitable. We needed to completely change the benchmarks in the way cricket was sold then. Initially, media agencies and clients did not believe that we could get those kinds of prices. In my first couple of meetings, people would laugh at us. But, we did not discount the rates. As a result, we could only sell 60 per cent of the inventory before the tournament began. It was only after the viewership ratings came out that other advertisers trooped in. Eventually, the property became profitable for us.
The third defining moment of my career came with the Indian Premier League (IPL).
I had been involved with cricket since 2002. We were in touch with all the large clients, we were familiar with the trends, and we also had a sense of how much of money you could get out of it. We also knew that at that point of time the ODI (one-day international) format was a big question mark. Ratings were down for ODIs and the T20 World Cup had really established the T20 format, especially with the youth, many of whom had moved away from cricket. Therefore, as an organisation, we believed that the T20 rights were of far more value than the World Cup rights. So, we went after the T20 rights in a big way. We knew that it was the format of the future.
IPL was a billion dollar plus property from the start. Nobody knew the format well and the room for error was virtually zero. We just could not go wrong. The answer lay in once again taking a look at the way cricket was being sold and the challenge for us was to establish rates at par with the rates for Board Of Control For Cricket (BCCI) India matches. The IPL has been established as the single largest property on Indian television and will continue to dominate the medium in the years to time.