Raushni Bhagia

Profile: Monica Tata: Steadfast!

Tata joined STAR India before Rupert Murdoch bought Star from Richard Li, who had set it up. "So, I am older than Murdoch in STAR," she laughs.

Monica Tata believes that careers are not built by jumping jobs, and it shows. After 23 years in the business, she has recently taken on what is only her fifth assignment as managing director of HBO India.

Profile: Monica Tata: Steadfast!
That she is in the media business at all is a matter of chance. After graduating from Mumbai's Narsee Monji, she decided to appear for the MBA entrance exam on her friends' advice. Meanwhile, she got to know of a walk-in interview for a company near her home: she appeared and got the job.

This was for a Dalmia Group company, which wanted to launch a video magazine called India View. This was 1989, a few years before the satellite TV boom. The newcomer's job was to get subscriptions for this magazine. "Many housing societies had signs which read, 'Dogs and salespeople not allowed'," Tata recalls with a smile.

Because she turned out to be the star salesperson, Tata was taken into ad sales. She wasn't sure what that meant, but Tata had found her future: "I never turned back after that," she says and did not bother with the MBA degree either.

The company was soon merged with a Delhi-based Sunday newspaper, Sunday Mail. By default, Tata ended up doing ad sales in print. Though the publication itself folded up, she says, "Sunday Mail was the entry ground for many people in the media industry today. Uday Shankar, Raj Nayak, Yash Khanna, Shanti Rao, all of them have worked with Sunday Mail at one point of time or the other." She especially remembers the head of ad sales, Brian D'Silva, who taught her a lot.

Looking back, Tata marvels at how one thing led to another in her career, often because of some human connection. With Sunday Mail winding up, she joined Mid Day. "After just a few months there, I got a call from Yash Khanna. He told me about a new company, Star TV, being brought into India 'by some Chinese'." This was before Rupert Murdoch bought Star from Richard Li who had set it up. "So, I am older than Murdoch in STAR," she laughs.

Tata was to stay at STAR for a dozen years, growing to become senior vice-president, ad sales, and it is here that her professional foundation was built. She did some other stuff besides, such as being part of the team that launched STAR Gold. She is very proud that she was part of the core team that built the business at a time when nobody knew about cable and satellite.

Just when she thought that stagnation was creeping in, Turner came along, which she joined as sales head. In those days, it consisted of just Cartoon Network (CN), Pogo having barely been launched. "There were a lot of ups and downs at Turner, but I enjoyed all of it. CN was a good channel but it had its own lifecycle. Other channels were launched in competition. Then, Chhota Bheem happened and Pogo became the No. 1 channel." HBO and Warner Brothers were to sign a distribution and ad sales deal with Turner much later.

After nine years at Turner, Tata quit in November, 2012. And then her belief in connections leading to something else worked out again and she was offered the top job at HBO. "HBO was almost like a perfect opportunity for me. I love the brand."

When she joined the media business, the bias against women employees was evident. As she went up the ladder, she feels upset that responsibility was denied to her just because she was a woman with children. "It was disheartening that a male colleague of the same seniority was five years ahead, simply because of gender," she says ruefully.

Looking back, Tata reflects that she let some opportunities to work abroad with the international media networks pass by. "I had two daughters, a family and it didn't make sense to uproot everybody and move out. But I have wondered what would have happened had I taken those up." As for now, "I don't think I would be able to move out of India today, because dil hai completely Hindustani."

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