Dharma. Karma. And all things spiritual with Bhaskar Das

01 Feb,2019

 

It’s a day before the launch of Republic TV’s bold Hindi news channel. This interview with Dr Bhaskar Das, former Times of India group President, Group CEO of Zee Media, Executive President of the Dainik Bhaskar group and now Group President of Republic though was taken a week earlier. Read on for an engaging chat Dr Das had with Pradyuman Maheshwari. Enjoy.

 

There are many who are upset that Dr Bhaskar Das is not giving them a chance to blossom in their career. At age 65, you’ve occupied some of the most coveted jobs in the Indian media. Group President of Republic and earlier also Executive President of the Dainik Bhaskar group. Plus you hold a few other senior positions in academics. So what is the secret behind Bhaskar Das’s energy?

Nothing happens as per one’s plan. We underestimate the role of god and luck. I think it has worked in my favour. And, yes, I have passion for work. I don’t think I am coming in anyone’s way because I complement the core capability of the organisation, any organisation. So, from that point of view, the impressions are misplaced. It is not that people hire an individual. They hire aggregated capabilities. I think I have always tried to upgrade myself, reskill myself and upskill myself. So, when one goes through that journey, and because I love academics, even if demographically I may not be very shining, cognitively and affectively, I have been able to surmount that obstacle.

Sir, words like cognitive go above my head.

The objective is not to use jargon to make it incomprehensible… but it is important that you cannot fight demographic obsolescence, corporate obsolescence, sectoral obsolescence. Only thing you can fight is cognitive obsolescence, and affective which is to do with knowledge, skill and emotion. And one needs to understand that if you do not take charge of both of them, one can’t contribute. So, in this part of my journey, my interest is more in terms of serving others, contributing and not for getting up on the stage. I am more a cheerleader for people and make others successful. There is no desire to make myself successful.

Which existed I guess when you were at Times?

The fundamental thing is that I cannot change my DNA. That was in my DNA. But, both in terms of designation, salary, everything used to get matched up. Today, I don’t aspire for anything. I just want to, like a traveller, be interested in the journey… quality of roads…

Is it because you have been there, done that, had the best of everything and now…

It is not so. You must know that everything has a time, like I can’t aspire now to be a 16- or 30-year-old.

But you are as colourful as a young adult.

That’s in the eyes of the people, I think. Colourfulness is in the minds. It need not actually, explicitly, be there. I don’t think I am colourful at all. What is there is that: if you enjoy your existence, nothing matters. So, I love fun and especially when I work, I don’t even feel I am working. I always believe that if you love your work, you don’t have to work at all.

After Times, you joined the Zee group and you had the longest stint that a professional CEO has had in the Zee group. And then you were with the Dainik Bhaskar Group, and now you are with Republic. There was some overlap between Dainik Bhaskar and Republic, but now you are full-time at Republic. How did you select these jobs, or how did they just happen?

After Times of India, I have not chosen anything. I have always been chosen.

Ufff! It’s difficult to pin you down for a straight answer. Do you think the organisations are hiring you just for your contacts… because you can help open doors? Are you being used, and incorrectly so?

I never felt like that. What is right or wrong is a very post-facto conclusion, and since I am an affected party, there is a conflict of interest in giving you an answer. But from my end, I never felt…

Conflict of interest with whom?

Because on the basis of your question, you are mentioning that have they not treated me well?

Not a question about not treating you well, but…

Or they have not utilised me well. How can I answer that question? Because the obvious answer would be: yes, I have been used properly. I personally feel that’s not the question. Every organisation knows what is right for them and whatever task they assign me.

My question was not about them using you effectively. They have used you effectively, but they are employing your skills only because of what you bring to the table. You help open doors…

That is true for everyone, isn’t it? It is always true for everyone. In any recruitment or any job, there is a huge element of narcissism. And I have never had that problem. I personally feel that every job is an opportunity to learn and also to serve. I am hugely interested in learning and contributing.

As they say, success is a bastard and failure is an orphan. I have never tried to take credit for anything. I think everything happens because of the collective wisdom, collective effort. And in every organisation, people have different opinions. But I have had consistent opinion of all the organisations that I have worked because I found them to be a huge place for learning.

According to you, which has been your best place of learning so far? Times of India?

Times of India has been my school, kindergarten, school, college, university, everything…

Which part of your education – kindergarten, school, university was the best?

Kindergarten gives you a solid foundation. If you look at it, at a fundamental level, you learn very few things after kindergarten. But if you are a keen observer, a learner, your learning concept could change. In a sense that, it has become very fluid. It is no longer crystallised. It is not there in the books. The more you work, the more you get immersed in the job, you learn new things. And today, the sources of learning have changed tremendously. I learn today from a kid in twenties, because they are millennials, post-millennials, Generation Z. So you can learn… from books and academics. Another learning happens through observation.

The criticality is that from the various sources of learning that you get, how do you connect for a cross-category wisdom? I think because of experience now and exposure into various formats of delivery, so one of the examples that I am giving, in various interactions with the advertisers and my colleagues, I always say: I don’t suffer from any format myopia, or language myopia or genre myopia. I am a market. So, whatever it is, I have always sold markets. Markets, both in geographic term and in psychographic term.

But is it not about the medium?

It is not about TV, newspaper print. For me it’s the same, seamless thing, that I understand consumer, I understand commerce. That’s it.

But the fact of the matter is that marketing for television is dramatically different from marketing for print…

I don’t agree, I don’t agree. It is the execution, it is the detailing that may be different, but at the fundamental level, and I can argue till the cows come home, they are the same. You go to any other industry, our industry is different, print industry is different, every industry is different. Big deal!

When you joined Zee, there were some naysayers saying that Bhaskar Das is the king of print but will his magic work in television? What you are now telling me is that it is not right to say that sales for print is very different from sales for television

Yes, I don’t believe so. What you are saying is true, people may have said. But these are typical insecurities of legacy custodian mindset. Ultimately, a consumer is platform-agnostic. Advertising has become platform-agnostic.

Theodore Levitt spoke about Marketing Myopia, I am seeing a new Theodore Levitt in myopia of silo-ing media

As you look back, how was your stint at Zee?

Bhaskar Das: Every stint of mine…

I am not going to let you go spiritual once again. If you were to give BCCL a 10 on 10, what would you give your score for your stint at Zee?

To my mind, this is a misplaced question. It is like comparing apples and oranges. Are you different from when you are, say, 16 and now when you are in 50s, for instance. It is such an unfair question. Each one of them have contributed in expanding my vista of knowledge. So how can I compare them?

You are ducking the question.

You may be thinking it that way, but I am stating the fact.

Okay, tell me, satisfaction-wise. Since we know you are a spiritual person,  satisfaction-wise if BCCL was 10 on 10, how was…

I am telling you how your question is flawed. On the one hand, you are saying I am spiritual and for a spiritual man, satisfaction is not outside, it is inside.

So how was it on the inside?

It is seamless, it is consistent, because I am guided by the principle that I am the cause of everything that I experience.

Moving on, some people said that you could have turned around DNA as a newspaper, the newspaper that you helped kill because when you were at Times you made difficult for it to grow. You were the one person who could have done something with it.

I tried my best. There are some sectoral peculiarities for which the turning around is bound to take some time and the market leader’s practices can really prohibit a revival strategy. But, under the circumstances, I think I did well.

Do you think the paper has a future?

Some of your questions are legacy mindset questions.

Sir, I am a legacy mindset person, unfortunately…

Because how do you predict future? They say that the future has been unpredictable

You are so good at not giving straight answers

It is not so. At a philosophical level, do you think it has a future? Who has a future? That bikini-clad mountaineer who died. She also thought she has a future. So the future happens on what you are doing in the present. I have a feeling that if the present is handled appropriately, any brand will have a future…

Interesting point.

Listen to me: it is an important point. It is all about a business model. It depends how it is being managed for a brand, and because print has this pecking order business where the newcomer takes time for really turning around. So the gestation period can be long. That does not mean that it has no future. Your optimism quotient needs to be high and of course the effort levels.

Are you unhappy with the way Mumbai Mirror is doing? It was flying high, somehow it has lost the edge?

I have never driven a car looking at the rear view mirror…

Gosh, you find everything hunky-dory.  

One is that. Second is that I don’t have a context.

Have you never driven a car looking at the rear view mirror? While driving one must look at the rear view mirror, right?

You see that’s why windscreen is bigger compared to rear view mirror. It looks closer than what they really are. So, rear view, you see that no one comes and knocks you out. That’s your protective shield. But that does not mean that my judgment is dependent on that. Because once I leave a place, I don’t meditate on the past. So if, but… why bother?

It was an interesting decision for you to join Dainik Bhaskar. Must have been a different experience altogether because you worked a print master who lives in a certain way. In the regional publication space, the owners look at things differently.

Yes, Dainik Bhaskar has been a very distinctive experience, because it had language. Second it is the #1 in the country, both in terms of readership and circulation terms, but the aggression is something which we have to learn. The aggression and the leadership that the shareholders have is unbelievable.

No professional has stayed on for too long as CEO at Dainik Bhaskar.

Because everyone cannot survive the heat of the kitchen. When you are the market challenger, you need to be able to take the war into the…

Dainik Bhaskar is a leader but is always playing the role of a challenger.

Yes, which is very good. Because people who become leaders don’t get complacent. They have to maintain the challenger’s role that requires a different level of agility, adaptability and adaptability. And I have a feeling that I don’t have the statistics on what has been the longevity of each CEO and if there is any pattern. But if people treat safety zone to also be a comfort zone, things can work. No one can say in a deterministic manner that it is a bad place to stay because if it happens, why just for the organisation, also for the employees concerned. And the contexts are very different. We know that even Virat Kohli also gets out at zero sometimes that doesn’t mean that he is a bad cricket player. I am not going to blame the pitch also. But it is that day how he plays.

Who is Virat Kohli here? The owners or…

The employees. You cannot brand someone who could not take the heat of the kitchen a bad player. What happens that I find everything is T20. Life is about T20. Either you can handle the pressure or get out. It has nothing to do with the format of the game. And today, if you take every organisation job, it is another format of the game. Fundamentally, it is T20.

Tell me, you also took on the Republic assignment when you were with Bhaskar. So, in a sense, you were two-timing?

That was with full consent. For me the current journey is about continuously upgrading your skills. And there was no conflict of interest, because the access point is at the generic level. Format-wise one was television and the other was print. I am also in academics, so it has teaching. It is more like portfolio career. Usually, people think it is a conflict of interest, but I think they are being myopic. You need a high level of integrity to do all these jobs. It is more by outcome-based delivery than attendance-based delivery.

Can you manage to be successful in media with integrity?

It is all individual judgment. One cannot generalise. Without integrity you cannot survive. Like all generalisations, this one is also wrong. There are always exceptions. It doesn’t mean that if people have not survived with integrity, all others have no integrity. I don’t agree with it.

You really think integrity is very important?

Yes, in everything. And it today’s context, it’s all the more. Worldwide, there is a crisis of ethics and integrity going on…

But despite being such a votary for integrity, when you were with BCCL, Medianet happened. In your own thought process, how did that function because Medianet is all about paid content, paid editorial content, packaging it as editorial, and not really tagging it as advertising. That’s surely not integrity?

See, one must know that what is your area of operation. Okay? Let me give you a spiritual response. You know Lotus? Lotus?

BJP?

No, lotus is a flower which blooms in the muck but the same lotus goes to god’s feet. In the metaphor I used, even if you are in a muck that does not mean that lack integrity. So who is to judge that a business model of mutual value creation is ethically corrupting or not. I am not the person to judge because of the fact that may be the principles have been established. It is transparent so it may not be. I have insufficient data points to say that it is upfront to moral integrity or moral turpitude. But I think that people were not used to it…

Sir, I will have to put links to the dictionary for people to understand the various words you use.

Which one?

Turpitude. I know I am not going to get an answer for my last question.

Life is not about answers. Life is about searching for questions. If you know the answer, rest assured your question is wrong.

This is an interview for MxMIndia and not for Sadhguru.com. Please give me some down-to-earth responses

The point is why this duality. They are all seamlessly integrated.

Sorry to ask you this question, sitting in the office of Republic – but how did Republic happen?

I love Republic for a number of things. One is of course the energy. Trying to do something different. People have perceptions, but I think the perceptions have formed on the basis of one’s personal experience, without complete data points. I really took a clinical look at it and I have a feeling there are lot of interesting things that are happening…

It looks as if you are taking on your previous employer Times Of India. We know that Republic and Times of India have been slugging it out.

Marketplace is a war place.

War place?

When I say war place, because of the fact that there is competition…

Is Vineet Jain still talking to you?

Why are you specifying Sameer Jain, Vineet Jain? There is also Aroon Purie…

Since you were at the top at the Times of India, you know how that organisation works, the various business dynamics, and the love for Arnab Goswami.

But if the two journeys are different? If you look at it from the marketing point of view, we are playing professional games in the marketplace. If I were in Times of India, I would have played Times of India’s game. So, if you are playing the game, you cannot question the rules of the game. I am just following the rules of the game. And it is nothing directed, it is about business.

Your most trusted lieutenant is heading the rival organisation.

Not right to call it the rival organisation. It is the market. Any part of the competition worldwide, there are only rivals who are doing. People are leaving McKinsey and joining EY, or for that matter you have worked in Mid-Day and you have gone to DNA. That is your freedom… fundamental right.

I was a small cog in the wheel. You are the Big Boss

That’s an illusionary construction. The wheels don’t move with the small cog.

True. Moving on, you chucked your Dainik Bhaskar job so to say to join Republic…

I must say here that I did not chuck the job. I…

You moved on. Or in your words, you steadily transitioned.

I found that I could not do justice to two jobs, so let me take one job. Because, academics was very important for me. And I thought that I will be able to balance both but after 14 months I realised that I can’t deliver.

So why Republic and why not Bhaskar.

This is because I wanted to work with a startup. It is a legacy medium, but the mentality is startup. It is about lot of experimentations that happen as a new organisation, and a very young team. I always look for how I can up skill myself. Dainik Bhaskar is an established company, huge brand pool. Here brand-building has to be done. Pool has to be sustained.

Brand-building? Why do you need it for Republic? Republic = Arnab Goswami who is a brand…

One individual cannot make a brand. A brand will ultimately happen…

You shouldn’t be saying this. Arnab Goswami may also read this interview.

Even he feels that the corporation is the brand. He is building an institution and has taken me on board to contribute to that institution-building. Anyone can make a big organisation. Dainik Bhaskar is a big company anyway. But your new learning will happen when you dirty your hands for a new institution building. My excitement is that. Otherwise a legacy company or a big company like Times of India or Dainik Bhaskar is much more comfortable. I want to make myself uncomfortable. Because I get scared when it is comfortable. Because learning never happens.

Point.

I am still very curious. I am very hungry. And I think that when you asked me some time back about, what is the energy, now I am realising it. It’s the curiosity. And today curiosity of a post-1997-98 born, when I go and learn is a different one. So it is a perfect combination of youth and experience. I wouldn’t say Dhoni-isation, Dhoni is still young. But it’s just “enjoy the game and remain obsolescence-free”.

Are you in sync with the way Republic is going in terms of news and the postures that Arnab takes… very aggressive, very nationalistic?

See there are some silos in my mind – my spiritual journey, my job journey, my academic journey, they run their own course. It is not about thesis, antithesis, it is more about synthesising. Ultimately, the market is the best arbiter, why bring in subjective judgment? I go by cold shower of facts that something is working. The biggest problem in the media industry is that some people extrapolate their personal experience to the whole universe. I doubt that the averaging is very important in terms of what is working. And if something is working then why bring individual judgment… if you don’t agree, you go to Ramkrishna Mission.

That way you can say that pornography works best in the digital…

It is irrelevant, because of the fact that if the digital characteristic is one-on-one and they are doing it, fine. Now we are talking about the order of ethicality of the society. Let society take care of it. Let the government take care of it. By that logic, if you talk about ethicality, people get excited by 10-year challenge, this, that and whatever. Please understand when you are a consumer, you are just a data point. So, to my mind that level of ethicality is permitted in every business, normal lack of ethicality. I can give you a proof of that that every time I do something on my social media, someone is capturing me, and someone is watching me. I call it the new age capitalistic surveillance.

So, you are broadly in sync…

I have a very synthesised mind. I pick up the best and make it a synthesis, as opposed to thinking what is differing with my own way.

The channel is different…

When you enter a cluttered market, you have to create a niche for yourself. See, taking a stand, setting an agenda will always be controversial. Republic has taken out a difference from the lexicon of news weaving. If you look at it horizontally, all news gets covered. It is only when you take position in edit page that people feel the whole channel is one way. I think it’s the same way you look at your thali, if you take the decision on the basis of spicy food, so you say that the thali is spicy. Or if its sweet than it’s sweet. I don’t think life has only one shade. It has many shades and I am comfortable with that.

Guess all is hunky-dory. Hunky-dory in your mind at least. This is a channel that will work but what if as some opinion polls suggest that the BJP may not come back to power. Given that Republic has been very aggressive on the Congress, could the going be tough if an opposition or non-Modi-led government comes to power?

See, there are newspapers and channels which are also left of centre. They haven’t closed down. Ultimately everyone does business in a certain way to maintain their distinctiveness and I have a feeling what will happen in future which will create stymies. It brands activities, it doesn’t work that way. After Jio has come, have the others shut shop? It has not happened. So, everyone survives in their own way. I think we should cross the bridge when it comes as opposed to, anticipating what will happen.

Jio is not content. But, tell me, when we go out in the market, what is the kind of chatter you hear? Do people say “Arre, Bhaskarda, what have you done”? You know.

No. It is a mix of things people say because everyone is relating from their own experience. One good thing is that no one is different.

Do people sing or hum the song “Ye kya hua, kaise hua”?

There are people who also say fantastic.. that it’s very good. Also, remember, all of us in some form stay in our echo chambers. You can’t remain really, really absolutely neutral. Your internal beliefs determine your external view of the world. So, the opinion that I get from various people, I’m not being very overtly anxious because in fact when I counter one… they are very perfunctory and quite often based on unrepresentative sample. They don’t have facts.

Does overtly anxious means some amount of anxiety, unhappiness, lack of enthusiasm?

Not overtly anxious means suppose if five people are saying something negative, then there are five people also saying things that positive. Then, how should you and why should you be anxious about something which is doing so very well. Obviously, you don’t become #1 for 89 weeks. See, the market is the best arbiter. Also, data shows that pre-Republic, if the reach was X, it is gone up by 61 percent. Republic has expanded the news genre, English genre market.

But the English genre is so small?

It may be minuscule, but fact remains English in this country is miniscule. Not even a closed fist size.

My point is it’s about quality versus quantity. It is about its class within a mass… please understand that

Now you are entering the mass market with Bharat

Even that mass, if you look at it, is nothing compared to GECs. Everything is relative, right?

Are you sure that Bharat will be successful with some big folks so well-entrenched?

I have not developed any skill in astrological predictions…

Hindi channels also have astrology on them.

They may have but point is that’s what customers want. But I’m just trying to say that I am talking about myself and I don’t have any astrological ability. The only thing I can tell and talk about is the present. Present an indication in terms of the way channel is getting, content is created, anchors are coming, or distributions are happening. I’m very optimistic not to be politically correct but sounds interesting because I’ve worked in Hindi channels also and I find it there is something interesting that is being constructed. Don’t forget that even in English, Republic has broken the mould. In Hindi also, we are going to break the mould. So, everyone exists, but everyone exist here for a reason and the positioning is all about that. I think Hindi will be able to carve a niche for itself. What will be and who will be standing where, that’s future every week.

But you have some really big, big as they say ‘diggaj’ (formidable) competitors.

Yahoo was also a success, once upon a time a success. History is replete, corporate history is replete with examples of big legacy players. You just don’t know how markets behave? See, human needs are primordial. The cessation gets modern and the cessation happens. Most of the cases are tectonic.

Aaj Tak is still the leader

I don’t know. Only the future can say that. I’m just trying to say that generic management principle on tectonic shifts, I have not seen visually.

You used the word tectonic.

Yes, tectonic.

Do you see an earthquake happening?

The tectonic shift that happened is in terms of technology and consumer behaviour and culture and when it happens, consumer preferences change. In our life time starting we have seen the move from radio to television to cable your terrestrial and then of course you have satellite, then you have got mobiles, then you have got OTT. Things are continuously changing and today your first screen is your mobile. If you look at the new generation, post-97 born, you will see they are not even looking at the news. But again, people are putting up at their own experience, their children but actually the news consumption is going up. Markets are getting expanded, the pecking orders are changing.

Your forecast, I know you said you are not an astrologer. But conviction one can talk about. Where do you think Republic Bharat will be, say, a few months from now?

See, one is aspiration and then you have the actual reality. Our aspiration is to be a leading competitive player in the market because ultimately business model is about advertising and advertisers prefer top pecking order.  So, Republic like any other channel would like to be…

Hmmm

Tell me who will say “I don’t want to be number one”? So, point is if you look at the way news channels is bought, there is a pecking order, there is Basket number 1, Basket number 2 and Basket number 3 and accordingly, the rates are determined and accordingly the preferences are determined by this. I have a feeling Republic would be really competitive at the top end of the spectrum.

You have still not given me a very firm answer?

Life is not about determinism. Life is more about a range of possibilities and you play with the possibilities as you gain theory. So anyone who gives a deterministic answer has, I think, superhuman capabilities.

You’ve gone into a spiritual zone once again

I’m sure an employer does not want such spiritual achievements. Even in my case it is always response, I got very positive response because of the fact that I don’t do dharma. But when dharma gets sanitised by the doctrine of righteousness, I think anyone would appreciate.

Dharma cannot be your karma, or can it?

Our actual pursuance of dharma includes your karma.

I don’t understand what you are saying

I have never ever talked about so much of spirituality in an interview.

I guess our readers will know what you have said and what you have not said. On this spiritual note, at least we can laugh about it. Thank you.

Believe me, I really continuously sanitise it. It gives one so much peace.

Hmmm

 

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