Dr Bhaskar Das: Every Strategy has an Expiry Date

07 Dec,2020

 

By A Correspondent

 

 In early 2005, when it was clear to the big bosses at the Old Lady of Boribunder that Hindustan Times and DNA were set to launch in Mumbai, there was much concern about the future of the Empire. While HT may still be this North India superpower, the paper had turned stylish and had some great writers and people at the helm.

 

The bigger worry was DNA, short for Daily News & Analysis. It was being set up in a jv of the Dainik Bhaskar group and Zee. Bhaskar had essayed huge success in Gujarat with Divya Bhaskar and the Zee TV group chairman Subhash Chandra is a tough fighter and was keen on extending his domination to print. Plus there was Pradeep Guha, the former Times of India bossman who knew it all. And had a point to prove. When Guha moved to Zee, there was much talk of his trust lieutenant and second-in-command Dr Bhaskar Das also moving with him. But his bosses – Samir and Vineet Jain – held him back.

 

Das suggested the flanking strategy to the Jains, and get the newbies battle it out with Mirror first. The gambit worked, and Mirror in Mumbai was a profitable venture in three-odd years. The circulation was large thanks to the fact it went free with The Times of India. The going was good, business-wise and editorially, though it had achieved its purpose.

 

The Agarwals sold their stake in DNA to Chandra at Zee, and the paper finally folded up a year-odd back. HT could weather the onslaught, but it was a never a close #2 in Mumbai amongst broadsheets. Mid-Day, which was once #2 in Mumbai, suffered through the fight among the big ones.

 

Post the announcement of The Times of India group on Saturday to close Mumbai Mirror as a daily, we asked Dr Bhaskar Das (BD) a few questions as part of the Das ka Dum series. We couldn’t help not asking him many questions on the development as part of the questions for the week. He was after all the boss of the project. We then thought it would be good to carry the entire Q&A together, and add a couple of more questions.

 

Even if state this ourselves, we think it makes for a great interview, and he’s been reasonably candid. There’s a wee bit written between the lines, but then that’s BD for you. Enjoy.

 

If the Print Media were to look at itself in the Mirror, what would it see? A self that’s Deflated, Defeated and Dead?

 

None of them, according to me. Naysayers or doomsday predictors might agree with your observation. I am not oblivious to the emotional aspect of the reflection in the mirror. But in business, as in life, recalibration of the forward journey is a constant imperative. Learnings happen when one cleans up the mirror first before cleaning one’s face only. A deep introspection followed by a resilient approach would engender a realisation that death is the beginning of life and life is the beginning of death. Accordingly, new roadmap would emerge.

 

Your sentiments on the closure of Mumbai Mirror, the daily, since you headed the team and started it all. In fact I am told you thought of the idea…

 

What sentiments? � The company started a project. I was an incidental steward. When one is (in this case me) lovingly detached, launch or closure is part of a continuum, as in life. The pragmatism of business and its strategy compels an organisation to take a decision which might have to be revoked in future when the landscape changes. For business process continuity and for conservation of finite resources, an organisation has to choose an alternative from amongst multiple choices in an altered landscape.  After all, any  strategy is ultimately  a cascade of choices. Hence emotion has no legitimate space in such a decision-making. An engrossed passion helps a rational decision get wings. For the concerned daily, the dominant sentiment at that relevant time was perhaps like that. Hence an individual sentiment doesn’t matter.

 

Does the closure of the Mumbai Mirror as a daily augur sad times for the newspaper industry. After all this is an offering from the #1 newspaper group in the country/ continent/ world, and operates in Mumbai, one of the most important advertising markets on land?

 

As if this is the first time a publication has been shut. Every strategy has an expiry date. The publication had served a strategic purpose perhaps at that relevant time. Changing times need new strategy to navigate the operating environment. So I can presume the group has enough in its arsenal to leverage in the most important advertising market of India. From the outside it might look as a dystopian development. But it can be a precursor to a ‘manthan’ too. Who knows? As an incorrigible optimist , I think so.

 

Our heart goes out to the employees engaged by newspapers, esp those who aren’t shared resources. With jobs not easily available what would you recommend to people who are set to be displaced?

 

I can empathise with this question. I really have no answer to this. Sometimes silence is important to respect emotions. I can only pray for their well-being. The employees created a fantastic brand. They will do well anywhere. I am convinced.

 

There are sentiments that BCCL should have absorbed the losses and grow the brand. Your thoughts.

 

Theoretically, everything is possible. But how do I simulate a probabilistic answer without having any access to the compulsions that led to this decision? The only point that I can make is that the print sector itself is under dual threat  of format obsolescence and Covid-led tepid business headwind, and hence, even a supposedly deep-pocketed organisation  may not have the luxury of  taking  decisions that are unrelated to the basic tenets of commercial viability.

 

As an academic in marketing, would you say that the existence or longevity of a product or service that’s set up essentially to combat competition is always in suspect?

 

Not necessarily. INS Vikrant was also useful once upon a time. Then it got replaced by a more state-of-the-art aircraft carrier. Besides, strategic imperatives change. A market-facing organisation has to continuously readjust its gear depending on the terrain change and organisational priorities. Hence any deterministic prediction on this matter is as reliable as any decision that is predicated dominantly on convenient sampling.

 

Do your responses really reflect your true emotions? Or are you just being politically correct?

 

Political and correctness are oxymoronish terms, to my mind. I am neither political nor  claiming to be correct in my answers. May be my answers are not fitting into an expected paradigm of response. Then you should first decide if you want a rational answer or an emotional one. I am sure you would prefer the former.

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