ASIA: MEDIA MOGULS - Two of Asia’s richest men are leading the continent’s charge into new media, Tracey Taylor reports



Chairman, Essel Group (parent of Zee Telefilms)

Those who have encountered 49-year-old Subhash Chandra - also known as

India’s Mr TV - speak of him with a sense of awe. Certainly his track

record is something to behold.

Now chairman of the Essel Group, which includes the successful Zee

Television network, Chandra has always shown a knack for spotting

opportunities early and exploiting them. In the past decade he has built

a powerful multimedia empire with a global reach and profits in excess

of dollars 14 million. He himself is said to have a net worth of dollars

1.7 billion, making him the second richest man in India after the

software tycoon Azim Premji.

Chandra takes pride in the fact that he learned most of what he knows

about business at the knees of his late grandfather Jaganath Goenka. Two

of these lessons must have been to think big and a willingness to take


One of his early ventures was exporting Indian rice to the Russians.

He later became involved in the manufacture of toothpaste tubes at Essel

Packaging - a stock market darling in India. One of his shrewdest moves

came in 1992 when he bought, from the fellow Asian media mogul Richard

Li, transponder space on Asiasat. This enabled him to begin beaming the

first private Hindi television channel into India from Hong Kong.

His company now embraces cable channels, India’s most successful theme

park and companies in the fields of film production, publishing,

educational broadcasting, internet services, cable distribution and

satellite telephony.

It has been calculated that during primetime in India one-third of the

country’s 25 million cable-TV homes tune in to a Zee channel. Zee also

broadcasts in the US, Africa and Europe, including the UK. Chandra says

that his mission is ’to connect South Asians across the globe’.

Chandra recently extricated himself from an acrimonious six-year

partnership with Rupert Murdoch, whose Star TV is a key player in India.

Both men were joint owners of the TV holding company Asia Today Limited.

Chandra bought out Murdoch’s 50 per cent stake in ATL in September 1999

and emerged from the deal with the strongest hand. Murdoch profited

little from the relationship, not least because from the outset Chandra

controlled the all-important software from which any financial rewards

would be reaped.

Next on Chandra’s agenda is the listing of his flagship Zee Telefilms in

the US. The dollars 1.5 billion American Depository Share issue

represents the largest international offering by an Indian company and

should allow Chandra to finance his ambitious expansion plans.

He is now focused on the satellite market. With the US entrepreneur

Craig McCaw, Chandra is negotiating to buy out the beleaguered mobile

satellite services operator Iridium. This follows their bail-out of the

satellite company ICO last year. The deals will provide Chandra with

extensive bandwidth with which to distribute his company’s TV output

around the world in real time.

Chandra, who has homes in the UK, Hong Kong and India, is married with

three children. He reputedly practises meditation for an hour every day

and believes this partly explains why he is so successful. Others would

point to the man’s ruthless ambition and pioneering spirit. After all,

one of the most quoted sayings about Chandra is that ’he always walks

new paths’ as he believes ’walking down beaten paths is for beaten



Chairman and chief executive, Pacific Century Group

Richard Li says he has a lot of respect for Rupert Murdoch and what he

has achieved. Indeed he is in talks with him about a joint venture to

create a broadband entertainment network in Hong Kong.

The 33-year-old Li can afford to be magnanimous in his appraisal of the

Australian media tycoon. He recently trumped Murdoch to what has been

described as Asia’s most daring deal when he snapped up a dollars 36

billion stake in Cable & Wireless HKT, so ensuring a valuable resource

for his company’s ambitious internet strategy.

It was not the first time the pair had met. In 1993, over a glass of

wine on board Murdoch’s yacht in Sardinia, Li negotiated a sum estimated

to be in the region of dollars 850 million for Star TV, the pan-Asian

satellite TV business which he had founded three years previously.

Ranked as one of the top 50 cyber-space people by Time magazine in 1998,

Li is clearly not short on ambition. With Pacific Century Cyberworks he

is building one of the largest internet companies in the world on the

proceeds of the Star TV sale. He is also working closely with the Hong

Kong government on the dollars 1.6 billion Cyberport project, a physical

platform to accelerate the development of the IT industry in Hong Kong

and Greater China.

Li is the second son of Hong Kong’s richest businessman Li Ka-Shing, and

his status owes much to the support that he has received from his


However it appears that Li has emerged as his own man in recent


Graham Wallace, the chief executive of Cable & Wireless, says: ’I liked

him. He’s got a quick mind. And when you’re talking to him you can see

he’s always thinking ahead.’ Li, who is described as ’Asia’s most

eligible bachelor’ with monotonous regularity, has a high profile within

the Hong Kong social set and a personal fortune estimated at pounds 3

billion. As for his business style, he has been accused of arrogance and

high self-regard. But he is also gaining a diplomatic streak as he

matures. When asked how he felt about the News Corporation, in the

aftermath of the Cable & Wireless deal, he said: ’Businessmen do not

make decisions based on feelings. There is no animosity on my side.’

And there is no doubting the fact that the value of PCCW - the hottest

stock in Hong Kong - depends largely on the abilities of its


All eyes are now on Li to continue making the decisions that will keep

PCCW growing.

The day the company moves into profit will be an important turning point

for Li. Despite overseeing the growth of Star TV’s subscriber base to

more than 53 million homes, the broadcaster was never profitable under

Li’s leadership - although, to be fair, Murdoch hasn’t succeeded in that

department either.

History suggests, however, that Li junior won’t be letting down the

family name.