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
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
RICHARD LI TZAR KAI
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
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
History suggests, however, that Li junior won’t be letting down the