Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Shah Rukh Khan gets down to business

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a spike in the media coverage of actor Shah Rukh Khan. Not particularly surprising given the ruckus that engulfed the release of his film My Name is Khan on February 12. So I’m not going to mention all that here.
What interests me, though, are a couple of pieces that appeared in the business press — Business Today magazine and the Financial Times, to be specific. For both stories — in varying degrees — focused not so much on Shah Rukh the entertainer, but Shah Rukh the entrepreneur!
Last weekend, the Financial Times featured Shah Rukh in its popular Lunch with the FT column. Though the piece was more of a general-ish profile, it also slipped in a mention or two about Shah Rukh Khan “the multi-million dollar superstar brand”.
Business Today, however, really put Shah Rukh the businessman in the spotlight in its last issue. In a cover story titled SRK Inc, it talked about how Shah Rukh is not just the badshah of bollywood, but is also an entrepreneur with an eye on building a business empire. His business interests range from the predictable film making and producing content for television to the slightly more unexpected ad film production and visual effects business and, not to forget, his stake in the Kolkata Knight Riders Indian Premier League cricket team. Most of these businesses are run as divisions of his company Red Chillies Entertainment, which according to the Business Today story had revenues of Rs 73 crore in 2008-09.
Shah Rukh is not the first bollywood actor to take a stab at running a business. While actors like Jeetendra and, more recently, Shilpa Shetty and Preity Zinta have dabbled in entertainment-related businesses, the most famous example of an actor-businessman is, arguably, Amitabh Bachchan. While Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd (ABCL), Bachchan’s first corporate venture, in the mid 1990s, went horribly wrong, he appears to be having more success with AB Corp, the new avatar of ABCL.
However, what makes Shah Rukh stand out from his bollywood peers with entrepreneurial ambitions is that he appears to have the sort of business savvy that will make India Inc proud. Some of this business sense seems to have come the hard way, from his experience with Dreamz Unlimited, his first go at running a production company; a venture that wasn’t too successful.
The Business Today piece, for instance, reveals that while Shah Rukh takes all the creative decisions, business decisions are mostly taken by the professionals who head the various divisions of Red Chillies Entertainment. Yet, Shah Rukh has, in a sense, influenced business decisions too because he’s the one who hired the professionals! And like any good entrepreneur, Shah Rukh is passionate about his ventures, but also appears to have the detachment needed to take hard decisions if one particular business isn’t doing too well.
Yet as Shah Rukh says in the Business Today story, his philosophy of business is less about the bottom line and more about a business’ larger purpose and whether it lives up to this purpose. This ‘purpose is the soul of a business’ approach is what, perhaps, what really makes Shah Rukh the entrepreneur interesting. So much so, that I wouldn’t be surprised if a b-school somewhere soon writes a case study on him!
Of course, a misstep or two could throw Shah Rukh’s empire-building ambitions out of kilter as the ABCL experience testifies. The badshah of bollywood, though, will be conscious of this. But as the Business Today story puts it, if Shah Rukh needs to raise some money all he needs to do is shake a leg for a few minutes at a private party or pick up a brand endorsement or two and the money will flow in.
Now that’s a funding model that even the canniest entrepreneur will find hard to replicate.

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