Women Mean Business: Credibility matters most - Shobhana Bhartia

The gender divide is fast dissipating in every sphere of business. There are several women business leaders today, leading from the front and inspiring an entire generation of young women to take up the mantle of leadership. 

English Business News Channel BTVi - Business Television India has endeavoured to bring women thought leaders under one platform, celebrating their success stories, thereby motivating the millennial with their show, ‘Women Mean Business’. The second season of the show went on air on June 17, 2017 and airs every Saturday @ 8pm on the channel. The guests on the show this season will range from Media baron to Renowned Restaurateur, from award winning Gemologist and Jewellery Designer to Globally acclaimed artist. 

Helmed by BTVi Consulting Editor, Fatima Mahdi Karan, Season 2 of ‘Women Mean Business’ opened with Shobhana Bhartia, Chairperson and Editorial Director of The Hindustan Times Group, who has led the media group from strength to strength and has introduced several new concepts in journalism and the way the news industry operates today. 

Adgully, in an exclusive tie-up with BTVi, brings the interviews with these pioneering women leaders. 

You are constantly being awarded with titles, awards, what is the best way you would describe yourself?
As far as awards are concerned, I feel very honoured and don’t undermine any awards. Awards are a very nice way of motivating your organisation and your team because the awards are not necessarily for you, but the collective work that you have produced over the years. Awards help in keeping the morale of the team high. 

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How did you manage to navigate your family business?
It took a lot of time as those days and times were different. The entire work culture and environment, the external environment to be precise, was very different. Unions were very strong and militant, and there were some absurd demands, according to me. 

I understood the role of the union as a collective voice for many. I did not understand the logic of many of the demands, but I had empathy. I felt this is not going to be business model for us or room for progression if we don’t overcome some of these hurdles. We faced resistance in every stage. There was not only resistance in the union because when you change something you have to change formatting, the roles people have, change of shifts. All these issues had implications and a great deal of insecurity where our industry didn’t want to change. 

When I first entered this business and made my foray into HT, I also went overseas to see how companies out there work. 

Secondly, we were termed as being creative, creativity cannot be measured and hence, there was no productivity and was open ended. I didn’t understand that either because everything was measured and everyone was accountable. There was a framework set out for every individual as to what your job specs are, but that was unheard of in India. Because the creative media journalist had no boundaries and no framework, even the other part of HT thought they could just work the same way without any context. 

I was fortunate in the end that we did manage to make changes, but it took a while. 

How does one maintain credibility as well as the competitiveness?
Credibility and how to maintain it comes from your consumer. It’s a business like any other and it’s a product where your capital is intellectual capital. If you are in a FMCG company with four competitors all making toothpaste but somebody does it better than you, you are losing your market share. My readers are my context and they are the ones who give me the validation and the ones for whom I have to maintain credibility because gone are the days when your news only comes from one source. At the end of the day it’s what you stand for and it’s your credibility. 

Again great content comes with credibility and that’s the filter of the editorial inputs that a brand and people belonging to that brand bring in. 

The role and future of news and editors?
The role of the editor has completely changed since the time I stepped into HT. Earlier it was to define what the consumer needs to be told, what they thought was the correct position. Today, it’s a lot more interactive and you first have to understand what and for whom are you producing. You can have different kinds of products and each one can have their own space. If you are a mass product, it is important to understand the demographic breakdown of your data. Who are you catering to, what are their interests and then try to cater to what their needs are. Understand what they are interested in and give it to them. To think you need to dumb down news is stupid. 

What is the next thing that you would be working on in terms of understanding your audience? 
We don’t have any concrete plans for anything different or new, but in the same space we have constantly got to evolve and get better understanding. Use technology to try and have greater penetration and to see if you can have more by products. Our newsroom is modern and state of the art, where we have been successful in integrating print and online and trying to leverage that. People no longer wait to pick up a newspaper in the morning, but start picking up their smartphone and other devices to consume news. Also, videos which are consumed on the go. We are in the business of generating content and that content has got to be platform agnostic, also trying to find newer ways of leveraging that content whether through print, social media or any other platform. 

You come from a legacy with three girls. Do you think things could be different if there would be any male presence in the family?
I think that is a bit hypothetical a question, but assuming that there was a son, I don’t think that things would be that different. It is difficult for me to say what I would be working at, whether its Hindustan times or something else. Essentially, my father decided to involve me with Hindustan Times because he found that I had a passion for media, for journalism, for public affairs, but it’s not like he pushed me into it. I could have had a more laid-back role in some of the other industries. In our family, we always believe that girls must also go out and work. 

How did you develop the passion for journalism?
I think somewhere it’s a natural interest. The family was very political with my father and my grandfather’s involvement right from the freedom struggle with Indian politics, and growing up as single child due to huge age difference – my sister was married and I was still young. So, I guess it’s more because of the conversations at home being with my father; all the discussions at home which were related to politics. 

What were your insights when you were in Parliament?
Being in Parliament was an eye opener because I went in from outside. Especially from media, where we have a bit of a condescending attitude towards politicians... but when you are there, you realise the wealth of information they have. Their domain expertise and whole connect with what is happening in real India is fascinating. They have so much on-the-ground experience, you gain a huge amount of respect for them. 

Was it tough being a publisher as well as a Member of Parliament?
Not at all, as I was a nominated Member of Parliament. I had a fortunate experience of being a presidential nominee and therefore, even on the bills introduced, on many occasions when I voted against and spoke against the bills. It was fine, there was no pressure at all. There were never expectations and pressure and I was fortunate to have freedom for those six years. 

You engage with lot of fellow icons and powerful people around the world. Women leaders, world leaders or business leaders – who have you met lately that you found interesting?
You know there are many people you find intellectually engaging and most people you meet and go for conferences are so accomplished that you find them extremely engaging and you learn a lot from them. But among the other things I went for a conference in New York a year ago and it was a women’s conference and what I found there was the spirit of many women who had gone through such a hardship and yet they face the world with optimism. There are so many stories that move you to see the resilience, the optimism. Stories which are not otherwise told or some scientific and medical breakthrough. I really find them engaging. 

How do you keep everything sorted altogether?
I think we are all human; there are some things that make us agitated, but then tomorrow is a new day.



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