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Ronnie ScrewvalaFounder and CEO of highly acclaimed UTV Group Published On: Thursday, April 02, 2015 Views 3986

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Born on the 8th of June 1956; Rohinton Soli Screwvala – better known as “Ronnie Screwvala” was the Founder and CEO of the very famous and highly acclaimed UTV Group which included UTV Software Communications, Bloomberg UTV, UTV Motion Pictures and many more!

A Parsi by blood, Ronnie was born in Mumbai and completed his studies at Cathedral and John Connon School and Sydenham College. His father used to work for British firms J L Morrison and Smith & Nephew as an executive.

Ronnie is married to Zarina Mehta, who he happened to meet during his theatre days with Pearl Padamsee. Together with their daughter – Trishya Screwvala, they live in Breach Candy, South Mumbai.

Since his early days only, Ronnie always had a keen interest in theatre and he also acted in quite a few professional plays with Bombay theatre with some of the greats of the industry such as Pearl and Alyque Padamsee.

And as of 2015, Ronnie Screwvala is writing a book titled as – “Dream With Your Eyes Open”. Also, Ronnie has mentioned the possibility of a TV show as well following the release of the book. (Source: Livemint)

Out of their more than 70 films; some of the highly popular movies that he has produced or co-produced under his UTV motion pictures banner: – (2006) Rang De Basanti, (2006) The Namesake, (2006) Khosla Ka Ghosla, (2008) Jodhaa Akbar, (2008) A Wednesday, (2008) Fashion, (2009) ExTerminators (Hollywood), (2009) Kaminey: The Scoundrels, (2010) Udaan, (2010) I Hate Luv Storys, (2011) Delhi Belly, (2012) Barfi!, (2013) Chennai Express, and many more!

Early Life

Now most of us already are aware that Ronnie began his career with UTV in the year 1990. But what remains a lesser known fact is that; in actuality his entrepreneurial journey started a decade before UTV even came to life.

In the early days; Ronnie’s father wanted him to become a Chartered Accountant just like every other father those days. But Ronnie unlike his father’s views, wanted to start his own business. And to achieve that; while he was looking for business opportunities, he took up a job of a copywriter.

Later, on a trip to England with his father, Ronnie got a chance to visit a hairbrush factory. There, he saw two discarded fully functional automatic toothbrush making machines. He decided to purchase it, and got it for £4,000.

As soon as he came back to India, he started his own business of manufacturing toothbrushes. And many years later, the company went on to become the largest supplier of toothbrushes in the country who supplied to the top notch brands like Colgate Palmolive. And eventually Ronnie sold the company in 2004 at a profit.

Other than that; at the age of just 25 years or in 1981, he started his own cable network company by the name “Network”, one of the biggest gaps of those days. He back then, used to go from door to door in his building and convinced the residents to sign up for his cable service at a fee of INR 200 per month.

At a time when the only thing available was Doordarshan – was the state television provider, Network offered a three-hour video channel showing movies! This started with just 30 houses and went on to spread to buildings in Cuffe Parade, Colaba, Napeansea Road, Breach Candy and Hanging Gardens, in a blink of an eye.

Apart from the fact that, the idea was way ahead of its time and highly innovative; what was commendable was that at such a young age, Ronnie clearly understood the importance of good service. He made sure to take care of his customers by providing family oriented content with good picture quality and regularly met his customers to understand their viewing preferences.

He definitely held qualities of a successful and bold entrepreneur of today’s times.

UTV Group

Ronnie founded the UTV Group along with his wife Zarina Screwvala and best friend Deven Khote in the year 1990, to provide television content to broadcasters. It was the first independent production of India and the company started off by making advertisements and corporate films.

Then it also started producing quiz shows for Doordarshan titled – ‘Mashoor Mahal’ where Ronnie acted as the Assistant Director of the show. He also created, directed & produced many other shows like ‘The Mathemagic Show’, ‘Lifeline’ (a short film), ‘Contact’, ‘Shakuntala’, etc!

Believe it or not, in a span of less than two decades, UTV expanded into broadcasting, gaming, film and various other businesses.

Now the biggest leap the company got was during the time of incorporation! They at that time were primarily engaged in the production of television content for Doordarshan – Prasar Bharti along with producing ad films.

That is when Subhash Chandra-owned Zee TV; which had just started, was looking for good quality, but low budget content & programming and was willing to experiment with creativity. And with that, they got a 550-episode contract and from there onwards there was no looking back for UTV!

The chain of events that took place from here onwards were as follows: –

  • UTV first expanded its reach into in-flight entertainment programming and dubbing as well at the same time with their client – Air India.
  • In 1993, it started to acquire programs from external producers and began marketing airtime on their programs.
  • In 1995,
    • It launched a daily soap titled ‘Shanti.’ Alongside of that; it also acquired 54.60% stake in Laezer Production Private Limited with an intention to enter into post-production. Later that company was renamed as UTV Studios Limited in December 1995, and provided post-production facilities to television software houses, private producers and advertisers.
    • The company later in the same year also ventured into the movie distribution business
  • In 1996,
    • UTV Group and Disney got into a contract to dub Disney’s library into Indian languages.
    • In the same year; UTV’s In-flight Entertainment division, also started catering to other international airlines.
  • In 1998,
    • The company’s subsidiary USL (UTV Studios Limited) acquired Ram Mohan Biographies, an animation production house pioneered by Ram Mohan himself – a leading animation artiste in the country and named it RM-USL which later got renamed to UTV Toons.
    • UTV took a diverse turn into broadcasting, by acquiring a controlling interest in Vijay Television Limited which operated Vijay TV, a 24-hour Tamil-language channel out of Chennai; from United Breweries Group.
  • In 2000,
    • With an 86% stake, UTV incorporated a group company called ‘UTV Net Solutions Ltd.’ (UTV Net) with a focus on Internet content creation and collection via Indian regional language portals (with dual language content) and controlling of their audio/video library rights for Internet usage.
    • Later in the same year, UTV Net also started broadband content collection under the brand name of sharkstream.com, through its Singapore-based subsidiary Sharkstream.com Pte. Ltd.
    • After that, the company bought the studio business of Western Outdoor Media Technologies Limited (WOMTL) with intentions to gain a clear-cut leadership position in the Post-Production, Special Effects and Animation genre.
  • In 2004, UTV launched ‘Hungama Channel’ which went on to become one of the leading children’s television channels in India in the next few years.
  • In 2005,
    • UTV Group got itself listed on the Bombay and National Stock Exchange.
    • UTV closed a outsourcing partnership deal worth $10 Million with US-based BKN New Media Inc.; after which, UTV Toons expanded to 200 employees and also purchased additional Autodesk 3D’s Max 8 software licenses.
  • In 2008, UTV entered into the broadcasting business once again through its broadcast arm, UTV Global Broadcasting Ltd (UGBL). And went on to open six channels: –
    • Bindass (formerly UTV Bindass)
    • UTV Stars
    • UTV Action (formerly Bindass Movies)
    • UTV Movies
    • UTV Movies International (International service available in North America, United Kingdom)
    • UTV World Movies
    • UTV ACTION TAMIL
  • In 2011, an era finally came to an end when Ronnie sold UTV to ‘The Walt Disney Enterprises’ at around INR 20 billion (2,000 crores).

What many tried to do since 2007 but couldn’t achieve, was finally accomplished by Disney.

As a part of this deal; Disney made a complete buyout of the public shareholders and delisted UTV from both the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange and with that W.E.F. 2nd February 2012 UTV became a wholly owned subsidiary of Disney South East Asia Pte. and Ronnie continued with the position of the Managing Director.

Out of the INR 2000 crores that he made from with the sale, around INR 800 crores was used to invest in start-ups via Unilazer Ventures (a private equity venture fund of Ronnie Screwvala). And among the companies he invested include Internet businesses like –

  • Valyoo – runs the e-commerce business Lenskart
  • OnContract – Employee marketplace,
  • com – online career counselling firm,
  • Himex – automobile analytics firm
  • in – pet ecommerce site,
  • Vellvette – online cosmetics shop,
  • IIMJobs – online jobs portal,
  • Mapmytalent – online aptitude test site,
  • 91Mobiles – price comparison site, apart from some offline ventures!

And in 2014; Ronnie surprised everyone with an official confirmation that he would be stepping down and from the position and quitting the company for good and that Siddharth Roy Kapur would be taking over, when as per records he was on a contract of 5 years.

Thus ended an unforgettable Journey of Ronnie Screwvala & UTV!

Subsidiaries & Joint Ventures

During their course of time, UTV has formed quite a few Joint Ventures & Subsidiaries; these include: –

UTV Motion Pictures: – The company was incorporated in March 2007 and is also admitted to trading on Alternate Investment Market (“AIM”) of the London Stock Exchange. The first film produced was Dil Ke Jharoke Main.

UTV TV Content Limited (UTV TV): – UTV TV was a fully owned subsidiary of UTV Software Communications Ltd and was incorporated in July 2007 with an intention to produce, exhibit and distribute television serials/programmes for television.

IG Interactive Entertainment Limited (IG): – IG was registered in September 2004 with a clear mindset of conducting Film Acquisitions, Syndications and Distribution business in the UK.

UTV Communications (USA) LLC (UTV USA): - UTV US was formed in April 2004 with a similar intention to that of IG i.e. carrying out film acquisitions, syndications and distribution business, but in the United State of America (North America) and other surrounding territories.

First Future Agri and Developers Limited (FFADL): – Incorporated in April 2008; First Future Agri and Developers Private Limited Company is again a fully owned subsidiary of UTV Software Communications Ltd. dealing into agricultural development.

UTV Global Broadcasting Limited (UGBL): – Started in June 2007; UGBL deals in broadcasting of satellite television channels in India wherein UTV Software Communications Ltd. holds 75% equity stake and as a whole, the company is fully owned subsidiaries of, Genx Entertainment Limited (Genx) and UTV Entertainment Limited (UETL).

UTV Games Limited (UTV Games): – Started in September 2008, UTV Games Limited, a 100% property of UTV Software Communications Ltd. carries the principal activity as of investment holding. It also made an acquisition of 80% equity stake in True Games Interactive Inc, an online gaming start-up Company based in California, USA.

UTV New Media Limited (UNML): – UNML again a fully owned subsidiary of UTV Software Communications Ltd. was incorporated in September 2007 to conduct the development & maintenance of websites and acquisition and exploitation of digital rights on mobile and digital platforms.

Smriti Irani Television Limited (SITL): – Smriti Irani Television Limited is a 50:50 Joint Venture between UTV Software Communications Ltd. and Mrs. Smriti Irani and was formed in December 2007 with a primary focus of television content production.

Philanthropy

SHARE: – Ronnie in the early days of UTV itself formed a foundation of Society to Heal Aid Restore Educate (SHARE) for the rural development in Maharashtra.

And with Swades, under his former brand name SHARE, Ronnie intends to empower the communities with choices for themselves and their families, and aims to give them the capability of transforming their own lives. So far, in the last five years has provided 39,000 people in 139 villages in rural Maharashtra with drinking water.

Till date, Ronnie has chipped in a whooping INR 2350 crores into the foundation from his own pocket, at the same time which is matched with an equal amount in donations as well.

Achievements

  • Named on Esquire’s List of the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century (2008)
  • Ranked 78th of the 100 most influential people in the world on the Time 100 (2009)
  • Listed amongst 25 Asia’s Most Powerful by Fortune Magazine
  • Named as the Entrepreneur of the year by Ernst & Young
  • Awarded the GQ “Philanthopist of the Year” for his work with Swades Foundation (2014)

Author:

YoChef puts the spotlight on emerging businesses and reputed personalities to help young entrepreneurs learn from their experiences. Watch out for posts published under YoChef to discover entrepreneurial journeys and life lessons.

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