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‘She’s the slave driver and I’m the slave’
Behind every successful man is a woman, and is best explained by Indrani and Peter Mukerjea. The idea to start their own television business—INX Media—may have struck them on a lazy Sunday evening but today they are as busy as they can be

IT WAS 9.30 am on a crazy Monday morning and I was at the office of INX Media to meet Peter Mukerjea (former Chief Executive Officer of the Star group) and his entrepreneur wife, Indrani Mukerjea, in their new avatar as heads of their own media network. Like all Monday mornings, this particular Monday was also going to be a busy day for them, chock-a-block with meetings, and their office had made repeated requests to be on time.

The couple, however, decided to catch up over tea before they get busy with the day. The past few weeks had been exceptionally busy for them as they were caught up with the launch of their channel. They had been on the move constantly and had been missing each other. It happened to be one of those rare days when the two of them were there in office at the same time. As I join the couple in Peter's office, Indrani says the third floor of the Apsara Cinema Complex (the INX office on Lamington Road in Mumbai) has become a home away from home for the couple ever since they decided to work together. "Our hectic work schedules give us hardly any time at home."

A huge painting of colourful flowers, made by their 10-year-old daughter Vidhi, adorns Peter's office. The happy family pictures and the proud display of the works of art of Vidhi in their respective cabins indeed shows that their office has become an extended home for the Mukerjeas.

After all, one of the greatest motivation for Indrani to work with Peter was to be able to spend more time with him. While the decision to launch their own television business may have happened over a glass of wine on a lazy Sunday evening, the driving force, says Peter, has been Indrani, who has been an entrepreneur all through. As he jokingly says, "She has always been the slave driver, while I have been the slave."

Indrani, says Peter, always told him that he can't carry on working for the Star group all his life and it was time he did something on his own. And the obvious way forward was to launch a media network. Even for Indrani, media was the obvious transition despite having worked as a search consultant for almost 15 years. "I have been surrounded by the media industry 24X7. All my social contacts are from the media and even during my search career 90% of my business came from the media industry."

And above all, they felt that there was a gap in the industry which they could fill up. INX Media hit the skies late last year with a general entertainment channel 9X, a music channel 9XM, and their English news channel—INX News—is expected to go on air in March.

Difficult times are over

However, working as a husband-wife team was not a cakewalk for Peter and Indrani. Since both came from diverse backgrounds, they didn't necessarily think alike. Peter once again says that the difference between their styles of functioning was like that of a slave driver and slave.

He says that since she was completely new to the industry, in the first few months, he constantly kept trying her abilities, and she kept challenging him. However, in due course, they did start appreciating each other's strengths and supported one another's weaknesses. They feel they complement each other quite well today. "I start a sentence and she completes it," comments Peter, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. Today, the couple feels the uniqueness in their work styles is a great advantage for their business. Peter says that while he is a more relaxed person who doesn't get worked up easily, he feels that Indrani is more intense and particular about details.

He says that for Indrani, running a media business is like having her first baby, while for him it is like the second one. "When you have your first baby, you are worried about her diet and her sleep time, you make sure everything is done right. But by the time you have your second or third baby, you know how to take things in your stride and what to expect," he says. "Since I have been in the industry for so many years, I have an overall macro perspective, while Indrani is into detailing. She makes sure that things actually happen and she doesn't slip on details either," he adds.

Indrani too calls Peter the visionary and herself the executor. "Peter has the long-term vision and he needed someone like me to execute his vision. Like any household, he gets the money and I spend it. He is in charge of revenues and I take care of the content."

While for most new channels going on air, the biggest challenge is to win the advertisers' confidence, Peter and Indrani feel they have a slight advantage. Indrani says that her career as a search consultant enabled her to work with the same set of clients that Peter worked with in Star. "We have had common business relations and our clients have tremendous comfort levels with us."

Not a mom-'n'-pop store

Peter Mukerja

"When we switch on the TV at home... we end up noticing the quality of graphics and the storyline" Peter Mukerjea

Working together may have enabled the two to spend more time together, but they quickly say that they are by no means a mom-'n'-pop store. Attracting professionals is their USP, they say, as they feel that having depth in management is crucial for the newer channels to do well. "We have people like Shankar Narayan (Chief Financial Officer), Prabal Gaanguly (Director, Revenue Management), Vynsley Fernandes (Chief Operating Officer), who are all hardcore professionals," says Peter.

Indrani adds that unlike most CEOs who like to be both creative directors as well as distribution heads, she believes in delegating. She feels that unless they delegate, they can't use the core strengths of the people they have hired. "The organisation is very open and there are absolutely no bureaucratic layers," says Vikas Varma, Business Head of 9XM, the network's music channel. "The couple is always open to ideas."

Work-life balance

So, what does the couple do in their free time? While Peter loves to play golf and is keenly interested in motoring, Indrani loves to cook. She says that she won Peter's heart through her culinary skills. "He loves my mutton curry," she says. However, the couple hardly has any time to pursue their personal interests. Today, there is hardly any difference between our work and personal life, says Indrani, as their focus clearly is on setting up the INX network.

Even when they are in their personal space, however much they try not to, shop-talk does crop up. "We have become off-duty policemen," says Peter. "Even when we switch on the television at home to watch a show, we don't enjoy it as regular people do. We end up noticing the quality of graphics, how well the storyline is progressing and so on," adds Peter.

However, the two make it a point to spend at least one hour of quality time with their daughter everyday. Indrani admits that it is Peter who makes the extra effort. Peter says that spending time with his daughter not only re-energises him but also helps him get insights on the likes and dislikes of that segment of audience. "It is important to spend at least one hour with the below-15 age group, as you can get valuable insights into what the next generation wants."

The couple loves travelling, seeing new places, meeting people and trying out new cuisines. Indrani says both of them are fond of good living and a high quality of life, which, she feels, reflects on the work culture of the organisation as well as the look and feel of their channels. "We are an extremely open set of people. Anybody across the organisation can walk into our rooms whenever they feel like," she says.

The couple's concerted effort to make a mark in the media industry seems to be paying off. Their music channel—9XM—is already among the top three most viewed music channels, while some of the shows on 9X, their general entertainment offering, are being talked about. Are Peter and Indrani on their way to becoming the first couple of the media industry? Keep watching!

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