Ronnie Screwvala
India
Ronnie Screwvala
  • Founder, UTV Software Communications and Founder, Swades Foundation (Media; Entertainment; Diversified)
Born, Mumbai, India 1956. B.Comm, Sydenham College.
“When you are starting to build something where you don't have any working capital in the first place to actually bring people on board, they are coming for your vision, they are coming to work with your passion, but they also want to learn from you. So you have to be a guide, philosopher and everything else, and an inspirer, even when you don't have answers to solutions to 9 out of 10 problems in the first place.”

Summary

Rohinton “Ronnie” Screwvala is a famed first generation entrepreneur in India, an award-winning movie producer, a prominent philanthropist, and has been recognized by Time Magazine and Esquire as one of the most influential people of the 21st century. In this interview, he reflects on his formative years and his introduction to theater. He identifies failing college as his greatest lesson in life because with it came the insight that he wanted to become an entrepreneur and do something on his own. In 1981, Screwvala established his first business, which was in cable television. At this time, India only had one channel, government-owned Doordarshan. In this interview, Screwvala discusses his realization that he could go beyond the single channel and provide consumers with a choice by setting up a local cable TV network, called Network. He explains the difficulties he faced as a first generation entrepreneur such as lack of capital, the challenges he faced trying to build his brand, and the significant government regulations he ran into during the era of the License Raj, and how he was able to overcome them. In the late 1980s, Screwvala moved on to create a toothbrush company called Laser. He describes that the biggest lesson he learned here was the importance of working with co-founders. In 1990, along with two co-founders, Screwvala built an entertainment and media conglomerate, UTV Software Communications (always abbreviated as UTV), which diversified into areas including film and documentary production, a children’s channel called Hungama TV, advertisement production, airline entertainment, and dubbing for all foreign animation studios that came into India. Screwvala discusses what he calls a win-win situation for UTV, where Rupert Murdoch purchased 49% of the company, effectively branding UTV as part of his hugely important Star Group in India, but left Screwvala with the operating and equity control. Screwvala describes the shift from moving from a B2B company to a B2C company, and the reasons behind wanting to become a listed entity in 1995. In 2006, after successes such as Hungama TV becoming the number one children’s channel in India, US-based Disney purchased nearly a 15% stake in the company, which became full ownership by 2012. During the last section of the interview, Screwvala discusses his philanthropic work, the first of which was a not-for-profit called SHARE, standing for the society to heal, aid, restore and educate, which he founded in 1990. SHARE evolved into the Swades Foundation in 2013 with the help of his wife, which had the goal of lifting one million people out of poverty every five to six years. In 2019 the Swades Foundation was working in Raigad, Maharashtra, India with more than half a million people. Screwvala discusses the foundation, how it works, and the challenges faced by the foundation. By the time of the interview the Foundation had considerable achievements, including supporting 135,000 children in 1,275 schools, providing 32,654 homes with potable water, and grafting some 120,346 trees. To conclude the interview, Screwvala describes some of his current projects, which includes UpGrad (2015), one of the largest online education companies in India; RSVP (2018), a film company; and USports (2017), which focuses on the contact team sport kabaddi, and owns a top-ranking Mumbai team called UMumba.

 Read more

Rohinton “Ronnie” Screwvala is a famed first generation entrepreneur in India, an award-winning movie producer, a prominent philanthropist, and has been recognized by Time Magazine and Esquire as one of the most influential people of the 21st century. In this interview, he reflects on his formative years and his introduction to theater. He identifies failing college as his greatest lesson in life because with it came the insight that he wanted to become an entrepreneur and do something on his own. In 1981, Screwvala established his first business, which was in cable television. At this time, India only had one channel, government-owned Doordarshan. In this interview, Screwvala discusses his realization that he could go beyond the single channel and provide consumers with a choice by setting up a local cable TV network, called Network. He explains the difficulties he faced as a first generation entrepreneur such as lack of capital, the challenges he faced trying to build his brand, and the significant government regulations he ran into during the era of the License Raj, and how he was able to overcome them. In the late 1980s, Screwvala moved on to create a toothbrush company called Laser. He describes that the biggest lesson he learned here was the importance of working with co-founders. In 1990, along with two co-founders, Screwvala built an entertainment and media conglomerate, UTV Software Communications (always abbreviated as UTV), which diversified into areas including film and documentary production, a children’s channel called Hungama TV, advertisement production, airline entertainment, and dubbing for all foreign animation studios that came into India. Screwvala discusses what he calls a win-win situation for UTV, where Rupert Murdoch purchased 49% of the company, effectively branding UTV as part of his hugely important Star Group in India, but left Screwvala with the operating and equity control. Screwvala describes the shift from moving from a B2B company to a B2C company, and the reasons behind wanting to become a listed entity in 1995. In 2006, after successes such as Hungama TV becoming the number one children’s channel in India, US-based Disney purchased nearly a 15% stake in the company, which became full ownership by 2012. During the last section of the interview, Screwvala discusses his philanthropic work, the first of which was a not-for-profit called SHARE, standing for the society to heal, aid, restore and educate, which he founded in 1990. SHARE evolved into the Swades Foundation in 2013 with the help of his wife, which had the goal of lifting one million people out of poverty every five to six years. In 2019 the Swades Foundation was working in Raigad, Maharashtra, India with more than half a million people. Screwvala discusses the foundation, how it works, and the challenges faced by the foundation. By the time of the interview the Foundation had considerable achievements, including supporting 135,000 children in 1,275 schools, providing 32,654 homes with potable water, and grafting some 120,346 trees. To conclude the interview, Screwvala describes some of his current projects, which includes UpGrad (2015), one of the largest online education companies in India; RSVP (2018), a film company; and USports (2017), which focuses on the contact team sport kabaddi, and owns a top-ranking Mumbai team called UMumba.
Download Interview Transcript

Video Clips by Topic

Diversification

Ronnie Srewvala, who founded the Indian media conglomerate UTV in 1990, discusses how UTV diversified into new areas as it searched for gaps for audiences which could be filled, seeking to pre-empt trends rather than follow them.



Social Impact (1)

Ronnie Srewvala, who founded the Indian media conglomerate UTV in 1990, discusses how after selling UTV to Disney in 2012, he expanded his earlier philanthropic ventures and eventually founded The Swades Foundation in 2013. The goal of the Foundation was to lift a million people out of poverty.

Keywords: Social Impact, India


Social Impact (2)

Ronnie Srewvala, who founded the Indian media conglomerate UTV in 1990 and The Swades Foundation, a non-profit in 2013, which aimed to lift a million people out of poverty, discusses the strategy pursued in Raigad, Maharashtra, and how it has constantly learned about challenges and opportunities by being “there on the ground.”

Keywords: Social Impact, India


Start-up

Ronnie Srewvala, who founded the Indian media conglomerate UTV in 1990, talks about the origins of his first entrepreneurial venture a decade earlier, a cable company called Network. He describes the challenge of starting such a business at a time when India only had one terrestrial channel, and the difficulties he encounted finding his first customers.

Keywords: India, Start-up


Full Length Video (login required)

Interview Citation Format

Interview with Rohinton “Ronnie” Screwvala, interviewed by Rohit Deshpande, Mumbai, India, August 4, 2019, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School.