'Why not go far away?'

Last Updated: Fri, Aug 12, 2011 19:11 hrs

Atul Sobti, former MD and CEO of Ranbaxy, quit that job to start Gurgaon’s first exclusive local paper.

On Sohna Road in Gurgaon, some 35 km from Delhi, stands a swank new building. The exterior is complete, down to the fountains leading to the glassy entrance. Inside, only a little finishing remains. On the second floor, Atul Sobti’s dream project is also almost there. In two weeks, the former MD and CEO of Ranbaxy will give Gurgaon its first exclusive, weekly paper, Friday Gurgaon.

It’s an unusual switch, from boardroom to journalism, CEO to editor-publisher. “Starting a newspaper has been a very old passion. I’ve waited for a long time to do this, about a decade,” says Sobti, who has also worked with Hero Honda as executive director, Xerox, HCL and Elbee (a courier company). In his 34-year career, he has never worked in the same industry twice. “Leaving one company to work for the competition was never the choice,” he says. “If you are moving out, why go to the adjacent company; why not go far away?” That’s what he’s doing now.

Only this time, he is not moving from one established company to another. Ranbaxy is nearly a $2 billion company. “This newspaper I’m setting up from scratch — from scratch in my head to scratch in every way,” says Sobti. “I’m 57. Another five years and I’m sure I would not have been able to do this.” So he put everything on fast track. In the year since he resigned, he launched a company called Arap Media Ventures; dug into his savings (the investment is less than Rs 100 crore); got “like-minded people” on board; read books on design, copyediting, photojournalism and publishing; went through 1,000-odd job applications and replied to each one personally; interviewed 300 people in four months and finally hired 20 — correspondents, designers, photojournalists, sales and ad team included.

The dummy of the 32-page, all-colour tabloid, which will be printed on imported newsprint in Noida, is ready. Priced at Rs 7 per copy, it’s looking at a starting circulation of 10,000 and hopes to reach 100,000 families soon. “Gurgaon has a good mix of readers and advertisers,” says Sobti. He says he’s a Gurgaonite, though he was brought up in Delhi and studied at The Lawrence School (Sanawar), St Stephen’s and IIM-Ahmedabad. “Gurgaon is unique, it’s cosmopolitan, it has a lot more executives, entrepreneurs and real estate developers than anywhere else in the country. It deserves its own newspaper.” Though Times of India and Hindustan Times already have Gurgaon editions, he says those only touch the surface, while he hopes to give a 360-degree view.

While 80 per cent of the news will be on local lifestyle, civic and social issues, value-building and agenda-setting, the rest will include global news, wellness and a children’s section. “I hope to catch 5- to 10-year-olds; we’ve already lost the 15- to 25-year-olds in terms of newspaper reading,” says Sobti, who is an avid reader. “I’ve never used a laptop and cannot read more than four lines on a computer, but put a 200-page document in front of me, in hard copy, and I will go through it happily.” He intends to pore over every word, for the newspaper ought to be “error-free and visually appealing”.

Sobti’s has refused several assignments, offers for consultancy and to join any board of directors so that he can focus on his newspaper “100 per cent”. “That includes opening the office, dusting the office, making tea and, at the end of the day, closing the office.”

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