In the business of media, 12 years is a long time to spend with one employer. Meet Sameer Nair, the new chief executive of Star Entertainment, a company formed after Star India split itself inbto two units earlier last month: Star Group and Star Entertainment. And, what a way to get to the top: Nair wend his way to the top selling ads, hatching a plan to make an independent movie and even hawking hotdogs in Mumbai suburbs.
Nair is perhaps India's only television CEO with programming in his corporate DNA. Most other television honchos —Star's own Peter Mukherjea, Kunal Dasgupta of Sony Television and Zee's Pradeep Guha —have come from the sales and marketing ranks.
The 41-year-old new Star CEO joined the company in 1994, taking charge of the network's English movie channel, Star Movies, at a time when television was an emerging industry.
In July 2000 in a management shake-up, Nair was given charge of programming of the Star Network including Star Plus, Star Movies, Star World, Star News, Star Gold and Channel [V]. Star Plus' ratings lagged market-leaders Sony and Zee. The year proved to be special not just for him but for his entire team as Star Plus launched what turned out to be Indian television's most popular show of many years: a quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati (modelled on Who wants to be a millionaire on the UK's ITV channel and ABC in the US).
The show, which Nair was instrumental in getting an initially-reluctant Amitabh Bachchan to anchor, catapulted Star Plus to the number one spot measured by viewership ratings in no more than a couple of months since its first episode. Together with soaps aimed at the growing Indian middle class, Nair helped tether Star firmly to the top. "Five years hence," says the understated CEO, "the big concern is we better stay at number one for the next five years."
In 2001, Nair was the prime driver in the launch of Channel [V]'s reality show—Popstars, a search for India's first all-girl pop band. The show's success saw Nair ascending to the position of chief operating officer of Star India in April 2002. Within six months, subscriptions to Star's distribution doubled. Also to his credit is the purchase of Vijay TV, Star's regional language channel in southern India and the launch of Star Gold, its Hindi movie channel. "As you get more experience and have more knowledge, grow older, you want to make a bigger difference," says the economics graduate from Madras University.
New initiatives are in the pipeline. The recent restructuring of the company now affords Nair and his team the ease of operating more efficiently. "New programming, new channels, expansion into the regional markets, we will do all of that stuff. The reorganisation will allow us to become even stronger," he says.
Nair's new mandate is also to pursue growth opportunities in new media, including wireless and internet. So, what's next on the diary of Rupert Murdoch's new man in India? Wedding bells. Yes, the honcho rarely seen in a tie will tie the knot for the second time with an ex-colleague on April 16 and then jet off to Greece for a short holiday.