He’s not given a single one-to-one interview since he took over as CEO of Hindi GEC Colors two years and three months ago, reflects Nayak. It turns out that he didn’t want to as he wanted to be sure he had a story to tell. He does have one now - the channel’s success story. And a landmark occasion to boot: the channel turned five this July.
Much like the flight making its way to the Mumbai airport one sees through the windows of his corner office, Nayak’s not going to rest for long on the milestone. He has newer skies to conquer.
The former Star, NDTV and Aidem hand moved to Colors quite by accident. Fifteen days prior to his joining the channel, he hadn’t even applied for a job, he reveals. He was made an offer he could not refuse. The canvas of a general entertainment channel attracted him. Besides filling a void in his portfolio, what also worked in favour of the move was the fact that he had never ‘captained the ship’. But there was something weighing him down: the 200-plus employees at his entrepreneurial venture Aidem. Having placed over 100 of them in 10 days (with higher salaries) and ensuring that the baby would continue to grow under an investor, he moved.
‘Not a single person was laid off’, recalls Nayak fondly, underlining the value of values, and relationships, when he says, “At the end of the day, those 200 people are my brand ambassadors.”
For a person who has admittedly ‘planned nothing’ in life, Nayak had to plan another people decision after he came on board, inheriting the CEO’s mantle from Rajesh Kamath. The first temptation was to move some members of his team with him, to Colors. He resisted that, choosing to run with the current team, which had also seen the exit of the programming head.
“My boss did give me the choice of hiring a few people. I said the only way I could win the trust of the team was to run with them. But I told them that they needed to prove themselves in a year. This was the team that had made the channel. And they have lived up, blossomed, excelled. That’s my biggest feel good factor - to have managed to do what we have as a challenger brand - with the same team,” beams the proud mentor. He is also quick to point out that the average age of his leadership team is 31 years, a number his age isn’t helping bring down.
Back from a two-week holiday to Germany and Austria, he is all charged up. Looking at the TAM figures that have just come in (after a brief hiatus too), he says, “God has been kind.” Another thing he’s grateful for is some advice along the way that has helped him move up to where he has.
He recalls his early days at Star, when he was an area sales manager based in Delhi. The ‘hands on’ Raj Nayak got a bit of career advice from his then boss, whom he refuses to name. Every time a senior role was up for grabs, Nayak’s name would come up. And then people would say, ‘Don’t touch him, the market will collapse’. He was, as he admits, becoming ‘’A bottle neck for people below him’.
He recounts his boss’ advice: ‘Most people think you have to be indispensible to the profile you have. You should actually be able to delegate. That means you are in control.’
“That changed my life; it changed my perspective. At Colors, my job is that of coach, manager, mentor... our second line is the best in the business. The channel is on auto pilot,” claims Nayak, with a rider: if there is a problem, he must be the first to know.
‘Everyone is a salesperson’
Asked how the transition from sales to being the CEO of a channel has panned out, he retorts: “I am still a salesman.” Not just does Nayak take great pride in his sales background, he also takes the pains to explain why it’s a good place to start.
“You learn some valuable lessons along the way. You learn never to take ‘No’ for an answer. You learn that over time, humility is the only asset. Somewhere, you get those street smarts – that entrepreneurial streak gets into you. Salespersons are also creative by instinct and they learn people management skills,” he explains. Being a salesperson, he’s also able to take calls on content, he reasons. Something tells him what will sell.
He also offers a philosophical take on being a salesperson. “Everyone in life is a salesperson. Half the time, you are selling something to your kid. We’re all selling something to someone all the time. To be able to do that successfully over time, you have to be seen as doing business in a win-win situation. Or else, it won’t last.”
He knows a thing or two about relationships. Ask him about business in the media getting commoditised and transactional, and he’s quick to point out that the same holds true even in a mandi. He adds, “Even there, relationship plays a big role.”
The next wave
He’s as excited about the next season of Big Boss as he is about the coming digital wave. A Colors app is coming soon, even as a dedicated digital team put together14 months ago is beginning to see results of content created for the web.
The coming 12-minute ad cap is welcome, says Nayak, who terms its proposed implementation from October as ‘a bit unfair’. He proposes a two-year window for the same, to allow the benefits of digitisation to kick in.
A lot is changing, but some things won’t. What will not change is the family gift hamper his friends in the industry receive each year, around the New Year. The first such hamper went out around 10 years ago, handpicked by his wife – it was, after all, meant for the entire family.
What will also not change is Colors’ association with the IAA Leadership Awards 2014. Another win-win deal, crafted by a salesman-statesman who doesn’t take ‘No’ for an answer.