Business Standard

Tarun Tejpal's many businesses

The company owned 80% by him is highly profitable, but the one that he owns 19.25% is mired in losses

Tarun Tejpal
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The alleged sexual assault by Editor-in-chief on a young journalist, who has now resigned from the magazine, has brought the well-known journalist's business under the scanner. Think 2013, the brainstorming festival organised by Tejpal in Goa during which the alleged incident took place, had a distinguished set of speakers: Robert De Niro, VS Naipual, Amitabh Bachchan, Javed Akhtar, Farooq Abdullah, Nandan Nilekani, Vinod Rai and Medha Patkar, to name a few, and even Abdul Salam Zaeef, a founder member of the Taliban.

To put together such a distinguished list of guests and host them for three days in five-star comfort would have cost Tejpal a lot of money. How did a magazine, which made losses in excess of Rs 16 crore in 2010-11 and Rs 10 crore in 2011-12 (the last year for which such information is available) and has cumulative losses of Rs 66 crore on its books, according to information available with the ministry of corporate affairs, manage to bankroll it? Though it appeared that the festival was organised by the magazine, and many sponsors believed it to be so, it was actually under a separate company called Thinkworks. (A FINE BALANCE)

The business plan
Thinkworks was originally registered as Babbler Books in February 2010. It is owned by Tejpal, his sister, Neena Sharma, and Tehelka's managing editor, Shoma Chaudhury. Tejpal owns 40,000 shares, or 80 per cent of the company, while Sharma and Chaudhury hold 10 per cent each. Thinkworks did not make money in the festival's first edition in 2011. That year, 2011-12, it had reported a loss of Rs 56,391. It turned the corner in 2012-13 when it organised the second edition of Think: it made a profit of Rs 1.99 crore on revenues of Rs 14.26 crore. Of this, corporate sponsorships accounted for Rs 12.4 crore - almost 87 per cent. Registration fees, advertising and sale of paintings made up the rest. No fewer than 34 corporations and government entities sponsored Think 2013, the third edition of the annual event. These include Bharti Airtel, Essar, DLF, Coca-Cola, Unitech, Wave, Toyota, state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals, IndusInd Bank and Goa Tourism.

Thus, while Thinkworks, the profitable company, was dominantly owned by Tejpal, the company which publishes Tehelka and in which Tejpal has a lesser stake, Anant Media, is mired in losses. Analysts say Tehelka provides the brand equity for the annual Think event. It transpires that Tehelka also provided manpower for the event. The who has claimed she was assaulted by Tejpal twice was entrusted with the task of escorting De Niro and his daughter.

According to the last available filings with the ministry of corporate affairs, Trinamool Congress MP and promoter of Alchemist group Kanwar Deep Singh controls about two-thirds of the equity of Anant Media through a company called Royal Building and Infrastructure. Royal raised its stake from 30 per cent to 65 per cent during 2011-12 by buying 101,371 equity shares. These shares were subscribed at a substantial premium of Rs 25.39 crore, which helped the company offset a part of its accumulated losses of Rs 66.17 crore. In addition to the equity stake, Royal gave unsecured loans of Rs 19.6 crore to Anant Media during 2011-12.

However, Singh has said in recent media statements that he has diluted about 20 per cent of his stake and could bring it down further. Singh did not answer repeated calls on his mobile phone. Singh's nominee on the Anant Media board, Satish Mehta, says that "a statement (on ownership) has been made already," and he has nothing to add.

While some sponsors have expressed surprise that an entirely different company from the magazine runs the Goa event, media watchers say this is not uncommon. "It is normal practice for media companies to have a separate line of business and how they organise depends on the size of the company," says Jehil Thakkar, head (media & entertainment), KPMG. "It does not have much of an impact on the advertisers as they are only bothered about their property being delivered and are not concerned about the legal structure of the company."

Intellectual melting pot
The success of Thinkworks seems to have encouraged the Tejpal siblings to explore other ideas. What if one could leverage the high-end thinking crowd that assembled once in a year in distant Goa to keep in touch throughout the year in the heart of Delhi? Thus was born Prufrock. Defining the idea of the "Art and Diners club", its website says: "Great conversation lies at the heart of every robust society. And great metropolises are defined not just by their skyscrapers and civic amenities but also by the intellectual and cultural life they nurture….Keeping this in mind, the team that created the iconic THiNK now presents an exciting and original idea: Prufrock -The Arts & Dinner Club, a private members' club, designed to be a unique cultural and intellectual hub.

With a carefully curated, by-invitation-only membership, Prufrock, is located in the heart of South Delhi - the M Block Market of Greater Kailash II - in a space that spans three floors, each with a distinct mood, all built on a value for ideas. The club is meant to be a "vibrant cultural space, where a highly accomplished, eclectic community of select urban Indians can meet and engage regularly, in an atmosphere of great intimacy with eminent people who make and shape the world - all this over fine drinks and exquisite cuisines created by a celebrity chef."

Prufrock is the property of Thriving Arts which was registered on July 2, 2013. Tejpal and Sharma, his sister, invested Rs 9 lakh in the company and picked up 80 per cent and 20 per cent stakes, respectively. On August 26, Chadha Holdings invested Rs 2 crore in the company by buying 11,111 shares at a premium of Rs 1,790 per share. Chadha Holdings belongs to the Wave group founded by slain liquor baron Ponty Chadha. Group officials have said the decision to invest in Prufrock was made by Chadha over a year ago. After his death in a shootout in November 2012, Chadha's son, Monty Chadha, is said to have decided to honour all his father's business commitments. That's how the Wave group, which has interests in liquor, real estate and sugar, came to invest in Prufrock.

Other charges
Allegations have also surfaced about the way Tejpal and his sister went about securing funds for the Goa event. Binoo John, a senior journalist and former colleague of Tejpal from pre-Tehelka years, said in a Facebook post on Friday: "The start of the Think festival was the beginning of Tarun's personal decline and that of his magazine. He and his sister stopped at nothing to get money out of corporations. Tehelka plummeted (to) the depths just as it had climbed the heights of glory and made us all proud. The biggest story that Tehelka had was killed and monetised."

In 2011, a senior journalist quit Tehelka and joined an online business news portal after the magazine refused to publish his blockbuster story on mining irregularities in Goa. The portal published the story, which led to several official investigations and court orders into the matter. When contacted, the journalist refused to comment on the matter and referred to a version of this incident published on Kafila.org, a review portal. Both Choudhary and Tejpal have declined such allegations vehemently. According to their version, the journalist was sacked for poor performance. In the same year, after the inaugural Think event, Deccan Herald had described how the Goa government, then under Congress Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, had agreed to fund the event.

Emails sent to Tejpal and Shoma Choudhary did not elicit any response. Choudhary disconnected a call made on her mobile phone. Tejpal's mobile phone remained switched off. "The allegations are completely baseless. We have been sponsoring the event for a long time. And we do not agree," says an executive with one of the corporations which sponsored the recent event in Goa. Tejpal has called the whole episode political vendetta mounted by the Bharatiya Janata Party. If that is true, and because there is a BJP government in power in Goa, Tejpal needs to worry about his profitability.

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