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Reaching for the stars, again


Shuchi Bansal  |  New Delhi 

Former Star India chief executive Peter Mukerjea's wife, Indrani, is unlikely to be happy with the farewell gift her husband has got from his colleagues in Star TV: a brand new Royal Enfield. Mukerjea loves bikes while his wife hates them ever since he crashed his own a couple of years ago. "I also got a set of golf clubs," says Mukerjea who was quite touched by the overwhelming turnout at his farewell held at Hotel Marriott in Mumbai last week. "It was an emotional moment. After all I was part of News Corp's Star TV for 14 years," says Mukerjea.
Pratim Mukerjea became Peter when he moved to England with his doctor father. A Doon school alumnus, he completed his school and college education in England where he also attended evening classes to study business management. His first job was with the food major Heinz in the UK. On his return to India, Mukerjea moved into advertising with Ogilvy & Mather. He was lured by Star TV when he was looking after its advertising business as part of DDB Needham's client servicing team in Hong Kong.
The job, however, was in India and Mukerjea was sent to Mumbai as vice president, advertising sales to Star when Andrew Carnegie was the boss. On January 1, 2000, he was appointed the chief executive of Star's India operations. Though a hard taskmaster, Mukerjea remains one of the most popular bosses at Star. Says former Star employee and NDTV Media's CEO, Raj Nayak: "He is an out and out people's person. He can create and harness a good management team. He delegates authority and often repeats a phrase he coined, 'Why keep a dog and bark yourself'".
Close associates add that Mukerjea wasn't short of ideas either. The rise of Star Plus as the number one Hindi entertainment channel under his leadership is well known. What is not known, however, is that the Star head honcho was the prankster in the office. "You could not leave your mobile phone unattended in his vicinity. He would send nasty messages to listed in your mobile directory. He's got into trouble because of this habit," smiles a senior Star executive.
But it was the same liveliness that won him the "Happiest Man in the Class" award at Kellogg Business School which he attended three to four years ago for a refresher executive programme. "They did not say that I was the most intelligent person in the class. But they did not say that I was the most stupid either. Being the "happiest" is not a bad place to be in," says Mukerjea. What keeps him in good humour, perhaps, is the company of his nine-year-old daughter Vidhi, other than watching sports like golf, tennis and Formula One on the telly.
After a decade of being at the forefront at Star, Mukerjea is truly today quietly planning his next media move. For the time being, his wife Indrani is fronting the media and entertainment business he's setting up under INX Media. The company has applied for Foreign Investment Promotion Board approval for investments from companies like Temasek Holdings which will pick up 19 per cent equity through Dunearn Investments, New Silk Route which will buy 20 per cent and New Vernon Private Equity Fund that will own a 6.31 per cent stake. That's the foreign holding portion of the business. Among the Indian investors are Kotak Mahindra Capital and Srei. INX plans a bouquet of 12 channels both in the entertainment and news space. Needless to say a new soap opera is being scripted for the Indian small screen.

First Published: Mon, March 26 2007. 00:00 IST