Ronnie Screwvala

Meeting Ronnie Screwvala in Mumbai

We’re driving through Mumbai on a Sunday morning, enjoying the comparatively calm and empty streets. We’re on our way to meet Ronnie Screwvala, who has invited us to his home in the upmarket south Mumbai area of Breach Candy.

“You realize we are on our way to meet a man who is listed in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world?” I tell Anouk. 

“I know,” she says, “his profile is impressive: he is the founder and CEO of the UTV Group, a company that works in broadcasting, gaming, film and other businesses. He started in 1981 with a small cable TV network that sold video services to residents in a particular part of Mumbai. At that time, this did not exist at all in India, so he created this need from scratch. This service grew out to become UTV, which actually was India’s first independent television and film production house.” 

“Ronnie seems to be one of these people with a clear vision of the future,” I say, “with a sense of innovation and the guts to go for what he believes in, before everyone else does. I think that is what makes him stand out from the crowd. And I heard he sold UTV a while ago and is currently managing director of Disney-UTV India.”

“But he’s just announced that he’s leaving Disney on 1 January 2014,” I say. “Which makes me very curious to hear what he’s planning to do next!”

“Let’s go and find out!” says Anouk as we pull up to his house. We take the lift up to the top floor where Ronnie lives in a stunning timber-clad penthouse with views across the city. Ronnie is waiting for us in the library and welcomes us warmly. After we tell him about our project and our journey until now, we ask him about his role in changing the Indian media landscape over the past decades. 

Ronnie Screwvala
Ronnie Screwvala in his home library

“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” says Ronnie, “but it was more or less by chance that I ended up in the media sector. 

“And I guess you could say that I made an impact,” he adds. “You know back then, media didn’t really exist. There was entertainment. So we saw that what we needed to do was not just create a company, but an industry!” 

“Talk about picking a challenge!” says Anouk.

Ronnie smiles. “Yes, it was challenging, but also very interesting: we actually built the media industry from scratch. When we started, we were with around 8 to 10 people, a very small group of believers. And what we realized later, is that we had indeed created something big, something beyond ourselves; a whole new industry. And as you know, TV influences people’s minds, it creates impact, so what we accomplished, is that we broke the mold. At least, from a thought leadership point of view.”

“That’s a huge accomplishment indeed,” Anouk comments in the middle of a short silence.

“We heard that you have decided to leave Disney soon,” I say. “So a new phase is starting. What’s next for you?” 

“I have so many ideas,” says Ronnie, “but I still haven’t quite decided what it’s going to be. In any case I want to work on different things and divide my time between non-profit and business. I’m keen to pass on my experience to the next generation.”

“I read you have already founded several non-profit organizations. Are you going to develop those?” 

“Partly, but I also want to work on new projects, like the idea I have for a TV show to stimulate entrepreneurship in India. I want to give entrepreneurship a better image.”

“In what way? Is it not well looked upon in India?” asks Anouk.

“People see it as second best,” says Ronnie. “If you can’t get a job, then you become an entrepreneur. I want to change that. Because India needs entrepreneurs: they are the fuel of the economy and they are the ones who can really advance the country.”

“You also founded an NGO that works in rural areas, right?” I ask.

“That’s right: Swades, which works in rural areas of Maharashtra,” says Ronnie. “I am passionate about it and we have achieved a lot already. The main concept is that we want to empower communities and give them the capacity to transform their lives.”

“And how do you do that?”

“You need a 360-degree approach: you have to address different aspects simultaneously in order to really advance: you can’t just focus on education if a village has no water supply or sanitation. All aspects need to be addressed.

“And you have to make people accountable, make sure they take the work forward and then you have to leave and let them take the work forward themselves. This is the only way to build self-respect and really have a lasting impact.”

“It sounds amazing,” says Anouk. “We’d love to keep hearing about your new activities, not just with Swades, but also all the other projects.”

“That’s great, so why don’t we agree to meet next year again. I’ll tell you the latest news of my different projects!”


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