September 21, 2023
Riding The Winds Of Change
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Riding The Winds Of Change

Mar 13, 2023

He entered The Indian Express at a crucial inflection point not only for his paper but for print media in general. News had to meet the demand of digitalisation resulting in falling hard copy sales. Steering the growth of the group’s digital business as its Executive Director, Anant Goenka talks about negotiating the transition and the future.

A media behemoth that has enlightened readers with news and views for almost a century, The Indian Express Group has stood on the pillars of truthfulness, fearlessness and independent journalism, as enshrined by its venerable founder late Ramnath Goenka. Having grown from a singleedition newspaper in the ’30s to a conglomerate with newspapers in multiple languages, a number of trade magazines and a vast digital presence to boot, the group, headquartered in Mumbai, continues to bring news, knowledge and information backed by comprehensive analyses and fearless reporting.

The newspaper, founded by Ramnath Goenka, has won the Vienna-based International Press Institute’s India Award for outstanding journalism in the public interest twice. It has won every major national journalism award and several international awards, including the Kurt Shorck Award for International Journalism, Natali Prize for Journalism and the International Federation of Journalists—Journalism for Tolerance Prize.

Ninety and going strong

The Indian Express Group is India’s second largest and amongst the world’s largest digital news media groups, reaching well over 200 million unique users a month, in seven languages including the web-only ieBangla, ieMalayalam, ieTamil and It produces a suite of B2B and B2C event IPs such as Ramnath Goenka

Journalism Awards, Express Adda, and Financial Express Fintech Summit. It publishes well-known dailies like The Indian Express, The Financial Express, Jansatta (Hindi daily), Loksatta (Marathi daily) and a few trade magazines, including Express Pharma, Express Healthcare, Express Computers and CRN India. Each of these has leading digital presence in its respective category. The Indian Express specifically is the world’s 16th largest news site. And growing!

Overall, as a digital news group, it is counted amongst the world’s largest. It publishes news in seven languages and plans are afoot to launch in a few more languages over the next couple of years. At the helm today is an able management that includes industry veteran Viveck Goenka, who heads the group as Chairman and Managing Director, and his son Anant Goenka who, as the Executive Director, has steered the expansion of the group’s digital business in recent years. Anant Goenka joined the family business over a decade ago, infusing fresh energy and a new perspective into the group—his leadership qualities is attested by a number of prestigious awards and recognition from society at large that include The Economic Times 40 Under Forty Award and GQ The 50 Most Influential Young Indians 2016 Award.

Little Anant with his late grandfather Ramnath Goenka

A passion for journalism

As the scion of The Indian Express Group, Anant Goenka’s engagement with the media business is total and goes back to his teenage years. It all began with summers spent in the newsrooms of various media companies and then proceeding to USA to pursue Business and Brand Management at Marshall School of Business, The University of Southern California, where he was later awarded a Dean’s Scholarship for print journalism. Inexplicably, despite the print journalism course, and the award, he, at first, found writing to be a diffident pursuit. A four-week summer school attended at the Harvard University to learn basic journalism, however, proved to be critical, thanks to his professor Andrea McCarren, who boosted his confidence to pursue a Master’s degree in Journalism. Looking back, Anant gratefully acknowledges Professor McCarren’s role in helping him take the initial steps of his career. An accomplished journalist today, Anant’s address at the Gateway of India on the 10th anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, his writings on Punjab drugs, the India-Pakistan border parade and on the future of media in a polarised climate, have all been widely shared and discussed. His 2015 interview with actor Aamir Khan was one of the most watched interviews of the year.

Anant & Viveck Goenka with Amit Shah, Union Minister of Home & Coordination at The Indian Express Excellence in Governance Awards 2022 in New Delhi

Coming to a crossroads

After academics and working for Bloomberg’s commercial team in London, he returned to India and worked for a year at Spenta Multimedia, the well-known publishing house in Mumbai and the publishers of Marwar India magazine; did a brief stint at Bain; and finally joined the family business. “I was inducted into the Group’s Board and took over our fledgling digital business. I was just 25 then,” says Goenka.

The employees at the company headquarters welcomed him as the next generation promoter. For them it was heartening to see that there was going to be new energy in the organisation. His joining perked up his father too, who now looked at things with renewed interest and was more hands-on with affairs. But all was not well. The CEO of the day seemed jaded—he would spend more time outside the office than inside, he wouldn’t sanction computers, funds were low, people wouldn’t turn up for work before noon and there was complete disdain for the digital medium, even though digital content was gaining ground at an alarming pace. There was a lot of pride for the role the group played in society, but commercial growth almost was an alien concept.

Today, when things look brighter, in hindsight Anant feels grateful that he had joined at a time when the only direction to move was upwards. “If I were a professional, I would have started looking for another job months after joining the company. But as an owner who thinks the company—whatever state it is in—is his life, failure isn’t an option. There is no Plan B. That brings to the fore a type of leadership that can never be taught,” he says.

Anant Goenka interacting with Bill Gates, Co-chair & Trustee, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, during the 5th Ramnath Goenka Lecture in New Delhi

Ushering in a new era

The initial hiccups are a thing of the past now. The team has adapted to change and evolved—and happily, it largely consists of the same old people who were there before Anant joined the company, except for the CEO. The going wasn’t easy though. With digital content finding more takers with every passing year, at the outset many print houses found themselves at a crossroads with both print and digital mediums clamouring for attention. Producing digital content, though easier and quicker, meant a departure from the normal and negotiating the transition was not always easy. For Anant and the team at The Indian Express, it felt like an uphill battle to integrate, both finding themselves lacking the confidence needed to make headway. “There was a wall between digital and print and I kept that wall intact for the first two years,” reveals Goenka. He was new to the organisation and wanted to feel confident as a manager first. “We started puncturing holes in the wall after those two years, and it’s only in the last four years, especially post-Covid, that there is no wall! Today, the whole organisation is thinking digital and ‘digital first’, though it is the print business that is bringing the larger part of the revenue,” he adds.

Interestingly, it was the older employees in the organisation who were more eager to think digital and learn and grow than the younger ones. The younger employees seemed stuck in the print world. About how easy or difficult it was to get things going amidst the trying times, Goenka says, “Nothing is easy—it was a question of gaining confidence; a question of how to do it, and we have been able to do a decent job. There is still a long way to go, of course.”

The group’s digital business is looking up, anyway, and the numbers show it. “We are possibly the only news company in India to touch 200 million users without ever going into a loss. However, I can’t take the credit for it. The credit goes to our chairman, my father and the Group CEO who joined the company a year after I did,” says Goenka. He feels that this success would not have been possible if his father and he didn’t have confidence in each other.

Anant & Viveck Goenka presenting a special token to Honourable PM Shri Narendra Modi at Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Awards 2016

Keeping the legacy alive

Not only has the learning curve been stiff for him, but there also has been the group’s legacy to uphold and take forward. In a news environment flooded by either advocacy or clickbait, Goenka has steered the expansion of the Express’s digital business in tune with the group’s enduring values of fairness, accuracy and courage. These were burnished by his grandfather Ramnath Goenka when he launched the group 90 years ago and are today the hallmark of its investigative and explanatory journalism. For the younger Goenka, the one word for Ramnath Goenka is ‘independent’—in his views and thought process. Even today, the group’s anti-establishment DNA is well-known. Its investigative journalism, from Panama Papers to the Videocon-ICICI transactions, from WhatsApp lynchings across India to empty engineering colleges has set off policy changes and shaped public discourse.

Just as much as his grandfather’s legacy continues to influence, guide and shape Goenka’s career, his father Viveck Goenka’s immense experience as a media person too has helped him navigate through good and bad times. One of the strengths of family businesses is that while there are steep learning curves, there are also, by default, the benefits of hindsight and wisdom—the old wisdom from which the organisation benefits. Goenka too has benefited from the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of years, given his father’s involvement with the group spanning several decades, during which he has closely worked with and seen the rise and fall of a succession of prime ministers, starting from Rajiv Gandhi in the ’80s to Narasimha Rao to IK Gujral to HD Deve Gowda to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi. “There is a lot of learning that my father has institutionalised and given to me,” he says. “He is an extremely respected media personality and has independence in his DNA which he got from my great-grandfather Ramnathji. I can’t imagine us having achieved anything without his towering yet calming presence.”

Despite being a journalist at heart, Goenka orchestrates his diverse roles very well. “Between my father, our Group CEO, digital CEO and our newspaper editors—we all work closely under the guidance of my father. But I like to get my hands dirty. I get involved with every aspect of the organisation. We aren’t very top heavy so there’s a lot of work to be done.”

With His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, wife Kanika and mother Ananya Goenka

Growing by leaps and bounds

As for future plans, the group is experimenting with paywalls and other forms of reader revenue, which will be a big area of investment. “We have seen that quality content is creating a fairly sizeable audience of discerning consumers of news, so we will supplement advertisement revenue with reader revenue going forward,” he adds. In view of the enormous growth that the digital advertising pie has seen during his 11 years in the trade, Goenka is optimistic about the future. All they need to do, he says, is just keep fighting for a share of the extremely fast-growing market because even if they were to stay with their current market share, they would still be able to grow.

All said and done, to what does the group ascribe this success? “I think the main thing we did differently from others was that we viewed digital as an opportunity and not a threat at an early stage. We look at platforms like Google and Facebook as partners and not as competition or as threats,” he quips. Goenka has also invested great time and effort in travelling. Every year he makes two foreign study tours of various news organisations having exposure in the evolved digital markets—to know what they are doing and to expose himself to global trends.

All in all, it has been a fulfilling experience for Goenka. Now in his mid-30s, he has a long way to go and remains steadfast and focused on the path chosen. “I can do what I am doing for the rest of my life, and be happy and wake up every morning with a smile and a sense of purpose,” he concludes. Judging from his dedication and thirst for growth, that may well be true!

Arun Shourie
Economist & Ex-editor, The Indian Express

In The Indian Express, Anant Goenka has the great legacy of a fearless newspaper. And it is in large measure because of him that today it is the only paper that is doing what an independent paper should be doing. All of us readers wish him strength and fortitude.

Niraj Bajaj
Chairman, Bajaj Auto Ltd

Anant represents the best of India’s youth. He has contributed immensely to The Indian Express’ digital transformation journey. Express Adda is a tremendous addition to the Group. I have known Anant since he was very young. He has grown up to become very intelligent, well-mannered and charming, articulate, humble, mature and a responsible adult with tremendous sense of humour. I am really proud of him. He will surely make a great name and reputation for himself in the world of media. He is fortunate to have had such a rich legacy which includes the patriot and stalwart pujya Ramnath Goenka.

Maneck Davar
Publisher, Spenta Multimedia

Anant Goenka knew, ever since he gained consciousness, that he had an almost impossible legacy to fulfill, that of Ramnath Goenka (RNG), his grandfather and founder of The Indian Express. While most his age read Enid Blyton, he devoured the morning newspaper printed in the basement of the penthouse in which he resided. He knew that his future was linked to the paper, but was also aware that it required a new direction to remain relevant and profitable.
Anant’s achievement till date is to convert the Express into a digital powerhouse of content, making it a more contemporary and accessible brand. The Indian Express, from its establishment in the freedom movement of the 1930s to RNG’s demise six decades later, was cast in the mould of its founder. RNG was feisty, combative, an iconoclast who felt life was incomplete unless there was a battle to be fought and a war to be won. His finest hour came during the Emergency, where he stood unflinching and relentless in his opposition to the subversion of democratic norms.
Temperamentally, Anant is closer to his father Viveck in his equanimity, than his grandfather. What he is uncompromising about are the values of RNG and the independence RNG fostered in his papers. The Indian Express gives space to columnists and writers with views inimical to the government, but its voice continues to be respected because RNG’s contribution can never be forgotten and his spirit can never be diminished. Anant is mature beyond his age; he possesses equal quantities of humility, sincerity and sensitivity inculcated by his mother Ananya, and is destined to script a new chapter.