Bollywood or business: Shah Rukh Khan's unique philosophy of success
Courtesy: Economic Times - Brand Equity 17th August, 2012.
As we are ushered into the 24th floor suite at a posh Bandra hotel, the Badshah of Bollywood greets us warmly, the ever-present cigarette smouldering in one hand. As his aides buzz around to get him a sandwich, Shah Rukh 'King' Khan strolls to the sea-facing window and muses aloud, "Too bad Sea Rock hotel is gone. I'd always dreamt of buying it during my struggler days."
Staring far into the sea, watching the waves splash around, it looks as if he is trying to relive those frustrating days of sitting on Bandra's bandstand with nothing more than just a dream. But with success, SRK's dreams have only gotten bigger.
Circa 2012, he is not only the biggest star in Bollywood, but also owner of the IPL-winning Kolkata Knightrider team, and promoter of Red Chillies Entertainment and Red Chillies VFX. SRK, who has been retained by TAG Heuer as brand ambassador for the 9th year, discusses his unique philosophy of success. Edited excerpts:
1. So what drives you — a higher goal, insecurity or success itself?
Sharukh: You know, I delivered a speech on success for Young President's Organisation a few years ago. Success is an extremely strange thing. It has two elements. First, it cannot be passed on, however much you try, whether you are a CEO of a company, or a parent. And the second thing about it is that the successful person actually actually does not know why he or she is successful. Of course, you can always say things like: the more I practice, the easier it becomes, etc. People get cagey trying to explain the reason for success and they hide behind big words.
Someone asked Warren Buffet, how he was so successful in his investments. Buffet said: 'I take the right decisions'. The person asked: 'And how do you take right decisions?' He replies: 'Experience'. He was further asked: 'How do you get experience?' Buffet said: 'By making the wrong decisions'. So even Warren Buffet cannot explain the reason for success — no one can.
So when you ask me what drives me, it's really none of the five top things: profit, fame, the quest for excellence and perfection, wanting to do better than I did last time, or just because this is what I do. I think it is something as basic as, feeling good about what you do. And then everything stems from it. Whenever I've felt good doing something, it has always been successful. I felt good about getting into cricket. Fine, it wasn't successfully immediately.
People criticise you because their analysis of your success from exterior forces is based on the five peripherals. And I explain that yes, I lost money on RaOne but it feels good, and I will make it again. I could not have done RaOne 20 years back, but now I can afford to do it, and lose a bit of money if I need to, as long as it felt right. Of course I am in a lot of businesses now. Some of those things I do not feel good about, so I don't like to do them, but once I feel good about my core business, I go for it.
2. You have created an ecosystem of success around you, right producers, right directors, right co-star's etc. Do you owe your success to this ecosystem, or was it because of your success that you were able to make those choices?
Sharukh: Actually, most of the work I have done is with first or second-time directors — Farah Khan, Shimit Amin, Rajiv Mehra, Aziz Mirza, Kundan Shah — and it felt good to work with them. The new actors I work with, like Anushka, Katrina, Priyanka, Deepika, etc. get very surprised, because I don't interfere in the script or change this song and that scene. My philosophy is, don't fix it if it ain't broke. Any amount of fixing won't work if it was going to go bad anyway. So there is a huge amount of instinct.
I believe your first instinct will never go wrong. Like my new film with Rohit Shetty. He came to narrate a film to me two years ago through some mutual business friends. The film is called Chennai Express and I said yes, I will do this film. Even with Munnabhai, which I didn't do eventually because of my surgery...I'd said yes to it. When Raju (Hirani) came to me, I was shooting the climax scene in Devdas. As we were chatting, he said, 'I have got a film, it is called Munnabhai MBBS'. And after hearing the title, I said I am doing it. Raju asked me if I was joking. I said no, I am doing this, finished. I do not want to hear anything. Sometimes instinct works and sometimes it goes wholesomely wrong.
3. Did being an outsider in the industry help you break rules more often?
Sharukh: Actually it doesn't and it does. I do not get the feedback that industry people get, because I am still an outsider. But I am very proud of it. I did not know how to be a hero and have not been groomed by my senior colleagues. I find it a little wrong when people assume my son will become an actor. Why? He will get a good education and then decide what he wants. I would love it if he became one, because I would be able to at least have a conversation. If they become economists, I may not.
But my logic is that because I was not groomed by people as to how a hero should be, I did atypical films. People turn around after 20 years and say, oh he is a romantic hero, he only works in these kind of films. But if I look back at my 72 films, there's a lot of different commercially viable films I've done. I can do a hockey film with 13-15 girls (Chak De India). If I was an insider, I would think, there is no hero-heroine or song — now, all those considerations do not come in my head.
4. In the entertainment industry, as well as business, you have to network extensively. Are there days when you wake up and just do not feel like doing it anymore?
Sharukh: As a matter of fact, I detest networking, which is a wonderfully American concept. Of course, when I am doing a business, I sit with the business head and listen to him. But I never get emails from them. I never meet advertisers. I don't spend even two minutes a month to sit down and say, 'Should we pitch for this?' If it happens, it happens. You just need to give the impression to people that you mean business, and will give it your best shot. Nothing else matters, I have never, ever gone for a networking meeting though I have been offered that time and again. If I meet someone and they assume that I am meeting them for work, they assume completely wrong. I do not have a PR drive, except when a film is due to release. Even now a lot of people say I should do a little image-building. My answer to them is this is what I am and this is what I do. It won't feel good if I have to ask for work. And there is no ego, but I am not going to ask for work, ask around what is happening or which business to get into.
5. How do you keep growing as a person?
Sharukh: I have got this huge greed for learning new things. Like yesterday at 5:30 am, I saw India lose to Korea in a hockey game. Though I know a lot about hockey, I realised the rules have changed. So I sat up for one and a half hour to learn the new rules, because it is important to know it. I am not going to play but I need to know, I have this huge yearning for wanting to know. That helps me a lot.
6. So how do you manage all the diverse businesses under Shah Rukh Inc?
Sharukh: I cannot give a dishonest answer — actually, I do not manage anything. I think I am just extremely fortunate. My friends tell me: You know, Shah Rukh, you should give one hour for this business, two hours for this one, one hour for this one and then meet them again next week. I have never done that.
7. Because time is the most valuable commodity that you have, and it is money
Sharukh: I do not think so, I think people who talk about time management and getting organised are talking crap. If Usain Bolt wants to practice at 3 am in the morning, that's great for him. My meetings can happen at 3 in the morning. If it is important, I know it will find its way to me. It is highly important that I remain completely uncontrolled by time.
8. In any business, how much is dictated by the head and how much by the heart?
Sharukh: For me personally it is 95% heart, I have never done a business in my life and I will never do it with my head. I just do not understand number-crunching.
9. Even the IPL?
Sharukh: I could not even afford it actually. I remember that Jay and Lalit came to me and said you should bid for it, it will be very interesting. The price they quoted five years ago was $40 million, which was Rs 240 crores. In my life, I had not earned that money. And nobody knew the model of the business. But I just love the English Premier League and I felt, these leagues should be there in India, they will help kids. Luckily it worked out fine and the brand was eventually worth $70-75 million. But I remember I stayed up all night thinking that even if my heart is into it, I cannot sell my family off. But the business model was very well designed by the IPL guys, and finally it was very good. But it could have gone the other way. Losing Rs 35-40 crore rupees in one year is something I can ill afford. I am not one of those corporate guys who have lot more money than me. Actors do not take such risks for a bloody film, let alone for a cricket team. Most of it was love for sports.
10. So you aren't driven by numbers, even in business?
Sharukh: For me, if you have a desire to win a business in terms of numbers, you are limiting yourself. Guys like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mukesh Ambani have amazing minds. When I sit with them, I come to this conclusion that what they want to do is transform the lives of people through their products and services, because it makes them feel good. People like to somehow analyse everything in tangible terms, but if your business is going to be intangible, the sky is not the limit. I think the numbers create a finish line. I've made Rs 100 crore; should I aim for, Rs 150 crore or 200 crores next? If you ask me, 'Your film has done 100 crores are you happy?' I'll say I am not, I did not make everyone feel good. Numbers are like pet dogs, they will follow. But if you follow numbers, I do not think you'll get far!