Action Hero - Rohit Bhandari

Young Turks. The third in's series profiling the brightest and the best among the youth brigade in the Indian television industry, focuses this time on Rohit Bhandari, the young ad sales head of AXN.

Barely 32, Bhandari has already earned the admiration of his colleagues and grudging but honest appreciation from those in rival channels. A hard working, soft spoken thorough professional, Bhandari is ambitious, though not overtly so. He has inched his way up tenaciously and may well be one of the key players in the television industry in India, in the days to come. We present here, a look at the man behind the profesisonal...

At 32, Rohit Bhandari can well lay claim to have been there, done that. He may have no hefty management degrees to fall back on, but that is probably what drives AXN India's assistant vice president, sales and marketing to constantly exacting standards of perfection.

"Career switches for me have always stemmed from boredom," says the soft spoken 32-year-old, sipping on endless cups of tea. His almost purposeful soft mannerisms hide an attitude of steel, something that has probably helped propel him to giddy heights within the corporate bureaucracy, which usually favours the academically endowed. A Mumbai University commerce graduate, Bhandari consciously and tenaciously cut his way into the advertising field, then crossed the fence and joined Sony in the late 1990s. Barely 18 months after he took charge at AXN, Bhandari has ensured that the channel has instant recall in the minds of his target audience and that corporates now view AXN as a viable advertising option. Not for nothing does his immediate boss Gregory Ho, VP, marketing, AXN Asia, term him as 'a very focused and highly driven individual.'

Rohit has a special combination of attributes and abilities, which are so vital to success in the TV industry, and so rare: a keen marketing mind, hard-working ethos, passion for the brand, determination to win, and a challenger brand mindset. Most importantly, he collaborates well, and on a personal level, is a fun guy to work with on a daily basis - Todd Miller, MD, AXN Asia

He may no longer keep the 12 to 14 hours that he put in when he joined the media planning unit at Enterprize as a rookie, but having to coordinate with the AXN Singapore headquarters on a daily basis ensures that Bhandari begins his day checking mail before leaving for office and continuing official conversations on phone on the 45 minute ride home in the late evenings. His tryst with outdoor sports, despite his current association with an action and adventure channel like AXN, held on only till college. Music, his favourite way of relaxation takes centrestage on weekends, only broken by the occasional official correspondence. Cooking is another favourite pastime that occupies much of his weekends, says Bhandari.

If there is one word that best describes him, it is "professionalism" - Rohit never loses his cool no matter how stressful things get and his ability to rise above the situation to focus on resolving the problem is indicative of his leadership qualities - Gregory Ho, VP, marketing, AXN Asia

Bhandari's rise up the corporate ladder in media took an unusual route though - starting off in the accounts department of O&M after completing his graduation in commerce, he got interested in the creative side of the business. While O&M did not appreciate his enthusiasm, Enterprize that he joined in 1994 did. A year later, he joined Trikaya, and then Madison as media manager, planning and buying before shifting to HTA as media buying supervisor.

It was in June 1999 that he crossed fences to join SET India, although in the interim, he even considered joining forces with the late Mark Mascarenhas who at the time had some potentially brilliant ideas for marketing sports events. And just when he thought he was reaching saturation point again, Rohit was offered charge at AXN. In the 18 months he has been here, business has jumped 300 to 400 per cent, something he modestly attributes to team work, both here and in Singapore.

But the man has never really lived life by the book. From commerce to advertising and then to the television industry, life has thus far been a roller coaster ride for the guy, who believes in 'breaking rules, if it helps in raising the bar'. Television, he says, is a business of perception and AXN, when Rohit came in, was perceived, as a blood 'n gore channel, one that reached only about six to seven per cent of the available eyeballs although it was the only one that had a potent mix of reality shows, action and adventure.

Baywatch, Sheena and VIP were the top scorers on the channel at the time. Intuitively, Rohit says he decided that out of the available genres of series, movies, adventure and reality, it would be reality that the channel should concentrate on. "The idea was to sharpen the image of the channel in India," he says. Beginning 2002, the channel image in India has a keener look - gone are the Geena Lee Nolins who promoted the channel in India, it is series like Agency and CSI that have taken centrestage. The idea has paid off, with the 9 pm slot on AXN now commanding a stronger viewerbase than any of the rival English movie channels.

While most of Rohit's decisions are a combination of dipstick, IMRB and intuition, he admits to having less than no time for leisurely TV viewing. Cinema theatres he abhors, "for there is no remote control in my hand."

A do it yourself guy, often he still spends long hours on weekdays, even couriering stuff himself if it means completing a job on time. He is no taskmaster, he avers, but expects the same professionalism from his peers as he puts in. He probably drives himself the hardest, evident from the fact that despite his several job jumps, he has never taken a break longer than four days between jobs and his last long vacation was over four years ago. Allowing himself a short break when he got married, he still worked till late into the night the day before the wedding. Time management obviously scores high on his priorities - the guy even reads two books at one time!

Blessed with what Todd Miller calls a 'challenger brand mindset', Bhandari views the television scenario in the near future as belonging to the niche channels. There is space for more channels, he feels, only if the new entrants are able to provide novel entertainment to viewers, he says. "What will be needed will be a distinct positioning statement," he says. The challenge in the coming days, he says, will also lie in getting viewers to tune into a non movie channel.

For now, it is action - on screen and off it, that is of prime importance to Bhandari. A man of few words, as Ho succinctly describes him, Bhandari prefers to let his actions speak for him. And for an action channel like AXN, that's indeed a blessing.

Rohit Bhandari speaks on life in the corporate fast lane:

"The moment I stop making a difference is the time I'll retire"

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