Uday Shankar: The man who built Star India

As he departs the organisation, he leaves it in very capable hands.

MUMBAI: 31 December 2020. A chapter ended in the history of Disney Star India. According to public announcements by the mouse house, it was the last working day for chairman Uday Shankar at Star India, a company he steered – along with the Murdochs – into its arms over a decade. No announcement has been made regarding his replacement. Not much is known about where he is headed.

Mutterings have been heard in the media that he is setting up an investment fund along with other high net worth individuals (the gossip is that it is James Murdoch’s Lupa Systems) to help talented young entrepreneurs polevault their start-ups to the next level and even unicorn status. Which he might end up being very successful at as his track record has shown. Star India has had quite a few CEOs – Andrew Carnegie (general manager), Gene Swinstead, Rathikant Basu, Peter Mukerjea, Sameer Nair and then Uday. He probably has the distinction of being the longest running head of the network.

Uday himself is worth a few hundred crore (some say, the stocks he has accumulated during his tenure with 21st Century Fox over the years are valued at between $100-150 million). He has been appointed as the president of industry lobbying body Ficci – reportedly the first media and entertainment executive to be given that position. Which puts him centre stage in Indian industry – amidst some of the top businessmen and industrialists in the country – and gives him tremendous access to different ministries. His track record and public profile is enough to open many a door but the Ficci handle would really come handy.  

That track record saw Star India being valued at around $17 billion in the acquisition price of $72-odd billion that Disney paid for Fox’s entertainment assets. Clearly, Uday had a big hand to play in that growth.

Uday, however, is leaving behind the company in good hands. K Madhavan is managing director Star and Disney India. He has the impeccable track record of transforming an ailing business, Asianet, in the previous decade into a hugely profitable one, which Star finally acquired. And he worked very closely with Uday to build its regional language business. President & head infotainment, kids & regional entertainment channels, Disney & Star India Kevin Vaz has seen and participated in the broadcaster’s growth curve for more than a decade in different roles. President & head English and Hindi entertainment Star India Gaurav Banerjee is a long-timer Uday has had tremendous trust in and he has delivered by keeping the network on the top of the ratings charts. Star veterans CFO Sanjay Jain and  chief legal counsel Deepak Jacob and the highly respected HR head Amita Maheshwari have domestic and APAC responsibilities for The Walt Disney Co. President of TV distribution Gurjeev Singh Kapoor, India and International for Star and Disney knows the ins and outs of getting the channels into Indian and international homes, having seen the network report increased revenues year on year.

President ad sales Disney and Star India Nitin Bawankule too has tremendous pedigree with experience in companies such as Google, Dell, and Motorola.

Then there is the new hire Sunil Rayan, who is heading the OTT business in the shape of Disney+ Star India, and has had international experience leading Google Cloud for Games before hopping on board for his new challenge. Head corporate development direct to consumer business APAC, The Walt Dsiney Co Prateek Garg too has a respectable track record with experience at Ernst & Young, HSBC, Sun group and many years at Star India. Finally, Uday has left the fortunes of the studios business for both Disney and Star India in the hands of Bikram Duggal, who too has a long track record in the business.

Will the mouse house find a replacement for Uday? Or will it let the current structure continue? Probably The Walt Disney Co CEO Bob Chapek and international operations & direct to consumer chairman Rebecca Campbell know. And we will have to wait until early 2021 when Campbell said Uday’s successor would be announced. 

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