The Chairman, Dainik Bhaskar Group, who passed away after a sudden heart attack on April 12, is remembered as a visionary who built a great brand
Entrepreneur par excellence, risk-taker, nation builder, down-to-earth, mild-mannered, impeccably polite, doyen of Indian publishing – these are just some of the words that describe Ramesh Chandra Agarwal, Chairman of the Dainik Bhaskar Group, who breathed his last in Ahmedabad on Wednesday, April 12, 2017. He was 73.
Agarwal had just arrived at the airport from New Delhi, when he started feeling unwell and suffered a massive heart attack. He was rushed to the nearby Apollo Hospital, but doctors could not save him despite their best efforts. He is survived by three sons – Sudhir, Girish and Pawan Agarwal – and a daughter, Bhavna.
As news of his demise spread, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh, Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab were among several prominent leaders who paid tributes through social media and other platforms. Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani and Leader of Opposition Shankersinh Vaghela visited the hospital to offer homage. Later, Agarwal’s mortal remains were flown to Bhopal and the last rites performed on Thursday.
Of humble origins, Agarwal was born on November 30, 1944 in pre-Independent India in the historic city of Jhansi and moved to Bhopal with his father Seth Shri Dwarkaprasad Agrawal in 1956. The foundation of the Dainik Bhaskar Group was laid in Bhopal in 1958, with the debut edition of the flagship Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar. Under Agarwal’s leadership, Dainik Bhaskar expanded to Indore in 1983. The big game-changer was to happen a decade later, in 1996 to be precise, when Dainik Bhaskar challenged the status quo prevalent in regional Indian publishing and expanded beyond its home State of Madhya Pradesh into the neighbouring Rajasthan. This bold decision was to change the face and fortunes of Dainik Bhaskar as until then, publishers would restrict themselves to their strongholds – be it city, or State, and didn’t really look to expand their frontiers.
The result of Agarwal’s vision and clear goal is there today for all to see - Bhaskar is not only among the country’s leading newspapers with 62 volumes in 14 States, but also a sturdy brand.
Under Agarwal, the Dainik Bhaskar Group not just expanded its flagship product, the Hindi newspaper Dainik Bhaskar, but also expanded its offering to other languages with the launch of Gujarati newspaper Divya Bhaskar, English newspaper DNA (later sold to Essel Group), and Marathi newspaper Divya Marathi. Stepping outside the newspaper space, the Bhaskar Group diversified and entered Radio with MY FM and made its presence felt online with DB.com. The Dainik Bhaskar newspaper’s success story has become a case study at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.
A testimony to Agarwal’s astute management style and business skills is the numerous awards conferred on him. These include the Rajiv Gandhi Lifetime Achievement Award in Journalism, the National Citizen Award from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Dadabhai Naoroji Millennium Award for Patrakarita. India Today included him in the list of India's 50 Most Powerful People in 2003, 2006 and 2007 and he has also been featured in the Forbes list of the 100 richest people of India in 2011 and 2012.
Besides being a media owner, Agarwal was also known as a fearless journalist, prime among his achievements being bold coverage of the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984. When the Union Carbide factory gas leak occurred, Dainik Bhaskar was the only newspaper that published photos and reports that covered the world's worst industrial disaster from every angle. Dainik Bhaskar's office located in Ibrahimpura in the old city was the worst affected area. Despite the risk to their health, Ramesh Agarwal gathered some of his companions within a few hours of the gas leak and convened an emergency staff meeting on December 3, 1984. At that poignant time, Agarwal said, “Death does not spare anyone, neither does it discriminate. Mass deaths such as the gas accident do not even give us time to think. This has happened within our city. Unfortunately, this is due to the administration's negligence and human error. Could this accident have been prevented? The profession we are in is like a military. True soldiers do not put down their weapons without fighting.”
After this, Agarwal told the staff that they should not flee but understand the situation and as long as they were in the field, do their duty. He also assured the staff that the Bhaskar Group would be concerned about each one of them and their families. On the call of their leader, the entire Bhaskar family became an 'army' and every staff member spread across the city and started collecting news. Each piece of news, no matter how small, was given its due place in the newspaper. The ordinary citizen too thronged to the newspaper office.
The paper made a record of printing more than 100 photos in a 12-page newspaper in one day with news reaching readers on the lines of 'TV in Print'. Bhaskar's editorial team also submitted proof of administrative negligence, and became the first to report that poisonous gas was still being emitted from the Union Carbide factory and that Bhopal could once again become a gas chamber. Agarwal also opened relief camps for victims even before the Government started its efforts. International media, including BBC, used Dainik Bhaskar’s coverage as a reference point for the accident. As a fallout of its reportage, the Bhaskar Group lost Government advertisements of more than Rs 20 lakh, but refused to compromise on the interests of its readers.
When Agarwal got a business mantra with advertising
An incident from the 1980s shows how far-sighted Ramesh Agarwal was about business. In a meeting with Dhirubhai Ambani and Nusli Wadia in Mumbai, Agarwal not only got advertisements worth Rs 20,000 for the newspaper, but also a big learning from the guru of business. The mantra was 'Be self-reliant in the business you do.' In addition, improve the quality of life of your employees. Later, reflecting on the meeting, Agarwal had said, "Rs 20,000 was a huge amount then. The monthly expenditure of the Bhopal edition of Bhaskar was Rs 35,000. This was an achievement for me and I also got to learn a business mantra from Dhirubhai in that meeting.” Post the meeting, Dhirubhai remained in Agarwal’s heart and he made a resolve that Dainik Bhaskar would have to become a self-sufficient newspaper, else he would leave the business.
My best memory of Ramesh Agarwal is his unique way of inviting me to be on the Board of DB Corp Ltd: Piyush Pandey
Paying tribute to the late Ramesh Chandra Agarwal, Chairman of the Dainik Bhaskar Group, who passed away on April 12, ad guru Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman & Creative Director, S Asia, Ogilvy & Mather India says he is a “visionary who turned a family business into an institution”
Shri Ramesh Chandra Agarwal was a wonderful professional, and I knew him well by virtue of being on the Board of DB Corp Limited for many years.
My best memory of Agarwal is his unique way of inviting me to be on the Board of DB Corp Limited. One day, I got a call from his son Girish Agarwal, who said, ‘My father wants to meet you.’ So I said okay, I will come and meet him wherever he wants to meet me. But Girish said, ‘No, he wants to come to your office and meet you.’ And so it was that one day soon after, Ramesh Agarwal walked into my office with a bouquet of flowers in his hand and invited me to be on the Board of DB Corp Limited. It was such a wonderful gesture from a person senior to me…
Today, I am really sad and shocked because I had met Ramesh Agarwal for a Board meeting of DB Corp Limited not more than a month back. And he was fit and fine, hale and hearty… contributing like a champion. It is difficult for me to believe that he is no more. It’s a loss for the entire publishing industry. And it’s a loss for the very vast Board of DB Corp Limited…
Our Board meetings were always held in Mumbai, and Agarwal had a number of wonderful professionals on the Board, many respected people who have been clients of mine, or contemporaries of mine, had a lot to contribute to the decision-making process. At every Board meeting, we would be able to see that Agarwal was a visionary and a senior who contributed significantly, but he always allowed the Board members to express themselves.
Agarwal built some fantastic brands and today, the Dainik Bhaskar Group is a very dynamic group. The way he led it and empowered his sons and other professionals working there was evident in the Board meetings… He had fully empowered his sons to deal with agency and other partners, and his own comments would only be reserved for Board meetings to assess the work done and take strategic management decisions. Agency partners usually had no interface with him; that he left to his sons and other people whom he trusted to arrive at decisions...
Agarwal was a fantastic human being, as interested in the editorial content as he was in the business; therefore he was able to build a brand like Dainik Bhaskar... To his credit, he got together people from the professional industry and with the help of their expertise, turned a family business into an institution. I am sure that his family will carry on his legacy and make Dainik Bhaskar into an even bigger brand.
(As told to Srabana Lahiri)
‘I recall Rameshji at the Everest office in the 80s...humble, simple, ever-smiling’
Paulomi Dhawan, Strategic Advisor, Raymond, remembers the late Ramesh Chandra Agarwal as a true media entrepreneur and gentle personality
Rameshji’s demise is a great loss to the Indian media industry. I recall Rameshji coming to the Everest office, in the 80s, to discuss advertising in the Dainik Bhaskar newspaper’s editions in Madhya Pradesh. He was humble, simple, ever-smiling. Our discussions revolved around the fact that good quality editorial, as well as circulation and readership numbers, are important to grow and build a credible newspaper. Even then, he was ambitious and confident.
As the publication grew across editions and then States, Dainik Bhaskar became a formidable group to reckon with. His young son Girish, with the same qualities as his father, started meeting Mumbai agencies and advertisers... then the Rajasthan launch shook the media world.
I met Rameshji socially on various occasions at Girish's house... he recalled our media meetings, laughed about the good old times, reminiscing them...
Rameshji was a true media entrepreneur, and went on with his three sons to build the leading Indian language publication and media group. May his soul rest in peace.
‘In crisis years of the Indian Express, I sought Rameshji’s advice often...’
Ace journalist Shekhar Gupta, Founder, The Print & former Editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, remembers the late Ramesh Chandra Agarwal as a doyen of the newspaper business, bestowed with great humility and the keenness to help others
In Ramesh Chandra Agarwalji's passing away, India has lost a uniquely gifted doyen of the newspaper business. Rameshji was a visionary, ambitious, had fire in the belly and remarkable success to show from it. From being a strong franchise confined to one region that was far from everywhere - Madhya Pradesh - Dainik Bhaskar grew into a national giant, the Hindi paper proudly having the largest readership for any newspaper in the world.
Rameshji had the dash to take his very local brand national. Then he took the same franchise, and the same all-conquering method to other languages, Gujarati, Marathi and even English. His was the strategy of total but well-thought out, all-conquering expansion. It involved dropping the cover price really low, adding subscription offers with attractive gifts, and then flooding the markets. He was always successful.
The most important feature of his personality was his humility, and his keenness to always help with a smile, and he always found time for you. In crisis years of the Indian Express, I sought his advice often, which he gave to me as warmly as he would to his talented sons, I suspect. Sometimes, he also chided me entirely on his own, mostly for using newsprint which he found either unaffordable, or unnecessarily poor quality when we were going through tough cycles.
He set a culture of paying journalists well and respecting them. He also gave them the best working conditions in the heartland media. I have visited his newsrooms often to speak to his staff so I know. I also write a regular column for his papers and am amazed by the professionalism of his editors.
His departure is a big loss to Indian media. But he has placed the empire in the hands of his brilliant sons. May he rest in peace.
My heartfelt condolences to the family, and best wishes as they move into the future with greater responsibility.