Ronnie Screwvala

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When Opportunity Knocked, Ronnie Got the Door

He dreams with his eyes open. If you’ve read the book, you know that. As a 10-year-old, he lived on the first floor of a five-storey building adjacent to Novelty Cinema, Mumbai. The unique feature of this house was its balcony that had a good view of actors walking the red carpet. The little boy found an opportunity here and sold tickets to fans wanting to have a look at their favourite stars from that window. That’s Ronnie for you – an opportunist who spotted possibilities in the unlikeliest of situations. And built doors of steel all around…

Flash back to the pre millennial era. United Television operated out of a basement office at Worli. The production team revered him while I was indifferent; an arrogant intern in her early days of advertising. Ronnie invested in a venture called Univads – where a bunch of us toiled harder than any of his production executives [believe me when I say that!] Six months into learn-by-doing; I learnt that the man we walked past each morning as we trotted into our 300sqft office in his larger basement was the one signing our cheques. I have distinct memories of him munching on his fruit salad while he held reviews. Ronnie watched his health and ensured his work didn’t crawl into his health regime. He was a man of strict discipline and a healthy regime. “You guys are working your butts out [crunch,chomp] but the numbers just don’t add up, what do you think is going wrong?”
A distinct feather in his rainmaker cap – his ability to applaud efforts and SNIP! bite your head off. Ronnie didn’t mince words. He knew how to roll his communication smoothly and hit bull’s eye. A man from theatre and the world of drama. The art of communication is after all the language of leadership. Each of us grew into business leaders in communications – we learnt early on that the numbers had to be delivered.

Ronnie chose his team well. He had an intuitive judgment of people; a critical leadership trait in today’s times. Back then, Ronnie was able to hire very ordinary people with the right attitude who rose from mediocrity to glory quickly. It didn’t matter to him whether they walked in late or slept through the morning while he was at work. What mattered was that they were his dependable soldiers. And they always delivered on the battlefield. These were not the days of remote log-ins from home. These were times where organisations kept employee musters and counted hours at work. But Ronnie was not one to follow the trend, he paid well and empowered his teams.
Until they built his empire into dynasties and led him to glory…

God signs on the balance-sheet.
I learnt that the golden clink in his armour came from his ability to read balance sheets. You could surround him with the sharpest financial minds and throw in a balance sheet. He would spot gaps and opportunities that even the number Gods missed out on. God is in the numbers said RSS.

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”
Bruce Lee 

One of my distinct memories of Ronnie in a non-corporate setting is that of him at the Cannes film festival with us and Zarina [his warm and gracious wife]. Those were the early days when Ronnie was exploring corporatization in Bollywood and was challenged by his discomfort of being surrounded by filmstars…animals from a world very different from his organized entity where input equals output and egos have no place.  It must have taken incredible effort to get to the point he is today – effortlessly smiling alongside Shahrukh and Aishwarya – a mark again of his ability to adapt in favor of scale of business.

As we play our roles as leaders, we are drawn back to memories of mentors, both direct and indirect who created ripples around us. And these are the true rainmakers for the flood of possibilities they create in your head. It is to Ronnie that I owe the clarity of what I must and must not do as I build scale and people. Here’s to RSS – a rainmaker of opportunities & scale.

Head of Brand Partnerships & Content Integration
Discovery Communications
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