Shah Rukh Khan, the badshah of Bollywood and the promoter of Kolkata Knight Riders, Kidzania and Red Chillies, believes that a business or a product can be complicated, but it should work simply. Of the view that earnings from endorsements could translate into bigger and better films, Khan says the greatest businessman on earth is one who is ready to walk away from the most lucrative deal, not because of money, but because it doesn’t feel right.
What role have endorsements played in your stardom?
They have allowed me to do the kind of films that I want to. There have been days when I have picked up the phone and said “Are you signing me on for next year? Can you pay me now, because I am making my film?” Kolkata Knight Riders and Kidzania are separate businesses on their own, but everything else allows me to make the films and choose the films I would like to do. Actors used to look down upon appearances in advertising, saying, “I am an actor, I am enigmatic, I cannot be overexposed.” I changed that because I felt I could take these earnings and put them into bigger and better films.
You said that brands and brand ambassadors share a symbiotic relationship. What happens when you as a brand ambassador is targeted for anger against a brand, or the other way around?
At a macro level, if it is legal, there is nothing wrong in doing it. I think that if any company or product puts a face on their business, such as Tag Heuer, for example, which is more than 100 years old, it is a big risk. If someone says, let’s take a face and make our whole company work towards this man’s face, then it is a big honour. And yes, I have been picked on for doing certain ads, like the one I did for a fairness brand.
How does Shah Rukh Khan the person evaluate and nurture brand Shah Rukh Khan?
If I were to write a book on the science of how this brand was built, it would finish off in one sentence — it was a happy accident. The people I have worked with have somehow managed to create a character and brand out of me. I have a wonderful team of ladies who question my choices more than I do. I go by instinct. And of course the films I have done. It’s a little more exaggerated than it is true, but I am happy how it has built up. I try to keep up but it’s a pain when you’re made to be such a good guy. I am an employee of the myth of Shah Rukh Khan. So I keep working. It is a lot of hard work —18 hours a day. But when you wear a dark suit and go for an IPO, you have to talk like that. It is difficult.
Are you worried that to some extent, the health of Kolkata Knight Riders, Kidzania and Red Chillies depend on your name?
They do and it’s not a nice thing. Which is why none of these is named after me. I am only their brand ambassador. I have sort of been shifted out of the marketing of KKR. They tell me to just come and wave with my kids. They don’t need me for the ads. I did a press conference for Kidzania a year-and-a-half after running it. The name Red Chillies stems from the fact that I don’t want it to be named Shah Rukh Khan Productions. I am completely anti that. Hopefully, in two-three years it will be an individual company, which could have been promoted by me to start off with. Also the name Red Chillies because, in case it fails, we can always start a Mexican restaurant!
Any tips for CEOs and CMOs reading this?
First, keep it extremely simple. Your business or product can be extremely complicated to make, but it should work simply. Like mobile phones. Second, don’t get into a business if you don’t have the passion for it. Third, there are people who sell off their businesses —I don’t understand that. You live with the business and you die with it. If it’s done well, you should be feeling blessed and if it hasn’t, it should take you down... Fourth, every business has a gestation period. This is especially true for young start-ups. Just when you begin to lose hope, it will come back. Like KKR. We kept losing and now we are champions twice over. So don’t give up. Last, in business, there are only two decisions to take — you either do it or you don’t. There is no but, maybe, perhaps. If you are ready to walk away from the most lucrative deal, not because of money, but because it doesn’t feel right, you will be the greatest businessman on earth.