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The Corporate Entrepreneur
Venkat Ramana
Friday, January 31, 2003
EVERY ONE OF US SHOULD think like an entrepreneur. We should be able to come up with ideas that would help in taking the business further. If we were to remain as just employees, we, and thus the business, will become stagnant,” says Vivek Shah, the 29-year old general manager of the Fortune Group, a division of the AOL-Time Warner enterprise.”One must constantly think about contributing ideas and efforts that would have a direct impact on the company’s bottomline. This contribution would lead to success.”

After a undergraduate degree in political science, from Tufts University in Massachusetts, Shah ran a local publication targetted at the youth, for a year. “There was no way this audience could support a newspaper, as newspapers run on advertising power,” recalls Shah. “But it was a very good learning experience and I was convinced that I wanted a career in publishing.”

With nothing more than this desire and a year’s publishing experience on his resume, Shah walked into Time Warner’s offices in 1995 and asked to see the HR department about a job. “I was just plain lucky,” says Shah. “Fortune magazine at that time was setting up a new division for business development that would leverage the Fortune brand, the magazine publishing entity, and the assets that were associated with Fortune’s publishing history.” Most magazines make money in advertising, and Shah was given the task of exploring other revenue streams. As an assistant manager in a three-team department, Shah was given a free hand in starting up ideas and experimenting with their evolution. “In a meritocracy, it is worthwhile to look around and see the company in its entirety, and examine where you can contribute towards making money. I have found that if you make an effort to send large checks back to the treasury, the management ups your budgets and gives you more freedom.”

Shah lost no time in identifying assets that could be converted into strong revenue streams. “We had the Fortune500, a brand that is over 5 decades old. But it was a static list, despite the terrific brand awareness it had. It occured to me that we could take the list and create a dynamic stock market index, that would reflect company performances in real time.” The Fortune500 Index has become a key contributor to the Fortune group’s bottomline; there are financial portfolios built on the Index, and Shah has been instrumental in its growth.

The man of many firsts was also behind the syndicated research on companies, that is sold as a product to financial analysts, public relation firms and investment bankers. “The amount of research information that flowed into the publishing business was vast, dynamic and incredibly rich, most importantly, not available in the magazine,” recollects Shah.

As Shah moved up the ranks, he was also given the financial responsibilities for each of the business. “The general manager of the Fortune Group is also the de-facto financial manager,” says Shah. “Today, we have added new businesses like Business 2.0, Fortune.com, FSB: Fortune Small Business and so on, and I have significant responsibilities in all of these businesses.”

Before becoming the general manager of the group, in 1997, Shah launched FORTUNE Americas, a 1.6 million circulation Spanish- and Portuguese-language version of Fortune distributed in Latin America, of which he was general manager for two years. “This has stopped making profits, and we saw no point continuing it. It was an interesting business, a newspaper format of our magazine that was inserted in 27 local publications,” comments Shah.

“Innovation requires no rank or power. It requires a clarity of vision,” says Shah. “Even with our magazine’s considerable brand power, we are constantly innovating to increase our subscription base, our distribution, and methods of co-branding.” Today, this young general manager is responsible for a significant revenue contribution to the group’s bottomline, that is independent of the publishing business’ revenues.

Shah has won three FORTUNE Achievement Awards, a Time Inc. Consumer Marketing Achievement Award and two Time Inc. President's Award. He was named to Folio magazine’s Thirty under 30 list. “My editor once said, ‘A lot of people want to be the best business magazine in the world. I want Fortune to be the best magazine in the world, which happens to be about business,’” says Shah. “I think this best describes my efforts too...I want our group to be the best business.”

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