Aroon Purie© HelloIndia

HELLO! 100 Most Influential: Aroon Purie

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Nayare Ali

Why he matters: This fearless media baron has steered the India Today Group to great heights. Also the Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief of India Today, his ability to think out of the box and strong desire to keep pace with the changing times make him a highly influential personality in the industry. Looking back at his remarkable journey (that predates India’s Partition!), Aroon Purie guides us on the way forward.

Popularly referred to as AP in his organisation, there are three things that Aroon Purie abhors: public speaking, talking about himself, and looking back. He’smore of a ‘what’s next?’ kind of person,referring to life as a series of coincidences and happenstances.

His Early Days

Purie was born in Lahore before India’s Partition. His father was a self-made businessman who never went to college. “The Partition was traumatic for my family, like for many others. They suddenly had to uproot their whole lives and become refugees. Fortunately, we had family on this side of the border,” he recollects. After a few years, his family moved to Bombay, as it was then called. He did his schooling from Christ Church in Byculla.

Aroon Purie©HelloIndia

“It was the ’50s. There were no high-rises, no traffic jams, and clean air. We lived in what is now known as the Shiv Sagar Estate by the edge of the sea, in a spacious first-floor apartment. It was a wonderful childhood. When I visited Bombay in the late ’70s after so many years, I couldn’t believe my eyes at how the city had transformed.”

Choosing a Career Path

Initially, Purie wasn’t sure about the road he wished to traverse for his career. He just knew he wasn’t good at science.

“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I also came from a generation that listened to their parents, unlike today!” He was sent to London at 16 and got into the London School of Economics. It was the time when he grew interested in current affairs. The British newspapers and magazines were a delight, and Purie devoured them. After his graduation, he interned with an accounting firm and appeared for his final exam to become a chartered accountant, after which he continued to work with the firm as an auditor.

The Family Enterprise

Meanwhile, his father returned to Delhi and set up the Thomson Press in Faridabad, Haryana.

“I was still abroad; I had no idea all this was going on. I was not even there for the inauguration. This was back in 1967.” On one of his visits to India during his holidays, he was asked to visit the press.

“When I went to the press and started looking around, I got involved in it and stayed back,” says Purie, who was soonmade the Managing Director of the press.

“I was 28 years old. My father and his partner, the Director from Thomson UK, had said I would be fine. I was thrown into the deep end. It’s the best way to learn. Since then, I’ve done that to several people after assessing their potential.”

Although he wasn’t a qualified printer, Purie soon figured out that the only way the press would make sustainable profits would be if they had their own work.

“Running a printing press was like running a huge tailoring shop with heavy capital investment. There was no standard product. Every job and customer was different. And you had to constantly chase new business.”

The Birth of India Today

After briefly bringing out a medical magazine, Purie decided to launch a magazine for Indians living abroad. And that is how the idea for India Today came about. It was a product to fill the niche of NRI Indians wanting to know about their homeland. However, the distribution system and marketing of such a product was too expensive and complex.

Aroon Purie©HelloIndia

“Before shutting down the magazine, we decided to put it in the domestic market. It got an encouraging response. The Emergency was on then. So we trundled along, trying to keep within the government’s bounds. It was difficult.”

In January 1977, the circulation was 15,000, and by the end of that year, it had touched a lakh! “After that, there was no looking back. I must confess that was the time I found my mojo. I loved what I was doing. It became a passion, the fact that it was a world of ideas. It was dynamic. That’s all I’ve been doing for the past 48 years,” he smiles.

Fearless Media Baron

“Being an auditor, I knew how to ask questions for clarity till I got to the bottom of an issue. I looked at the articles from the point of view of the average reader. Too many journalists write for other journalists, or the closed Lutyens circles they move in. Being the boss helped. There must be passion for your work. Sweat the details. Try to make it as perfect as possible. There must be no preconceived ideas or agendas. Look at each issue on its own merit. Do not take favours, as there is no such thing as a free lunch!”

56 Publications in 47 Years

“I find that in media, timing is everything, much like it is in life. Look out for the trends in society and fill the information gaps. Media, unlike other industries, is a balancing act. It’s between honestly fulfilling your social purpose and maintaining financial viability, how you can be financially strong without compromising your editorial integrity. Only with financial strength can you withstand pressures from all quarters. It is not only governments that can pressure; there are advertisers, too!”

On Kalli Purie Taking Over

“I’m blessed that my daughter has the same value system and passion for news. She was with the company for 25 years before taking on the responsibility of Managing Director and Vice Chairperson. In the past few years, she has launched 22 digital-first channels. All are doing well, and there are more in the making! Besides, she has also launched our channel, Good News Today. It features aspirational, positive developments happening around India.

I don’t believe anyone’s shoes are too big to fill. Kalli has to put on her own shoes and run with it. I’m confident that the India Today Group is in very good hands. I believe a free press is essential for India to survive as a country. Next time you castigate the press, think whether India would be better off without it!”

To see who else is on the list, grab the copy of HELLO! India’s August 2023 issue right here!