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Building a Media Firm In Odisha

Jagi Panda, who runs Odisha's No 1 TV business, talks about battling a small town mentality and people's aversion to risk

By Subroto Bagchi
Published: Apr 14, 2012
Image: Rajnarayan Choudhury for Forbes India

Jagi Mangat Panda
Profile: Founder MD of Ortel Communications and director at OTV
She Says:
• The moment something creates conflict, people simply give up and move on. An entrepreneur cannot do that
• Budget for frustration; once you do that, it does not overwhelm you
• Work the small guy. Sometimes a junior engineer has the magic where chief engineers can’t solve your problem

Until a decade ago, Odisha was the poorest state in the country. It made news mostly for the wrong reasons: Agitations against mining companies, extremist encounters, starvation deaths and super-cyclones. All in all, it was seen as a backward state. In backward regions anywhere in the world, there are predictable outcomes: Two among them are lack of the entrepreneurial drive and almost certainly, the absence of women in business. It is against this backdrop that I am here to meet Jagi Mangat Panda, founder managing director of Ortel Communications and director at OTV, the state’s No 1 television business with four channels covering everything from news to entertainment. Between the two companies, Jagi oversees revenue of Rs 210 crore. Ortel, with venture capital from New Silk Route, is cash positive and OTV, wholly owned, is profitable. Together, they employ 1,900 people.

People who have any prior knowledge of Jagi would describe her in many different ways: Professional model-turned-air-hostess; high-profile socialite; spouse of industrialist-turned-politician Baijayant (Jay) Panda. However, that does not get someone a conversation table at Zen Garden. Jagi is the poster child of women-entrepreneurship from Odisha. She flits through many personas as must any woman in this country, but in the midst of it all, there is Jagi. Just herself and an entrepreneur in her own right.

Born and brought up in Hyderabad to a Punjabi Sikh family, she studied science. The family wanted her to be a doctor. She qualified to study medicine and then realised it was not her calling. Instead, she wanted to be a model and shifted base to Mumbai where she found her feet in the highly demanding, ruthless world of glamour. She found work and more, she found fame. But modelling is a business with its own peaks and troughs. To keep herself busy, she decided to join Air India as an air-hostess. Along the way, she met her future husband, quit her job at Air India and left behind a modelling career to eventually come to the sleepy state capital of Odisha.

Though Jay’s family owned Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys, husband and wife decided that the best course would be to get Jagi started on an altogether new line of business. But before she turned entrepreneur, she decided to take a six-month course at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Upon her return, the options were real estate, aquaculture and communications. Jagi admits that she did not know much about the last one but somehow “it sounded easy”.

It wasn’t, as the next six years would show her. But before I get there, I want to know about maintaining harmony when you come into an established family business as an outsider.

“You really have to make sure you’re not in the same market as the family company. It would have been difficult for me to maintain harmony if I got into a similar or a related business. When I moved out of the family company [after a year or so of getting acquainted], the most significant hurdle was capital; cash flow is difficult early on in the life of a business. At that point, the biggest advantage of being connected with a business family was that it was easier attracting investment from private equity and banks, as was attracting talent. Personal sacrifices had to be made when moving. I was ready to work very hard and smart, willing to move from a cushy place to a small shabby office that didn’t even have a good toilet and willing for my business to take over my life, which many people at that time thought unnecessary. All this, so that I could build a new company with a new culture and at the same time keep the harmony.”

Image: Rajnarayan Choudhury for Forbes India

Gaining acceptance in a new home for a young woman is one thing; dealing with the social stigma of entrepreneurship, particularly in a B-Town, is quite another thing. In small places, an entrepreneur is often looked down upon and seen with suspicion. “If you make money, you are a thug,” she says. But deal with all that she did. Jagi had to deal with a culture of settling for less which sometimes meant accepting mediocrity, and bloated egos of bureaucrats. In the beginning, it was particularly difficult. She recalls she was like a general, being attacked from all fronts. But worse was the risk aversion and “conflict aversion” that she found typical of a small place. “People do not like conflicts in any work situation. The moment something creates conflict, people simply give up and move on. An entrepreneur cannot do that,” she says.

She continues—“One thing that became clear over the years was that people were very risk averse. Besides other factors, risk aversion stood out. I have seen people not taking decisions out of fear that it may go wrong, even though we make it clear that we will support their decision even if it went wrong, since making mistakes is a part of the learning process. Speaking of conflict aversion, I see it in my day-to-day work. There are certain company policies, relating to integrity, the violation of which requires top executives to take stringent action like sacking employees; almost always these violations do not get reported because the mid-level and sometimes even the top guys don’t want to take that difficult, tough stand. I deal with it by setting examples of occasionally taking the responsibility of handling a tough situation either personally or through someone senior and constantly communicating the rationale behind some of these policy decisions as well as being open to feedback on the need for policy changes.”

mg_64838_jagi_mangat_280x210.jpg
From “conflict aversion”, we shift to the frustration of literally running from pillar to post in the early days of an enterprise, particularly in a government-infested place. What, I ask Jagi, would be her advice to the many potential young women-entrepreneurs in B-Town India? She speaks slowly, thoughtfully and tells me four things.

“Firstly, you must budget for frustration; once you do that, it does not overwhelm you. Two, for every eight guys who will give you a hard time, there are two who would go out of their way for no apparent reason. Moral of the story? Expand the supply side! Three: Work the small guy. Sometimes a junior engineer has the magic where chief engineers can’t solve your problem. Finally, work to build long-term relationships. Make it a point to go meet people even when you do not need to get something out of them.”

It is time for me to leave. Meeting her, I feel hopeful that soon I will meet her ilk in towns like Vellore, Guwahati, Hubli and Surat. For, there in lies the future of Indian business and it is time women like Jagi showed us the path.

Subroto Bagchi is co-founder & chairman, MindTree and a best-selling author.
His brief:  Every fortnight, exchange tales of the road with successful entrepreneurs.

(This story appears in the 27 April, 2012 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Aryakumar Nayak

    I like this statement 'The moment something creates conflict, people simply give up and move on' .but very few people takes it as a challenge. But the if problem is related to finance and politics some people have to give up .I believe Jagi is getting support from both politically and financially which is the major factor for success in business. No matter how good and talented you are if u don't have support (money and power) u are gone case. Every thing is out of box .

    on Dec 31, 2014
  • Honey Patnaik

    beautifully scripted and a delight to read.

    on Sep 10, 2014
  • Prasanna Kumar Sahoo, Advocate.burla.

    Only Ortel Will change the News and Views of ODISHA.

    on Sep 11, 2013
  • Orissa.odisha

    Politics rules... and media make them sprout...when both combined they are deadly...

    on Jul 11, 2013
  • Rohankapoor

    hi, Jagi is a role model of odia women. She is like an adorable daughter also admirable person.

    on Feb 28, 2013
  • Meenaketan Pattnaik

    Jagi is a big name in Odisha as a successful lady entrepreneur is known for her high confidence level and positive attitude which reflected beyond her profession. She is like an adorable daughter / daughter in law for Odishan Industry culture.

    on Jan 14, 2013
  • Manoja Patanaik

    Ortel has a lousy customer service and it survives only because of its monopoly like situation. When I wanted to disconnect my cable tv service because I wanted to upgrade my broadband service they asked me to return the set top box which they had never installed in my premises. I believe this is exploitation of hapless customers. They update their database with fictitious information and make the poor customer pay for the device.

    on Aug 31, 2012
  • Sujata Patnaik

    Jagi is an admirable person..and a role model for Odia women.

    on Jun 23, 2012
  • Purna Mishra

    If Ortel is the future of Odisha, then I must say Odisha is doomed. Ortel is an extremely ill managed company with a pathetic customer service. The help desk is extremely ill prepared. The tech support is clueless as they are not only technologically poor they also lie profusely to hide the unprofessional conduct. I was in Bhubaneswar 3 months back. I had to struggle with their incompetent service people to get the bandwidth I was paying for. I arrived in Bhubaneswar a week back. I have been calling for last 4-5 days to provide the bandwidth that they have committed. I am on a monthly 1MBPS plan and I do not ever receive more than 33kbps. When I call their tech support (more than 50 calls) one of the tech support person (I have his name and number) said I should not expect any better than what I am receiving. Why should I champion a company who can't provide the service it is selling. Looks like you have not talked with Ortel customers. Anyway I sincerely hope Odisha deserves better as I do not want any company to be as rotten as Ortel Communication.

    on May 21, 2012
  • Debapriya Priyadarshi Chakra

    An inspiring story.

    on May 12, 2012
  • Susanta Mishra

    Good story. Inspring.

    on May 11, 2012
  • Jkmohanty Swostigroup,odisha

    The article on Mrs JAGi panda is excellent. She has proven herself as powerful lady entrepreneur in the country, Forbes should nominate her name for the best entrepreneur lady of the country, who has risen up the ladder the hard way in life.

    on May 5, 2012
  • Sandhya Upadhya

    It is never easy for a woman to create her own identity, however well placed she is in a male dominated society. Hats off to that woman who not only proved her worth but also did it in a backward state like Odisa. Loads of good wishes for all your future endeavor.

    on May 3, 2012
  • Sandhya Upadhyaa

    I salute the will power, patience and perseverance of jagi mangat panda really you have made all odiya women proud by your fabulous achievement. keep it up.

    on May 3, 2012
  • Dillip Mishra

    Odisha\'s Pride, Rest of the Country\'s envy. She is an inspiration for many Odias.

    on May 3, 2012
  • Rakhi Ghosh

    Jagi Ma\'am, you are \"The pioneer\"among the women entrepreneurs of Odisha. You are the inspiration for the women of the state. I salute your achievement, and you achieve the dream of your life. Bachi sir, it is so well-written, the flow of the content is tremendous. Thanks.

    on Apr 30, 2012
  • Satyajit Mishra

    Jagi had been a source of inspiration to many. though her in her in-law's family are in ferro-alloys buisness, but this lady has steel in her. she is a general who likes to fight upfront. never ever goes back, if she is decided. she is the real epitome of women empowerment.

    on Apr 27, 2012
  • Satyabrat "sanu\' Ratho

    Ms.Panda , graceful as always, is such an inspiration to everybody in Media . Thanks Bagchi Sir .

    on Apr 24, 2012
  • Ratnamanjari Nayak

    Mrs. Jagi Mangat Panda is really an inspiration for me. She is a nice, sober, intelligent, beautiful, smart, courageous, and talented woman. Salute to you Madam and Mr. Bagchi thanks a lot for posting this article.

    on Apr 18, 2012
  • Dr Umakant Mishra

    Thanks Subrata for doing this interesting interview. But I did look for some tidbits on her fancies, fears, future plans and connect with community in Odisha. Will you do that separately ? may be in your next book ! God bless you !

    on Apr 18, 2012
  • Abhishek Tripathy

    Ms. Mangat has certainly created a company that is worth writing about. OTV, with its emphasis on news and daily happenings, is a winner and a favourite of the masses, and dare may I suggest, the classes as well. It takes a lot of guts to break away from the beaten path and chart an entirely unique course. Technology, media and communications in a relatively traditional business environment was a big risk to take. It has certainly paid back rich dividends. Mr. Bagchi, we are grateful that you bring out such gems in your coloumn here.

    on Apr 17, 2012
  • Bor

    A rather excellent fluff piece !!

    on Apr 17, 2012
  • As;am Rahman

    thanks for sharing trials and tribulation gone thru for making ortel what it is now.it will inspire not only women but also young entreprenure to go full throttle. wishes

    on Apr 17, 2012
  • Satyendra Puti

    Sir, It's a beautiful article which gives us the real story.Certainly she is the idols for every women of ODISHA.Thanks a lot for giving us such an beautiful article.

    on Apr 17, 2012
  • Subrat Kumar Sahu

    Dear Sir. Thanks a Lot. PAST 11 Year when I was meet with JAGI PANDA at her ORTEL office. At that time ORTEL was not in Air. BARIPADA is a small town.Though it is the Headquater of MAYURBHANJ DISTRICT OF ODISHA STATE. I was running with " AMA MAYURBHANJ TELEVISION" through cable operators of the District.It was a weekly.Fortunately JAGIMANGAT PANDA was the Chiefguest of our 2nd annual year celebration 2002. at that time iwas contact with her.she is an incredible Entrepreneur,Dyanamic

    on Apr 17, 2012
  • Santosh Amat

    Mr. Bagchi, ur artcle is fabulous. It was overdue. Had she been doing it in a metro, the acclaim would have been international.

    on Apr 17, 2012
  • Soma

    Sharing a childhood memory - My grandfather had taken me to OTV office in Sahid NAgar, opposite to R.D college. I was in early school days at that time may be STD IV. We had some issues with our TV connection and bill. My grandfather went and met you inside. when we came back home he said to my grandmom - "Today I met my friend's Bahu(daughter in law), she is extremely smart, talented and probablyone day she will take orissa to great heights and I am happy and pleased that she is so well mannered and down to earth." Congrats Ma'm. you deserve the best. thank you for taking orissa to such height...

    on Apr 17, 2012
  • Smita

    She is an incredible Eentrepreneur, truly Wonderful and Remarkable Woman I met…Thanks to Mr.Bagchi for sharing this post.

    on Apr 15, 2012
  • Durga

    Fine with all that ...And, Kudos to the lady...But, Just get out and do a reality check on the customer services they provide and the off handedness they treat customers with. Best of luck.

    on Apr 14, 2012
    • Sanjay Katyal

      Dear Sir / Madam, I am concerned by the comment that you have posted and thankful to you too for having raised it. While at Ortel, we take utmost care in ensuring that our customers are provided adequate service and care, I hope that you would appreciate that at times things slip up despite the best intentions and systems/ processes. May I request you to send me your specific issue / grievance at the email id sanjay.katyal@ortelgroup.com and let me have your contact number so that we may resolve the complaint at the earliest. Thx

      on Apr 16, 2012
      • Srikanta

        Hi Sanjay, Appreciate your effort and attitude. Unfortunately things aren't changing the way it should. I am afraid it will be too late when Ortel realize this. They have already lost many customers in recent past and many are in queue. We are ready to pay but can't compromise on service. Sometimes it is very painful. Request you to personally look into service part more carefully. Thanks.

        on Apr 17, 2012
  • Jaganath Das

    Hats off..... need more woman enterpreneur to built up a productive nation.

    on Apr 14, 2012
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