For budding entrepreneurs who hope to get a ringside view of arguably the sharpest mind in the media and entertainment business, Ronnie Screwvala’s first book Dream with Your Eyes Open (Rupa, Rs 500) won’t get them there. That’s not to say that the collaboration between him and Wynton Hall, a professional American writer, isn’t insightful, but there are too few glimpses of the shrewd dealmaker’s business mind.
Written simply in his signature laidback style, Screwvala deftly outlines his journey of building UTV and other businesses, offering nuggets of wisdom along the way and pointing out dos and don’ts. There’s a minor contradiction or two early on when he recollects his childhood as being “lower middle class”, and then follows up with how he would travel to Germany with his father and end up buying industrial equipment to start a business.
Screwvala does shed light on how he started his first manufacturing venture and launched Lazer Brushes, and moved on to cable distribution and other ventures. But little is revealed about the alchemy that turned his dreams into reality.
What’s more, he neither mentions the learning he imbibed at Western Outdoor, his first father-in-law’s post-production company, nor does he talk about his role models or if anyone in the business world gave him a leg up when he was floundering. Instead, he chooses to emphasise the salient principles of company building with a 20-page FAQ section for entrepreneurs at the end.
Screwvala emerges as a living testament to the power of believing in oneself, building businesses block by scrappy block. But entrepreneurs would be better served if there were a stronger sense of the financial scale-up that Screwvala achieved over the years. There’s no talk of revenue or how big his toothbrush company became or what he did or felt when he made his first hundred crore.
One highlight is the negotiation with Sony Pictures to expand into India, when Screwvala chucks up a deal because he feels insulted. For one fleeting second, we get a hint of what makes the man tick and his ability to read how situations develop. Then the iron curtains come down again. Perhaps he’ll share more of that the next time he puts pen to paper.
If there is one takeaway from this book, it’s this: Becoming a super-successful entrepreneur gets you an entry into India’s elite club, as evidenced from the endorsements on the back page that include thumbs-ups from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Anand Mahindra, and other heavy hitters.