Sometimes, entrepreneurs or professionals are involved in situations, that, by chance, require a turnaround effort. After which, they become known as ‘turnaround experts’, and Jason Kothari is one such expert. Kothari became the entrepreneur-CEO of Valiant Entertainment, the superhero entertainment company, and under his leadership, he brought the company back from bankruptcy to a successful, established and fast-growing player in its industry. He went on to become CEO of Housing.com, of FreeCharge and then the CSIO of Snapdeal, which were all in situations that needed a turnaround expert like him.
For Kothari, acquiring Valiant Entertainment was both a personal and professional decision. It was his childhood favourite comic book company, and he wanted to bring it back to life. The idea that two penniless college kids could swoop down in 2005 and buy their favourite childhood company, which a few years ago was worth $65 million, in a bankruptcy fire sale was so absurd that it’s incredible they even allowed themselves to dream such a thing, let alone attempt it. In a matter of years, Kothari made Valiant the third largest superhero entertainment company after Marvel and DC Comics and a sale for $100 million, which generated a record industry return. The Company was named Publisher of the Year, was nominated for 90 awards, and completed a landmark five-movie deal with Sony Pictures, based on its characters. This includes Bloodshot, starring Vin Diesel, where he served as an executive producer.
No turnaround leader is likely to win a popularity contest, I assure you. Of course, I can’t tell you all my trade secrets as otherwise why would anyone need me. It can be very satisfying to save or completely change the outcomes of companies, but the intensity required is certainly not for everyone,” he says. Kothari literally looks like a Hollywood hero with a body to die for, but is professional and staid to a fault. In numerous conversations with his team, we were informed how Kothari had really made an effort to be as personal in this interview as possible — a feat that comes rarely to him. Kothari was born in Hong Kong and at the age of 15, he began his first job at Media Asia Films, where he was an assistant to Jackie Chan. When he was 12 years old, he imagined Bloodshot, the Valiant comic book story, as a movie. In 2020, he finally managed to achieve that. One look at him, and you get the distinct feeling that a young Kothari must have wanted to be a superhero himself. That also shows in his early fitness practises.
“I used to be obsessed with working out a few years ago, even before it was popular, and I would religiously go to the gym for two hours every day. I do 1,000 push-ups per day — people thought I was crazy. I even lived and trained in a Muay Thai camp in Thailand. But now I enjoy a more balanced lifestyle and work out for an hour a day, five times a week, usually at night, as a sort of end-of-day meditation,” he says. As far as his ‘CEO diet’ is concerned, Kothari eats a textbook healthy breakfast and lunch every day, but when it comes to dinner, he doesn’t mind getting a little naughty. “It’s a simple guideline but works well for me. And I am addicted to chai; you don’t want to have a meeting with me if I didn’t get my afternoon chai made with jaggery,” he says.
When asked about his prediction for the global economy in the wake of the novel coronavirus, he’s quite optimistic. Not so surprising, after all, when you’ve managed multiple bankrupt companies and turned them around to make profit, you’re up for almost anything. “Human beings, throughout history, have shown an enormous ability to adapt and bounce back, and I’m confident we will eventually make it through and be back to normal. The question is not if, it’s only when,” Kothari says. However, his optimism hasn’t led to him taking undue risks. He’s diligently stayed out of investing in the markets recently as he felt they were too frothy. He’s also become an author now, simply because he is often sought by business students and young entrepreneurs for advice, considering his experiences across countries, industries and companies, especially in challenging and crisis situations. “The book is the reflection of my journey — one that describes the personal, professional, failures, successes, early and later experiences — and connects all these dots to uniquely give a complete and accurate picture of an entrepreneur’s life. I hope it’s a story that will not only entertain readers but also help them learn from my many mistakes and triumphs.”
So what about his mistakes? Does he have any regrets? “One of the toughest decisions I made was the first week I was CEO of Housing.com, and we had to relieve 1,000 colleagues because we were about to run out of money. It was heart wrenching as people’s livelihoods were at stake, but we did our best to be as generous and compassionate as possible. This difficult decision was an essential one to save the entire company and the remaining 1,000 jobs. I had ensured that the situation was dealt in the most humane manner possible, with open and transparent communications, I personally did numerous meetings with my colleagues to explain the difficult situation. It was certainly not easy,” he says. “I think crisis and opportunity are a fine line, and an entrepreneur can turn this situation into an enormous opportunity if approached thoughtfully, and from a long-term perspective,” he signs off.