Chairman | Channel 2 Group Corporation
A pioneer multiple times over, Channel 2 Group Corporation Chairman, Ajay Sethi is a dynamic and focused leader. While driven by the thrill of running businesses and emerging victorious as a market leader, he also believes deeply that his remarkable success was destined, making him the humble yet inspiring figure he is today.
The quintessential picture of success and hope to family, team and friends, the tycoon is blessed with a keen eye for trends and the ability to use his wits to transform opportunity into triumph.
Capitalising on a Re-Export Hub
It was in the year 1985 that a 21-year-old Sethi wrapped up his master’s degree and set forth to make his fortune in trade. A four-month stint as an employee was enough for the dreamer to decide that he aspired to do more and start his own company. The automobile spare-parts business he founded started with a small loan from his family, and his own hard-earned savings.
While he was skilled at scouring his environment and spotting untapped markets, even Sethi did not imagine the rewards his venture would reap. It was on his way to India from Kenya that the business mogul understood Dubai’s incredible worth as a re-export hub to the rest of the world, and connect it with Africa’s reliance on imported products.
Little did he know of the massive success due to come his way thanks to this foresight. His first consignment of Asian-made spare parts to the continent yielded a staggering 400 per cent profit, showcasing the explosive viability of the idea. He further refined it through extensive trips to Japan, China and Korea, which helped increase his knowledge of the industry while exploring possibilities at the heart of its manufacture.
It was in following this pursuit that Sethi multiplied his investment to make his first million dollars by the time he was 24. So vital and endearing did he find the still growing metropolis of Dubai that it was here that the newly married Sethi decided to grow roots in 1993, instead of migrating to London. An old Dubai aficionado to this day, he has raised his family in the city with his beloved wife, Deepna.
Sethi’s aspirations come from a grounded place in reality. While he believes strongly that one cannot run a business without taking some risks, he also believes in setting up a strong foundation to fall back onto before pursuing one’s passions. Perhaps that was why it seemed almost praeternatural that his life’s turning point came his way after his automobile spare-parts business was well established and fully matured.
A chance encounter with an Iraqi gentleman at a trade show piqued his interest, and a shared cup of tea revealed that Iraq was a nation ripe for business, provided it was done through the proper channels. The country saw him visit in 1997, get charmed by the love of Bollywood sweeping the nation, and return home with a 3.9-million-pound agreement with its government through the UN Food for Oil Programme. His next deals with them grew consecutively larger, supercharging his business and wealth as it did so.
This growth allowed Sethi to turn his gaze to the property boom in Dubai in the early 2000s. An avid investor in high-calibre properties across the city, the entrepreneur was one of the earliest investors in the residential community at Emirates Hills, apart from several premium spaces built by development juggernauts like Emaar Properties and Nakheel Properties, among others. Accustomed to long-term success, he has also developed and cultivated a keen love for art and antiques over the years.
A Series of Firsts
The Iraq war in 2003 soured business in the country, including the tycoon’s government-backed deals, prompting him to launch the passion project that would carry the UAE media industry into the 21st century – the Channel 2 Group Corporation. His diversification into media began with a two-hour TV slot during prime time on Ajman TV and was marked by a series of triumphant firsts.
Channel 729 was the first Terrestrial Hindi TV Channel in the region. Successful enough to fund his venture into the industry that featured in his childhood dreams, he crafted over 2,000 hours of content for the channel as the leader of the first company to start local programming production in the UAE. A pioneer many times over, Sethi piloted the media company towards the future by getting the rights to feature the two shows that held the Indian audience in thrall at that time; Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii and Kyunki Saas Shi Kabhi Bahu Thi.
The series’ introduction to Ajman TV also saw it dubbed into Arabic for the first time – a magnificent decision that amped up viewership in Saudi Arabia, and put UAE on the map for media. The businessman spent his early 30s learning the ropes and building up a portfolio of information and achievements in the media industry that would rival and soon surpass the standards for global best. Time saw the two-hour slot converted into a 24-hour channel in Kenya; A Joint Venture with the Government of Kenya (KBC); another first.
The very first all-day entertainment channel in the country, it bought rights from the goliaths of entertainment to create an enticing mix of content for viewers. Familiar with how the glamour of the industry could easily overwhelm a person, the Chairman has always maintained a professional approach to the business, which perhaps lends aspiring film buffs some insight into his success. Not a man to stop on scaling such peaks, Sethi then contemplated his entry into the sports industry.
An ardent sports enthusiast, he enlisted Ajman TV Chairman, Abdulla Mohammed Al Murad’s support and bought rights to the premier leagues of the game closest to his heart – cricket. Murad Group’s FM Station, named 89.1 MHz FM featured live commentary from ICC, BCCI, and the Pakistan Cricket Board, among others. In another revolutionary feat by Sethi, the year 2007 saw him exchange ideas with world-renowned cricketers and cricket commentators, Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar, leading to a series of events that would go on to consolidate his position and reputation within the sports media industry.
A celebratory event honouring 25 years of successful Indian cricketing after India’s 1983 cricket World Cup victory in the UK led to Sethi hosting a 1,000-people-strong sitdown dinner at the Atlantis Hotel. The extravagant and high-profile event served to put him on the global cricket map while making a splash across the front pages of numerous international newspapers. The increased visibility paid off.
Audio rights started pouring in, and today Channel 2 Group Corporation retains global audio rights to ICCA, BCCI, IPL, and the Asia Cup. The magnate himself has also explored and conquered the sports world as co-founder and part owner of the Caribbean Premier League’s St Lucia Zouks, and the owner of the Nelson Mandela Bay Stars in South Africa.
Following in this vein of firsts, the corporation also launched its own sports radio channel, Talk 100.3 FM and took a 50 per cent stake In the BIG FM TV network with 4 FM Stations in Dubai; a pioneering move that utilises the whopping 90 per cent of the world’s cricket audio rights that it owns. As the first Indian sports radio in the Gulf, it retains a loyal listener base to this day.
Open- Pen-Eyed Spirituality
An inquisitive man who constantly engages with his interests through business, Sethi has dabbled in an astonishing range of fields. From his happy and successful partnership running a popular tea lounge in Dubai with former Pakistani cricket captain, Ramiz Raja, to a joint stake with Kapil Dev in the Taj Theog Resort & Spa in Shimla, India, and publishing a stunningly designed coffee table book about Sikhism alongside the Indian cricket sensation, Sethi has truly explored a variety of industries to satiate his curiosity.
While the sheer diversity of it may give the impression of chance, it is in reality a reflection of how carefully Sethi handpicks the opportunities he chooses to pursue. It may be his long history of collaborating with others in growing different businesses that leads to his ideology that success is meant to be shared. In the entrepreneur’s own words, “There is no one selfmade in this world. Someone, somewhere becomes instrumental for you:· Perhaps that is why learning of the 49 per cent stake he co-owns in a joint venture with the Algerian government will come as no surprise.
The $1.6 billion project will focus on developing a steel plant in the North African nation, with the support of Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Presidential Court. While the tycoon’s fervent faith in destiny allows him to stay humble about his massive success, he strongly believes that one should not hesitate to share money through charity, as success is ultimately given to you by the customers you cultivate.
A staunch advocate for humility in the face of success, as success can sometimes destroy more people than failure, Sethi has a lot to share with the world, yet. His advice for the entrepreneurs of tomorrow is to never stop trying. Guided by the idea that every failure hides a lesson, his unshakable determination has given rise to the mantra he lives by – The day you stop trying is the day your failures start. So, keep trying till you succeed.