Usha Martin Group is a diversified entity active in mining, steel production, and the manufacture of wire ropes (click here to read more). But as Prashant Jhawar, vice chairman of UMG, explains, the family's ownership of a regional newspaper has also been vital for the business…
"We operate our steel and wire rope businesses in the state of Bihar, which is a very difficult part of India – 20 years ago it was pretty notorious for extortion. It has improved a lot since then, but having a credible newspaper has provided the family, the staff and the business with some cover.
The newspaper business was very tiny when we bought it, but it's gone up hugely in terms of credibility and is now the market leader. In 2000, Bihar was carved into two: South Bihar became a new province called Jharkhand, which has 60% of India's coal and 45% of India's iron ore reserves, while the northern part of the state is very fertile agricultural land. We were fortunate to be in the southern part so we were in the right place at the right time.
It's a daily, Hindi language paper with a circulation of 350,000. We're currently growing at a rate of 10% because a lot of new investment is coming into the state which means there are a lot of people who want to take out advertisements, which in turn promotes interest from our readership.
It has proved to be quite invaluable for us because it has a very strong agenda and helps to build public opinion. It portrays the developmental agenda of the state, discusses what should happen there, and it can also take people to task. It also gives our family more credibility.
Having the region's number one newspaper certainly ensures that the people, bureaucrats, politicians and other decision-makers in Bihar are aware of its capability. We wouldn't use the newspaper to help the business, I think the mere threat is adequate, and in any case you can only do it once before you lose credibility. But if it comes to saving the business, by all means.
If someone were to challenge the business in a particular manner which is outside the law then, well, newspapers in India have a powerful reputation and the media is completely free.
The newspaper is run independently of our family – none of us are on the board – and there is a managing editor who is in charge. We do get involved in growth plans and funding, the more commercial side of the business. however.
We are now extending into radio and we already have a licence for two cities in the state. Again, it's very modest but it's a beginning. If we are successful, there's no reason why we can't expand that – we will be looking at new media such as the internet and mobile and phones."
Click here to read more about the Usha Martin Group and its belief in social responsibility.