PROFILE: Purushothaman makes the grade as NewsMarket CEO

NewsMarket CEO Shoba Purushothaman didn't want to be a journalist or get into PR. But she's excelled at both, with a drive that has helped land her on the cover of Inc. magazine.

NewsMarket CEO Shoba Purushothaman didn't want to be a journalist or get into PR. But she's excelled at both, with a drive that has helped land her on the cover of Inc. magazine.

Shoba Purushothaman's father is the headmaster of a high school in Malaysia. Despite her Sri Lankan origin (which she is adamant about clarifying), Purushothaman, now CEO of The NewsMarket, lived in Malaysia until she left for Monash University in Australia. "As the kid of a school principal, there was always a lot of pressure on making good grades," she recalls. Pressure is something that she's not only learned to deal with, but tackle with a vengeance throughout an entrepreneurial adventure on which even her father would have to admit she's more than made the grade. After finishing college in 1984 with a dual degree in English literature and Japanese, and intent on scoring a job in finance, Purushothaman graduated into a poor job market that did not afford her the luxury of entering the field of her choice. Reluctantly, she accepted a job as a journalist for Malaysian Business, the only business magazine in that country. There, she remembers working for a "notoriously tough" editor who was "particularly unimpressed with female talent." The experience proved worthwhile - and in retrospect, pivotal - however, because it led to Purushothaman being selected as one of five business journalists from Asia to attend a six-week fellowship program in the US. The trip, Purushothaman's first to the States, inspired her to remain here for graduate school. She entered American University in Washington, DC as a financial/business-reporting major in 1987. Students in the graduate program were required to complete an internship, for which they were told, "Don't even bother calling the Times, the Post, or the Journal," says Purushothaman. But after receiving some impromptu advice from a J-school graduate who told her to "forget what they say, and go for the big guys," Purushothaman hand-delivered her resume to The Wall Street Journal. As luck would have it, the paper's news editor happened to be in the lobby when the eager graduate student arrived (in jeans and a sweater) and asked her to interview on the spot. Pleased with what he heard, the editor asked her to come back the next day to meet with the bureau chief, who after 20 minutes asked one question: "When can you start?" Upon being hired (extraordinarily, during a period when the WSJ had technically canceled its internship program to cut costs), Purushothaman moved all her classes to the evening so she could work a full schedule at the paper. Working alongside such legendary reporters as Allan Murray and Walt Mossberg, she covered economics, and was also assigned a trade beat because of her Japanese language skills. She remembers the experience as her first exposure to PR. "You saw the horrible side of journalism - people would tell you to stop calling and hang up. The PR people on Wall Street had a lot of power because that was the only way you could talk to anyone." After completing graduate school in 1988, the WSJ hired Purushothaman as a staff writer to cover financial markets from the New York bureau. To satisfy a visa issue, she was eventually transferred to London, where she wrote about stocks and bonds for Dow Jones Newswires. She remained with the company until 1994, when she says, "I became bored with what I was doing." Faced with the option of writing for Far Eastern Economics or Asian Journal, two publications that offered her jobs, or joining her friend's recently launched London-based broadcast PR company, Bulletin International, Purushothaman chose the latter. Anthony Hayward, a former photojournalist for Reuters who met Purushothaman while she was in graduate school, sought someone who could establish Bulletin in the Asian market. Purushothaman, an "extremely well-traveled and well-connected" go-getter who "loves and understands the news business," in the words of Hayward, was just the person for the job. "As much as I did not like the idea of PR, I liked the concept of how TV and news came together," she says. "Besides, I figured if I didn't like it in six months, I could always go back to journalism." But Purushothaman never went back. In fact, she never even looked in that direction. After spending two-and-a-half years establishing Bulletin in Singapore and then Malaysia, she returned to New York to build the business in the US. Once she got back, "I realized that there was so much talk about broadband and video compression going on." In 1999, Purushothaman and Hayward started to seriously explore the internet as a media-relations and distribution tool. After about six months of researching the technology industry, Purushothaman left Bulletin to form a new company, The NewsMarket, because, she explains, "We knew distribution had to be separate from content production." Claude Sheer, former president of Ziff Davis Publishing and investor in and advisor to The NewsMarket, notes, "Shoba was very early in recognizing the rising importance in the PR community of the globalization of visual content." At the time Purushothaman decided to form her company, she was already enrolled in an executive-education program at Harvard Business School. Her completion of the curriculum resulted in her being one of 23 women (from a pool of 150) selected by Springboard Enterprises - a nonprofit dedicated to helping female entrepreneurs gain capital for their businesses - to present their ideas at three VC forums. "Shoba is the smartest person I know," says Hayward, now chairman of The NewsMarket. In a tone of equal importance, he adds, "And she gives great parties." And versed in the art of celebration she should be. In June 2002, The NewsMarket secured $3 million in capital from the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which is managed by Ascend Venture Group. That same month, Purushothaman graced the cover of Inc. magazine when it ran a feature story that followed three of the women accepted to Springboard's program. Purushothaman humbly admits, "It's hard not to wake up feeling very juiced up about everything." ----- Shoba Purushothaman 2000-present CEO and president, The NewsMarket 1994-1999 Managing director, Bulletin International 1987-1994 Reporter, The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires 1985-1987 Reporter, Malaysian Business

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