A former professional Tour player, Rishi Narain, has spent the last 20 years working closely with major golf clubs, real estate developers, institutions and sponsors in India. Nowadays he runs the Indian Golf Union’s National Handicap Service, the annual India Golf Expo as well as several professional, amateur and corporate golf events in the country such as World Corporate Golf Challenge.
He has recently been named as ‘One of the Most Powerful People in Asian Golf’, an honour bestowed upon him by the Asia Pacific Golf Group & Golf Inc magazine ( USA). In addition, this year he has taken over as Publisher and Editor of Golf Digest India.
As you can imagine, we (WCGC) are very honored to have him as our Licensee for India… since 2004!
How were the beginnings of Rishi Narain?
I started with one employee working out of the basement of my home. However people knew that I had knowledge and expertise in golf so business picked up quickly. We are now 30 full time executives working only in golf – we have a nice office and my young team enjoys the work we do – it’s never dull – always something new happening.
What advice would you give to a person who is starting in the business of sports marketing?
You must have passion for sports and a clear picture of what expertise and value addition you can bring to your clients. For example my in depth knowledge of golf and name recognition, having been a national champion as a player as well as a golf coach, helped me get started. Plus my experience of having spent time in the USA seeing how the game had already developed, and being closely and deeply involved in several high profile international golf events gave me an understanding that few others had in India. So identify your strengths and then use those to gain an advantage for your clients.
You’ve been instrumental in raising and managing an estimated 70 million dollars in sponsorships agreements. What are the keys to your success?
I will mention three keys: 1.Ask your sponsors how they will evaluate the success of any sponsorship. Listen very carefully to their answers and then work very hard to deliver this to them. Sponsors will tell you what you need to do so that they buy from you. 2. Stay very close to your sponsors. With an annual event stay in touch and meet your sponsors often in between – feel the pulse of their business and changes happening at their end. Keep asking them if there are changes required to make the event give them better return on their investment and then innovate and add further value every edition of the event. Don’t get complacent and never assume your sponsor will automatically renew with you. Keep delighting them by coming up with new ways to improve the event from their perspective. 3. Be persistent and don’t give up. Sometimes it takes 4 to 5 meetings with a potential sponsor before they open up and really start taking you seriously. But if you keep talking to them – eventually they will realize you are committed. Sometimes in a big deal, it can take one year of discussions before an agreement is signed !!
The name of your company figures in Wikipedia as one of the Leading Golf Events Organisers. How do you get there?
This is probably a function of having been in the business for a long time! Above are really the keys to success – treat your sponsors well – overdeliver on what you promise them. Innovate and add value at every opportunity. Be aware that companies have many different ways to entertain their clients or build their brands and you have to keep showing them why working with you is a good decision for them. Give them the quality of service and dedication that they cannot find anywhere else. Remember like in any other business, it’s much easier to keep the same sponsor than to find a new one. My title sponsor for WCGC stayed with the event for ten years and now works with us in professional events.
Do you think you can export the keys of your success to other countries/markets?
We would love to go into other markets but need to establish a competitive advantage or a unique product or idea that no one has tried in that market already. We are exploring taking the WCGC to some neighbouring countries where we have strong contacts and this summer we are doing a series of Pro-Ams with Indian golf pros across 8 cities in the USA playing with Overseas Indians. This is a new venture but it’s a unique proposition we have and the response has been fantastic. We are working with Indian businesses who have strong interests in USA as sponsors. So in this case you can see we are offering a unique product which will be difficult to copy.
Do you think golf teaches life lessons?
Absolutely. You learn to be patient. You have to take the disappointments like double bogeys or a three putt in your stride. Same in life – failure has to be quickly put aside and you have to focus on the task at hand. You learn to control your emotions and not let a bad shot get you shouting and cursing. In life also when someone makes you angry – you can’t express that anger or you will alienate those people. So there is much to learn from golf – that’s why it is such a great game.
And if we talk about management, do you find similarities between competing in a golf course and in a business environment?
No doubt about it – many of the lessons mentioned above for life apply in business also. If there is one overall similarity – it is to work with passion and stay committed and persistent. If you are putting in the hard work and trying to improve yourself and eliminate your weaknesses – you will start seeing success. But you have to keep improving in small steps and then sometimes you get a breakthrough and take your business to the next level – this is the same in golf.
The golf course is a place for finding business partners and making business deals. True or False?
Completely True. Golfers share a common bond and trust among each other. If someone sees you as a courteous player, fair, encouraging and especially not someone who makes excuses for bad shots, throws clubs or blames their caddy or playing partner for disturbing them – then they will find you to be someone they want to do business with. Avoid negative behavior on the course and don’t whine and complain about your game when playing with potential business partners. No one wants to hear excuses when something is going wrong – they want to work with someone who is positive and optimistic and takes responsibility for mistakes. If they meet you and like you on the course, they will want to do business with you also. My new title sponsorship deal for WCGC this year started with an unplanned conversation on the course. I was talking to this guy during the round about our next upcoming event – the WCGC and he said “How can my company get involved in this event?” The rest is history!!
How did you get involved with WCGC? What were the key points that attracted you to this project?
We got involved because a friend told me about it and we wanted a unique event to offer to our clients. Something other golf event companies could not offer. The name of the event and its history helped us in positioning the tournament as the premier corporate tournament in India. We had a unique “ownable” property in our market.
As an ex-professional player, how do you rate your experience as a WCGC player?
Our world finalists have always had a great experience at the tournament. The thrill of representing your company and country in an international competition is something you remember for a very long time. It’s a great talking point with their golfing friends and is a great opportunity to make friends and business contacts with other golfers from around the world. Many World Finalists stay in touch with golfers they meet at the tournament.