Tim Howat, TIME’s man in APAC, speaks with Marzban Patel on how India can compete in a fast-changing world

Tim, you have had quite a journey in the media world and worked on several leading brands. Tell us about your journey to where you are today as Managing Director, TIME, APAC?

I started in the ranks of classified sales at The Telegraph in London, back when there were such things. I moved to display through a fast-track scheme and then on to The Economist, on to a global platform that opened up a whole new world to me. I joined TIME in London in 2006 and was bitten by the Asia bug after working closely with our Asia offices. I secured a move to Singapore in 2014.

TIME is an iconic brand but has lost ground to several other new-media behemoths. However, we see a new spring in its step now. Give us a peek in its engine room and its plans for APAC.

TIME’s brand values of integrity, trust and quality journalism have been consistent for nearly 100 years. But the brand suffered when it got absorbed in the Time Warner media empire and was starved of the investment needed. Our new owners, Marc and Lynne Benioff, have brought in investment, belief and digital expertise. There is rejuvenation in TIME’s global ambition, with both London and Singapore teams growing significantly, commercially and editorially.

Time magazine s independent, fact checked reporting will hold it in good stead.
Time magazine’s independent, fact-checked reporting will hold it in good stead.

Our offerings now include expansions of the TIME 100 to Davos as well as two-day summits, an introduction of a new CEO Series and a health platform, as well as global expansion and translation of the ‘TIME for Kids’ programme.

Time 100 will be expanded to davos.
Time 100 will be expanded to davos.

The pandemic has required us to pivot and we have launched a virtual events series that has reached over 10 billion media impressions and hosted speakers such as the Dalai Lama and Elton John. The first TIME Asia Talks had the highest uptake of any of our talks to date and featured Ayushmann Khurrana, Ban Ki-Moon, Naomi Osaka and Kai-Fu Lee.

Singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer elton john and the dalai lama, the spiritual head of tibetan people
Singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer elton john and the dalai lama, the spiritual head of tibetan people.

Tell us about TIME’s role in guiding its readership in a post-COVID world.

TIME’s sense of purpose is unchanged, but the need for independent, fact-checked and balanced reporting has never been greater. I believe that the world is expecting us to offer them independent and fact-checked reporting. Our readers may not agree with everything we say, but they can trust the facts that we present.

How do you think the pandemic will affect Asian economies such as India, Japan and the rest of Southeast Asia? Who will weather the storm better and why?

This is perhaps a question for a more qualified economist than me. But Asia has always operated at vastly different speeds and this will only be exacerbated by the pandemic. Clearly, how the virus has been contained in each country is what will make the primary difference, but so would the scale of economy, reliance on tourism and other such factors. I don’t think we can draw any conclusions for the report card just yet. Second waves have shown us that we aren’t through the woods just as yet.

You have worked on several communication initiatives with India and other competing Asian economies on securing FDI. When FDI has become even more precious, what does a country need to do from a communications point of view, to be a challenger? What, in your opinion, are India’s strengths and weaknesses?

I think all countries need to demonstrate openness to foreign investment as well as an appetite for it, and invest in building good infrastructure and a qualified workforce. India has a huge scale, a young, highly educated workforce and a clear ambition to open up to international companies.

On the weakness front, I would count high levels of bureaucracy that remain and the slow pace of opening up to foreign investors. But it is moving in the right direction.

Securing FDI dollars will be a highly competitive process in the coming months. India needs to be big and bold with ideas and initiatives that reach global business decision-makers. It needs to address the concerns, but build a showcase for the unique opportunity the country provides. Clearly, the recent influx of high-profile investments is a great example.

You were involved with the ‘Make in India’ initiative and even launched and hosted the TIME India Awards in 2016 and 2017. What impressed you about the companies that emerged as winners? Will TIME revive this very important initiative? 

TIME would love to work on the TIME India Awards again. It was a great partnership with the Indian government at the highest level, and with McKinsey. The previous winners were a great mix across industries and company size. I feel that there are so many new categories we could include in the next iteration of the TIME India Awards.

Time award
The previous winners of time india awards were a great mix across industries and company size.

TIME is a huge influencer. What plans does it have to help rejuvenate cross-border tourism in general, and travel to India in particular? 

TIME’s calm, worldly view appeals to readers who are globally curious by definition. We will continue to spotlight great stories from around the globe, inspiring the desire to travel with our frequent flying audience.

TIME has been extremely successful in partnering nations and driving real results. Can you suggest any initiatives to Indian tourism boards, which would help bring travellers back to their destinations?

India’s unique breadth of experiences, both cultural and natural, makes it the perfect place to visit after the pandemic. A long history of spirituality and wellbeing will help position India as the ideal place to recharge after recent events.

Knowing that there is pent-up demand for travel and that long-haul travel is planned months in advance, I would suggest that the Indian tourism boards start planning sooner rather than later. Other tourism boards in Asia have plans well underway.

You’ve been a regular visitor to India on business. Given the situation, once flights open, will you hesitate to jump on a plane to visit us?

I can’t wait to get back on a plane to India. I miss the vibrance, colours and the food. The opportunities in India remain huge and so there will be sound business reasons for getting on that plane too.

From all the times you have travelled to India, what is that one thing you most look forward to when you land? And what would you put down as your most memorable moment in India to date?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi presenting the inaugural TIME India Awards on stage with my editor was my most memorable moment in India, amongst many. Savouring butter chicken at The Oberoi New Delhi is one thing I most look forward to; it is a dish I dream of.

The prime minister of india, narendra modi, was the guest of honor at the time india awards ceremony (1)
India’s prime minister narendra modi presenting the inaugural time india awards.

Which is your favourite hotel in India and while you are at it, which is your favourite one in the world? 

The Oberoi New Delhi was my first experience of the incredible service in top Indian hotels and it left an indelible impression. The unique regal feel of The Taj Palace Mumbai has to be experienced. It is a truly special place. The Leela in Bangalore boasts over-the-top opulence and the view through to the gardens offers a real sense of arrival and calm—particularly welcome after a long drive from the airport.

On a different note, what has your lockdown experience been? What have you binge-watched on the small screen? What’s been running on your playlist? What are you reading…other than TIME? And finally, now that international cricket is back, do you think India will whip England?

Sadly, the workload has increased with lockdown and so I haven’t had the luxury of binge-watching too much. I did watch The Last Dance, which helped deliver my missing sports fix, and Tiger King was a guilty pleasure.

Tim howat s lockdown indulgences have included far eastern, the last dance and tiger king
Tim howat’s lockdown indulgences have included far eastern, the last dance and tiger king

I’m reading TIME, of course, but also Far Eastern Tales by Somerset Maugham, a great collection of short stories from across Asia and the closest I have been to travel for months. As for India vs England, I’m neutral. May the best team win, or maybe India!

Before you go a word on Mediascope…

If it has to be only a word, then: Magnificent.

Tim howat
Tim howat, managing director apac at time

Mediascope is the exclusive media sales partner for TIME in India.