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Preity Zinta: Bollywood star sets sights on business world

By Mark Tutton, for CNN
Bollywood star Preity Zinta enrolled on a Harvard executive education course to boost her chances in business.
Bollywood star Preity Zinta enrolled on a Harvard executive education course to boost her chances in business.
  • Bollywood actress Preity Zinta has branched out into business, co-owning a cricket team
  • She juggles business with acting and plans to make three movies this year
  • "If you try to do something different you have to start from scratch," she said

London, England (CNN) -- Preity Zinta is a Bollywood superstar with a string of awards and hit movies to her name. But as co-owner of a major cricket team, and following a course at Harvard Business School, she has started a transition from actress to businesswoman.

An English graduate who went on to study criminal psychology, Zinta, 34, told CNN she fell into acting by chance, but had always been interested in business.

"It's not that acting was something I'd always wanted to do. I had no formal training; I'd never really imagined I'd be an actress," she said in a telephone interview from India.

"Business was something that had always been in my mind, but when I got into acting, I learned everything on set, and for me at that point I wanted to excel at what I did."

Zinta had been acting for 11 years when, in 2008, she decided to buy a stake in Kings XI Punjab, one of the eight cricket teams in the fledgling, multimillion-dollar Indian Premier League (IPL).

"I was at the top of my job, doing extremely well, everything was great and then I said 'now what?' There has to be a natural progression," Zinta told CNN.

Hugely popular in India, the IPL attracts some of the world's top cricketers and has a sizeable following in cricket-playing countries. No silent partner, Zinta said that when she bought her stake she was determined to be involved in running the team.

"I'm pretty hands on. The partners I was working with all come from business families, and they're all running billion-dollar businesses, so for them, this was too small a business to run day-to-day," she said. "So I decided I would go for it, be hands on, learn the business from the start and see how it goes."

Why being a CEO "should come with a health warning"

Zinta said her experience in promoting her movies helped when it came to being involved in marketing the team. But last November, Zinta decided to add to her business skills with a stint at Harvard Business School, taking a short executive education course in negotiations and deal making.

If you have a strong intent to do anything in life, you can do it.
--Preity Zinta

"After the second IPL season I decided I should go in for a short course in business to broaden my horizons and actually understand the structure of business," she told CNN

"It's one thing to be passionate about something, but it's equally important to understand the way things are done in a particular fashion.

"As an actress I never went to film school and I think if I had gone to film school I would have started with a great advantage. If you have a strong intent to do anything in life you can do it, but it always helps to have formal training."

While she was the only movie star on the course, she wasn't the only high achiever. "I was in very esteemed company," she said. "There were big CEOs, people who ran multinationals and bankers. I picked up ideas from them."

"The course taught me how to structure things, which is extremely helpful now. But India operates very differently from the west: When in Rome do as the Romans," she added.

Leadership lessons from India

Zinta admitted it can be difficult juggling two careers. She had put her acting career on hold to focus on her cricket team but said she planned to make three movies later this year.

"It's really difficult for me to film during the IPL season [in March and April]. Too many things happen. I need to be here and I want to be here," she told CNN.

"I didn't act for 18 months, but I miss the movies, and it's my job. I'm going to be filming all year after the IPL, but I feel completely settled. We have a really good team set up that handles the cricket operations."

Zinta said she had plans to branch out into other business ventures, and she had some advice for others trying to succeed in business.

"The lesson across the board for everybody is that you need to have the will to do something, and you have to work really hard," she told CNN.

"It does not matter what you do, if you try to do something different you have to start from scratch, you have to work hard, you have to work your way up. There are no shortcuts.

"You have to listen to your gut. I always have really good people around me, but I also listen to my gut -- and you have to be innovative.

"If it's in India you have to be very quick in being innovative. There's no room to slack; it's very competitive out there."