Diapora: Karan Billimoria


Liquor baron Karan Billimoria, one of the leading Indian voices in the British business fraternity, says young Indians do not realise how lucky they are because tomorrow’s world will belong to them

Karan Billimoria was once a youth icon. In a poll—which covered 700 student entrepreneurs from 13 universities in Scotland—conducted by the Scottish Institute for Enterprise in 2004, he polled 42 per cent of votes. The students believed that Billimoria, originally from India but now based in the UK, “triumphed through his tenacity and strong belief in his vision”.
Inspiration creates aspiration and aspiration ­creates achievement, says Billimoria
Today Billimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer, is inspiring India. Speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi last month, the 46-year-old said about a rising India: “You are just seeing the trailer, you are yet to see the blockbuster.” “Inspiration creates aspiration and aspiration creates achievement.”

Citing a Goldman Sachs projection for the country, he said in 2003, when the firm published its first report on the economies of the world, India did not figure in the list of 40 countries. “But three years down the line, the company admitted that it had underestimated India and said by 2050, India and China would be the largest economies in the world.” Reminding the audience of the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s dream of wiping every tear from every eye, he said: “May Nehru’s dream come true.”
You are just seeing the trailer, you are yet to see the blockbuster. India will succeed. It is still reaping the benefits of the opening up of the economy in 1991
However, on an optimistic note, he said despite challenges hope still outweighed pessimism and enterprise scored over obstacles. “India will succeed. It is still reaping the benefits of the opening up of 1991,” he said. 
As recently as July, Karan Billimoria wanted to ­convert his popular beer brand Cobra into a “world beer” with the help of Diageo, the world’s biggest alcoholic drinks company. The plan was to give away a 30 per cent stake of his world famous beer to Diageo for around $45 million.

But now Bilimoria is putting his beer business up for sale for around $296 million. After the failure of talks with Diageo, Bilimoria has appointed investment bank Rothschild to find a new investor in the beer company he founded 18 years ago.

“Cobra beer is looking at a strategic partnership or a sale in order to achieve the full potential of the business,” the beer company said in a statement.

Rothschild is expected to contact potential buyers this week including brewers with a big presence in the UK such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Carlsberg and Molson Coors, while India’s United Breweries will also be approached.

Bilimoria owns around two thirds of the beer group with the remaining stake held by hedge funds, other investors and the company’s own employees. He developed the beer as a less gassy lager that would be easier to drink with food and the beer become popular at many of Britain’s curry restaurants.

Cobra has found it hard to break into the UK pub and bar market, which accounts for just 10 per cent of its sales. It is brewed in Poland but is shifting operations back to the UK in order to save money because of increasing transportation costs.

The India-born Billimoria is the first Parsi to enter the prestigious House of Lords. As one of the youngest members of the 714-member chamber, he said his focus would be on “enterprise, entrepreneurship, trade and investmen.”

Speaking on behalf of the vast Indian diaspora, he said he was proud to be an Asian in Britain. “More so, I am proud to be an Indian. India takes pride in its diaspora and recognises the achievements of Indians abroad,” he said.

December 2008

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