Corporate Training Leadership
April 11, 2012
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Flamboyant is a word which is often used by the media to describe Indian businessman Vijay Mallya, the man behind Kingfisher beer, and the airline of the same name.

Images of him posing with bikini clad calendar models, attending events in the company of Bollywood celebrities, and relaxing on his private yacht, paint a picture of a man who knows how to enjoy the high life.

His penchant for partying fits with his company’s slogan, “The King of the Good Times”, but behind the glamorous veneer, say friends and associates, is a determined businessman, who has worked hard to build recognised brands and businesses recognised not only in India, but around the world.

Good times’

“Appetite for risk and diligence are two key factors which define him as a businessman,” says Nupur Sinh, a journalist and writer who has known Mr Mallya for 12 years.

“VJ has chosen to be known as the King of Good Times: surrounded by gorgeous women, throwing the most fantastic bashes and living the high life,” she says.

“What he doesn’t gloss over or care to show is how he slogs – I have seen staff change shifts but VJ going on full-throttle,” she adds of his attitude towards work.

Mr Mallya is the chairman of the UB group, a company he inherited at the age of 28, after his father’s death in 1993.

He grew up and studied in Kolkata, and completed stints with manufacturing companies in the US and the UK, before working in the family business, learning from his father, Vittal Mallya.

When Vijay Mallya took over the reins he transformed the business and brand, and has a personal net worth of an estimated $1.1bn, according to US business publication Forbes.


The UB group has a range of interests.

United Breweries makes Kingfisher beer and is India’s largest brewing company, while United Spirits is behind brands such as Whyte and Mackay, McDowell’s and White Mischief.

In 1991, after economic liberalisation, Mr Mallya decided to streamline the company’s interests to areas where it could be globally competitive.

The company also produces fertilisers, and has an engineering plant, amongst other things.

Ms Sinh, who has covered Mr Mallya’s meteoric rise, describes him as a “visionary”.

“Twenty years back he analysed India’s youth demographic and recognised that consumption would come from beer, and put his money and time building Kingfisher,” she says.

Airline closed

It is this foresight which has helped established Mr Mallya as synonymous with the brand itself, she argues.

Mr Mallya is also chairman of Kingfisher airlines, which was at one stage India’s largest airline by passenger numbers, but is now weathering financial troubles, losing on average a million US dollars a day.

At its height the airline was seen as the bastion of quality air travel in India, winning awards and accolades for its service, but in the latter half of 2011 its fortunes began to nosedive.

In September 2011, Mr Mallya shut down the low cost arm of the airline, Kingfisher Red, to stem any further losses.

Some argue one of Mr Mallya’s biggest weaknesses was having too many fingers in too many pies.


“If Vijay Mallya was the CEO and he devoted his time just to the airline he’d have been the best CEO,” says Capt G R Gopinath.

He is the founder of low-cost carrier Air Deccan, and who sold his airline to Mr Mallya, who rebranded it Kingfisher Red.

“But he never had the time for the airline. If he had focused on it – I don’t think anyone could have done a better job than him,” Capt Gopinath adds.

“He was charming, shrewd and gave everything I wanted for it,” he says, referring to the airline deal.

“But when it comes to business he can get carried away. That’s his undoing”.

Vijay Mallya’s varied hobbies and charisma make him prime fodder for the glossy magazines as well as the business pages.

He owns an IPL cricket team, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, breeds race horses, has a stake in a Formula 1 racing team, Force India, and owns two football teams.

He also enjoys spending time on yachts.


But varied passions, do not mean he is not a dedicated and hardworking businessman, says Ms Sinh, who says she’s always found Mallya down to earth, large-hearted and warm.

Qualities which have won him affection from his staff.

He is religious, and is said to bless every aircraft he buys at a sacred temple in the Southern Indian city of Tirupati, as well as devoting a large portion of his time to public service.

Mr Mallya is a politician, serving as an independent member of the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of representatives.

A father of three, his son Siddarth now works for the family business, and is general manager of United Spirits.

About author

Dr Shailesh Thaker

Dr. Shailesh Thaker is a world-renowned management thinker and trainer on organizational behavior and development. He is the CLO of Knowledge Plus Inc., a highly reputed training firm based in Ahmedabad, India, helping organizations to achieve international benchmarks in management practices.

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