Back in the good old days, when Bengaluru was still Bangalore, the city had its own share of poster boys and girls. These were not men and women from the realm of the virtual, but were from the realm of the real. From the realm of brick and mortar businesses, put together brick by brick, with a great deal of passion, hard-work and grit.
In many cases these were businesses built in tougher days than now, when the very word business was not such a nice one in itself. Businesses that made big profits were frowned upon, and many were spurred with just one source, the public sector bank loan. Businessmen of the day leveraged the environment to their best interests, and got the bank loans going, and kept the entire system happy. Many made the best of friends in political circles to keep the ball rolling. And some actually ventured into the realm of politics itself, wanting a piece of the front-ended action that seemed to spur all businesses hard and soft alike. And in the bargain, many made foes and frenemies as well.
Dr. Vijay Mallya was certainly one of them. He was a poster boy par excellence! After inheriting a business in the space of alcohol and allied spaces, he did certainly inherit many tough propositions. The first was alcohol, which in itself was a very controlled-by-government business. The second was big money stakes that meant very tough competitors who would go to any lengths to succeed, even by burying the competition alive, at will. The third was the fact that politics was a very important defining part of the eclectic mix of this business. The business Vijay Mallya inherited was really a heady cocktail of it all, one in which every ingredient was as important as the other. And every ingredient had to be managed optimally for success, I guess. And he did.
The man therefore began in good faith. He put together the semblance of a corporate organisation, believed deeply in the power and value of brands (maybe even before anyone else did in this country) and invested heavily, often cross-leveraging financial efficiencies from one business to the other. The business of alcohol grew, the business of brands valued this basic business of fundamental commodity addiction into a rather precious one. He fought many a battle and got out of each one of them trumps. And the man built brand Kingfisher somewhere on the way.
Vijay Mallya believed so much in the brand that he did not hesitate to become the brand itself. If Kingfisher was the brand, he was the King of good times! His life, however hard-working and focussed onto detail it was at the back-end of corporate work, was projected to be one of romp and show, pop and glitz. The man grew bigger than his brand in image terms, and in the bargain attracted the best of attention, and the worst of attention as well, I guess.
And then bit the yen to be bigger than it all. Alcohol apart, the other business that was meant to make you fly was the business of aviation itself in a nation poised to fly. Vijay Mallya spotted this opportunity early and spun off Kingfisher Airlines and did a splendid job on it. Much like what he did to his brands in alcohol. And that’s a common trait with VJM! He did what he did. And he did it well, and with great passion and business fervour. He centre-staged the consumer. He celebrated the consumer and his and her experience, never mind what it costed. In this case it costed profits. Precious profits that ATF would gobble with every passing flight.
Vijay Mallya the man then. A business man of excellent quality, who become a poster-boy of success and fast-tracked fervour. And eventually a poster. A wanted poster even, as of now.Nett of it all, the way of the world is to remember the ills more than the points to celebrate. As of now, Dr.Vijay Mallya is remembered for things not so good, but how can we forget all those good things this king of good times brought to Bengaluru and the ecosystem of business that we so proudly celebrate today. In many ways, Vijay Mallya woke up the sleepy Pensioner’s Paradise(remember our old moniker?) and prodded it on to be what it is today, a thriving hub of business that celebrates every kind of business, real, semi-real, virtual and semi-virtual to boot.
The author is a Brand Guru & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.