Even before he became the first Parsi in history to enter the British House of Lords, 45-year-old India-born Lord Karan Bilimoria was nobility of a different kind, widely billed as UK’s resident beer baron.
Robustly friendly, he’s a qualified chartered accountant with a degree in law from Cambridge University. How in the world did he stray into making beer? “First of all, because of my love of English liquor,” chuckles the man who’s Cobra brand, with Bill Gates-like inspiration, has effectively used versions ranging from non-alcoholic to low calorie to fruit flavoured, to compound its growth.
In Delhi to launch his book ‘Bottled for business’ which he hopes will become a trigger for aspiring entrepreneurs, he’s rooting for India Inc. “It’s a true story brought to life and more importantly, its still happening. If my example encourages even one young man to attempt a similar venture, my purpose would have been achieved.”
His father, FN Bilimoria, was a general in the Indian army and at 16, Karan had set out for the UK to study and make a career in chartered accountancy. At 27, he was one
of the thousands working their way up the corporate ladder when he had his eureka moment.
For a curry-loving nation, the UK did not have a smooth enough beer that could complement Indian cuisine. “I realised that there was a gap in the market for a drinkable lager that went well with Indian food,” he recalls. He was 20,000 pounds in debt but went ahead and collaborated with an Indian brewmaster to come up with his ‘lessy gassy’ option. And then he made the leap that changed his life.
Today, his beer business is frothing the world over with an annual turnover of over 65 million pounds and is exported to 30 countries. “Now I’m asking other people to bottle their own great idea and give it a shake,” he smiles.
On another front, he’s been appointed the UK chairman of the Indo British Partnership by the British Government and interacts with the likes of LN Mittal and Lord Swaraj Paul. “Now the whole of Britain is waking up to the growth of a globalised India,” he points out.
Ask whether being ‘The Lord Bilimoria, of Chelsea’ automatically makes him Chelsea supporter and he allows himself a hearty laugh. “It’s a great honour to be in the House of Lords, especially because I’m about 25 years younger than the average member. And as a matter of fact, we get season tickets for Chelsea games. My children are dedicated fans and I’m always right behind them.”
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