It’s a life-changing moment: Lord Bilimoria


August 5, 2006

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Life’s turned a full circle for Karan Bilimoria, CEO of UK-based £80-million Cobra Beer. Growing up in the family house at Marredpally in Andhra Pradesh, Bilimoria was deeply influenced by great grandfather D D Italia, who was a Rajya Sabha member. Now, straddling a century and geographies apart, Bilimoria is in the Upper House too, one of the 10 youngest and the first Parsi member of the House of Lords.

“Some moments are life-changing, this is certainly one of them,” Bilimoria told this reporter over phone from the UK, soon after being introduced to the House. “One of the reasons why I am delighted, honoured and humbled at this privilege is because the average age of the House of Lords is 68,” Bilimoria, 45, said. “It’s a huge opportunity and a huge challenge. I want to contribute in the field of entrepreneurship, corporate governance, trade….”

Shouldn’t be too difficult because Bilimoria, a chartered accountant and law grad from Cambridge, famously launched Cobra Beer at age 27 in 1989 with £20,000 of student debt and no knowledge of brewing. “I love beer but hated the lager available in the UK. I wanted a different beer to accompany Indian food.”

Bilimoria recalls moving around in a battered old car, lugging bottles of beer to first-time clients — the network of Indian restaurants. “We are where we are because of those restaurants who re-ordered the beer and helped us along.” Fifteen years on, Cobra, flush with fresh funding of £27.5 million, is stocked in over 6,000 restaurants and is exported to 40 countries.

“Some of the funds are going to be used for our expansion in India. We have plans for three more breweries in India and a greenfield site in Hyderabad by next year.” Bilimoria is gung-ho about India because “the beer market is going to take off. Indians now consume less than 1 litre per person per year compared to China’s 20 litres and the UK’s 100 litres per person per year.”

India apart, the other market he’s concentrating on is South Africa, and thereby hangs a tale. “My wife is South African and her family owns a farm. We visit her family every year with our four children, like we visit India. I want my children to be in touch with their roots and be equally at home in the UK, SA and India.”

Outside work, Bilimoria loves taking eldest son and daughter to see Chelsea Football Club when they play at home or watch the latest Pink Panther or just breakfast together. A bit of that routine will have to change come October when the House is in session and Bilimoria wants to attend, Monday through Friday. “It’s where I will get lots of new ideas.”

Financial Express