Lifeâ€™s turned a full circle for Karan Bilimoria, CEO of UK-based Â£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.
â€œSome moments are life-changing, this is certainly one of them,â€ Bilimoria told this reporter over phone from the UK, soon after being introduced to the House. â€œOne 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,â€ Bilimoria, 45, said. â€œItâ€™s a huge opportunity and a huge challenge. I want to contribute in the field of entrepreneurship, corporate governance, tradeâ€¦.â€
Shouldnâ€™t be too difficult because Bilimoria, a chartered accountant and law grad from Cambridge, famously launched Cobra Beer at age 27 in 1989 with Â£20,000 of student debt and no knowledge of brewing. â€œI love beer but hated the lager available in the UK. I wanted a different beer to accompany Indian food.â€
Bilimoria recalls moving around in a battered old car, lugging bottles of beer to first-time clients â€” the network of Indian restaurants. â€œWe are where we are because of those restaurants who re-ordered the beer and helped us along.â€ Fifteen years on, Cobra, flush with fresh funding of Â£27.5 million, is stocked in over 6,000 restaurants and is exported to 40 countries.
â€œSome 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.â€ Bilimoria is gung-ho about India because â€œthe beer market is going to take off. Indians now consume less than 1 litre per person per year compared to Chinaâ€™s 20 litres and the UKâ€™s 100 litres per person per year.â€
India apart, the other market heâ€™s concentrating on is South Africa, and thereby hangs a tale. â€œMy 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.â€
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. â€œItâ€™s where I will get lots of new ideas.â€