The Bangalore brand that evokes the most immediate recall and recognition around the world may be Infosys, but the Bangalore brand that touches more lives inside the country has to be Cafe Coffee Day.
But, while everybody knows the story of N.R. Narayana Murthy & Co, CCD has had no such luck. Its founder V.G. Siddhartha (in picture) has been a bit of a recluse, letting his stores do all the talking.
The man who has had to work extra-hard to play down the benefits of his proximity to his famous father-in-law, former chief minister S.M. Krishna, has opened up to Subroto Bagchi, the co-founder of Mindtree (of which Siddhartha is now a director), in the launch issue of Forbes magazine’s India edition.
Siddhartha says he could have easily lived off the 350 acres of coffee estate his family owned in Chikamagalur, but he wanted to start something on his own, to make money on his own. His father gave him Rs 5 lakh to “invest”, and to come back if he failed.
Siddhartha was 21 when he went to Bombay:
“I bought a piece of land for about three lakh and kept the rest in a bank. Then, I took a bus to Belgaum and then another to Bombay. I got off near the Fort. I had never stepped into the city before. I walked into a dabba hotel that rented rooms with a shared toilet for Rs 120 a day.
“Next day, I went to meet Mahendra Kampani of JM Financials—I had only heard the name. I had no appointment. I went to his office and the first thing was that I felt intimidated by the two elevators. I had never taken an elevator in my life. So, I climbed up the six floors.
“I met his secretary, a man named Mohan. I told him that I wanted to meet Mahendra Kampani; that I wanted to work with him. Mohan was a Bangalore guy. The man somehow felt sympathetic. He said that I could gatecrash just when he would be coming out of Mahendra Bhai’s room. I did exactly that.
“Mahendra bhai was perplexed with me. He asked me who I was. I told him that I had come all the way from Bangalore and I wanted to work for him. He made me sit down; he fetched me a glass of water. I had never seen an office as large as his. Then he spoke to me, he called someone to show me the research department and asked me to come back at 3 p.m. to see him again.
“I met him at 3 p.m. He said he would take me in but he had no idea who I was. He asked me to get him at least a letter of introduction. That is how it all started.
“I spent all my waking hours to learn about the trade. Every single day, I showed up at 7 am at the office and Mahendra bhai and I were invariably the last to leave well past nine in the night. I would tell the office boys to pack up and it was I who took Mahendra bhai’s dabba to load it in his car as the last item of work.
“In the process, he taught me all about the world of investing. He trusted me. He let me handle the accounts of some really big business houses. After a year-and-a-half with him, I was ready to come back to start on my own. I told Mahendra bhai that. I told him how grateful I was to him, what a lot I owed him.
“He told me that the Universe is connected in a web of timeless relationships. He had merely paid me back for past debt of a previous life — that I owed him nothing.
“So, Siddhartha returned and even though he bought over a stock trading firm called Sivan Securities (later renamed Global Technology Ventures), he really put his heart and soul into the coffee business. He bought out estate after failing estate in the wake of unviable coffee pricing and poor margins dictated by an international cartel. Then one day he decided to be his own master. He realised that the real value addition was in converting the beans into the coffee drinking experience and the rest is history.”
Since a recluse has started making other appearances in the media it could well mean Siddhartha is planning to take Coffee Day public, but that’s another issue.
Read the full article: Serving it hot
Also read: S.M. Krishna on the release of Dr Raj Kumar