Thursday 8 August 2019

VG Siddhartha: A face beyond his coffee business

Siddhartha’s friends say he was more of a hands-on person and cared about every detail of his business, getting into nitty-gritty

Last week, everyone across Karnataka, or maybe across India, was glued to the television to find out the fate of one man -- VG Siddhartha.

For many, he was largely an unknown face. The few who knew him were aware only of his identity as owner of Café Coffee Day (CCD) -- a chain he had built since 1996.

That was until July 30 when the news of Siddhartha having gone missing was splashed across television channels and front pages of major news publications. After 36 hours of him going missing on July 29 evening, his body was found on the morning of July 31 in the Netravati River near Mangaluru from where he had allegedly drowned.

Those 36 hours saw multitude of reasons surface from people who barely knew him to becoming experts on matters related Siddhartha.

There were discussions and prime time debates on Siddhartha’s company, debt profile and how mounting debts and connection with politicians could have pushed him to the extreme.

Suddenly, all his businesses from coffee to real estate were scrutinized. Analysts began putting a number on debt ranging anywhere between Rs 3,500 crore and Rs 8,000 crore.

All based on a single letter, whose veracity is yet to be confirmed, purportedly written by Siddhartha on July 27.

But who was Siddhartha? According to his friends, Siddhartha was humble, unassuming and brave. That is why, for people who knew him and grew up with him, the sudden disappearance and news of his death that followed was so uncharacteristic of him.

One of the coffee day board members told CNN News18 that he/she too had been taken aback by what had transpired. Siddhartha they had known was nothing of that sort. He was much more than that.

Vinay Madhav, Siddhartha’s neighbour from Chikkamagaluru and a close friend, said, “I have known Siddhartha from childhood. He literally had solutions for everything. You would always see him smile even at the face of adversity.”

For this was not the first time he had faced public scrutiny. Madhav recounted a situation when his father-in-law SM Krishna was Karnataka’s Chief Minister.

Siddhartha had to deal with accusation of money laundering during that time. “There was much publicity around it that time. When I met him he just showed me few documents and said that he knew that one day he would be affected and had proof that would give him a clean chit,” Madhav said.

“But he did not want to do so unless there is a need. That was the kind of guy Siddhartha was,” he said.

Even as talks about the debt continue, Madhav said, Siddhartha had penchant for details.

Siddhartha was more of a hands-on person. He cared about every detail of his business getting into nitty-gritty.

It was this attention to detail that helped Siddhartha turn around Sivan Securities, the first company he bought with Rs 30,000 worth shares in 1992 and build an empire that now includes real estate, cement at one point and wealth management apart from his coffee business.

Madhav pointed out that Siddhartha was a visionary. “If you see how he started CCD, it was started as a cyber cafe in Brigade Road, first of its kind in 1996.”

“It was new and Siddhartha had a long-term vision. Today, it is present in 250 cities across the world,” he added.

Siddhartha’s huge debt and his sudden death, if anything, have confused them and raised more questions with no surety of getting answers.

The question now is -- what will happen to the businesses? The letter, allegedly written by Siddhartha, states his assets outweighs his liabilities.

True enough. His assets are worth Rs 18,000 crore as opposed to the Rs 4,000-8,000 crore debt being reported.

The coffee day enterprise board now has a huge task ahead to deleverage the assets, resume talks with potential investors for selling part of the business to dilute debt.

How could a detail-oriented Siddhartha have sunk is so much debt? Are there more to this than meets the eye?

Somewhere between 1992 and 2015 when coffee day was listed due to debt, he had faltered. Coming days might or might not give answers on the whys and hows.

With Siddhartha no more, one might never know.

(Source: Money Control)

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