Rarely has a man embodied the spirit of spirit quite like Dr Vijay Mallya.
Heir to the United Breweries Group, it is Mr Mallya himself, rather than the chiselled faces and long legs that have endorsed his brand; who is transfixed upon the public imagination as the King of Good Times, recent debacles on the business front notwithstanding.
To focus on what has gone wrong for Mallya would be to miss the woods for the trees: this is a man who took the reins at his father’s company on the latter’s sudden demise when Vijay was just 28. In short order he had trimmed, tweaked and restructured the business and consolidated it into UB Group, the behemoth it is today. Mallya may choose flamboyance for his public face, but the razor sharp brain and decades of gritty work are the private reality outsiders often ignore – at their own peril.
It’s part of the story that is going relatively unnoticed as the world chooses to focus on the demise of Kingfisher Airlines: this year, the UB Group’s hard liquor division, United Spirits Ltd received the distinction of becoming the world’s largest producer of spirits by quantity.
That’s an astounding achievement, and one that reflects Mallya’s deft building of the UB brand — at the derby, the Formula 1 races, an annual calendar shoot with stunning models and an IPL team. Described by colleagues as “a serious man who does serious business, but with the ability to be contemporary,” Mallya is that irrepressible maverick who it doesn’t pay to underestimate.
While opinions may be divided over his business moves, there are some that Mallya have made that endeared him to the nation: he is responsible for bringing back to the country a range of items intrinsically tied to our history; the sword of Tipu Sultan, Mahatma Gandhi’s eyeglasses, a pocket watch, handmade leather sandals, and the plate and bowl from which Gandhi ate his last meal; items of priceless historic value that were restored to the country not by its government but by a man who upheld its pride.
And that says as much about Mallya as the balance sheets do.