The Indian Gatsby: Rise and fall of United Breweries

Just as every king was once a prince, Vijay Mallya was a prince to one of India’s foremost businessmen and the nation’s liquor king, Vital Mallya. Born into a good and well to do family in Mangalore, Vital Mallya was a highly intrepid individual. In massive and stark contrast to his lavish millionaire son, Vital was popularly known as the secret millionaire due to the taboo nature of his business in Gandhian principled teetotalism India. As such, a Vijay Mallya was raised as a trust fund baby, lavished with extreme luxury and his father’s love from a very young age. With the elder Mallya’s sudden death in 1983 due to a heart attack, the United Breweries crown fell upon the heavy head of Vijay, making him the king of one the biggest and most popularly marginalized industries in India. The story of how a 28-year-old Formula One champion and playboy became a godlike billionaire off beer and revolutionized alcohol consumption in the country thus commenced.

He became the chairman of the United Breweries Group in 1983. As a chairman of the United Breweries Group, he focused on Alcohol business which was regarded to be having much more profitable than the core businesses involved. Vijay Mallya was struggling to expand his father’s empire UB breweries at a time when India was religiously following the Gandhian principles and the consumption of alcohol was denounced and frowned upon. At that time alcohol was associated with harlots and the indecent.  The United Group, which was a flagship of the UB Group, became the largest spirit companies in India. Mallya launched “Kingfisher Beer” which dominates 50% of the market share in India. The government had come up with new regulations which state that no media or news company is allowed to promote advertisements that encouraged alcohol consumption in the country. But, Vijay Mallya was stubborn. He customized Kingfisher as a lifestyle brand and came up with innovative ideas to promote it in media. The UB group grew into a multi-national conglomerate with around 60 companies. Vijay Mallya had always been a prime focus on the media due to his flamboyant lifestyle, high-profile parties, business ventures, and beautiful girls. He was famous for his sobriquet- The king of good times!

With India’s liquor baron playing Icarus and quite literally flying too close to the sun, Mallya soon became embroiled in financial hot water and was searching for a quick and dirty way out. How exactly did Vijay Mallya fall from Desi Dionysus, fighting against big government, to the nation’s most hated Crony Capitalist? With the United Breweries group making an exceptional margin off the more popular than ever Kingfisher brand, the King of Good Times set his sights on nothing short of the skies. With his son Siddharth’s 18th birthday, Vijay Mallya launched Kingfisher Airlines, a venture that very soon proved to be ill-fated. With renowned Canadian financial consultancy firm predicting a sordid end for Kingfisher Airlines, Mallya ignored their warnings and stormed ahead. The airlines faced a double-edged sword: the 2008 global recession and new and repressive regulation by the Aviation Ministry. Highly unprofitable and with nearly all of his fleet grounded, Vijay Mallya borrowed a whopping 220 million in loans from IBDI, someone no one else with such dire financial predictions could do, but was deemed “too big to fail”. Veritas was soon proved true, however; Mallya was declared a wilful defaulter and stripped of both his passport and Parliamentary seat and met an ignominious end at the hands of British extradition services after seeking refuge in London from his debtors.

Vijay Mallya wore a heavy crown well, started an alcoholic revolution, played wolf of UB City, and lost it all, (almost) walking away into the sunset.

Written by: Purvasha, Arul and Vijay


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