Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

UAE businessman pays tribute to tragic coffee chain boss VG Siddhartha

Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, chairman of VPS Healthcare, said the Café Coffee Day founder offered him invaluable support at the start of his own business career

VG Siddhartha’s body was found near a river outside the city of Mangalore on Wednesday morning.  AFP 
VG Siddhartha’s body was found near a river outside the city of Mangalore on Wednesday morning.  AFP 

A leading UAE businessman has paid tribute after the death of a "warm and gentle" Indian entrepreneur who encouraged him to follow his dreams.

Dr Shamsheer Vayalil, founder and chairman of one of the region’s largest hospital groups, VPS Healthcare, said compatriot VG Siddhartha's lofty status as the 'Coffee King of India' had granted him an 'iconic stature' in his homeland.

Siddhartha’s body was found near a river outside the city of Mangalore in south India in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The businessman had been missing since Monday evening, when he asked his driver to stop the car and went for a walk, but did not return.

Siddhartha founded Café Coffee Day in 1993 and opened the first outlet in Bangalore three years later. There are now more than 1,700 outlets across the country, with the chain helping to foster a coffee culture in a traditionally tea-loving society.

Dr Vayalil warmly recalled Siddhartha’s generosity when he agreed to meet him to discuss his own burgeoning business plans.

"He was one among the prominent entrepreneurs in India who had encouraged many like us to dream of owning and managing our own enterprise," said Dr Vayalil.

"I still remember my first meeting with Siddhartha. It was about eight years ago. I had just started my entrepreneurial journey. I had always wanted to meet him,"

"His success story of becoming the ‘Coffee King of India,’ setting up Café Coffee Day as an Indian alternative to Starbucks, had given him an iconic stature.

"I was on a business trip to Bengaluru and called him up to seek an appointment. Siddhartha agreed to meet me in the evening at an outlet of Café Coffee Day in Bengaluru.

"Caught in the Bengaluru’s city traffic, I reached the place late and was a bit worried. But Siddhartha, who arrived on time, was waiting for me and greeted me with a broad smile.

"He was gentle and warm. We talked for over an hour. His passion for business and thirst for fresh ideas created great admiration for him."

Police are still investigating the cause of Siddhartha's death.

The tycoon is survived by wife Malavika and two sons, Amartya and Ishaan.

He was cremated at his family coffee estate in the Chikkamagaluru district in Karnataka, where thousands attended the last rites ceremony on Wednesday.

Dr Shamsheer Vayali said Siddhartha was a man of 'iconic' status in India. Pawan Singh / The National
Dr Shamsheer Vayali said Siddhartha was a man of 'iconic' status in India. Pawan Singh / The National

It has emerged Siddhartha was apparently struggling with his company’s financial circumstances.

In a letter to Cafe Coffee Day's employees and board of directors that has been widely circulated in the Indian media, dated July 27 and purported to be from Siddhartha, the entrepreneur wrote he was under pressure from lenders and harassed by income tax officials.

He wrote: “My intention was never to cheat or mislead anybody. I have failed as an entrepreneur.”

Abu Dhabi-based Indian philanthropist and business leader Dr Vayalil said entrepreneurs like Siddhartha face a unique set of life pressures that can be difficult to manage.

“I cannot begin to imagine the agony Siddhartha might have felt while writing this letter.

“Believe me, it is not easy for an entrepreneur to give up on his hard work of a lifetime. Café Coffee Day wasn’t just Siddhartha’s company, it embodied him.

“It is a frightening and sickening reality the entrepreneur lives with – when he succeeds, everyone celebrates his success, but when he fails, he falls alone.

“Siddhartha’s story seems to be no different.”

Financial pressures and debt are reported to have placed Siddhartha under unprecedented strain in recent months, although he is reported to have amassed a personal fortune of $3.6 billion.

The Times of India reports Siddhartha had applied for substantial business recovery loans of Rs 1,600 crore prior to his disappearance on July 29.

Indian tycoon Vijay Mallya, who is facing a UK extradition trial to face questions over his financial affairs, criticised the Indian government for its hounding of businessmen.

“I am devastated by the contents of his letter,” Mr Mallya posted on Twitter in response to the news of Siddhartha’s death.

“The Government, agencies and banks can drive anyone to despair.”

Siddharha is also reported to have been the subject of a tax investigation by Indian authorities.

“Is it possible that there wasn’t anyone Siddhartha could have reached out to?” said Dr Vayalil.

“Wasn’t there someone who could have gone up to him and reassured him, perhaps a word of comfort to pacify his turbulent mind?

“Entrepreneurship can be all glitz and glamour, but it can also be harsh and unforgiving.

“Life is all about chasing our dreams. Siddhartha did the same.

“He worked hard. He ran fast. But he fell. And sadly, there was none to lend him a hand.”

Updated: August 1, 2019 02:17 PM

SHARE

SHARE