Wednesday, July 31, 2019

My Retail Journey with the Coffee King

I have sang praises for the coffee consistency across India. I have shared so many anecdotes about my most favourite Indian Retail brand. I have done case studies on what went well and what didn’t for my previous company. And I have also occasionally complained about a few things I haven’t liked, much to the chagrin of my former and present colleagues. But I never thought I would have to write such an obituary for my former boss, retail czar, coffee king of India and the most unassuming Late Shri. VG Sidhartha.  


My first premium coffee was at Barista, KNK Road in Chennai in the late 90s. But I preferred CCD over Barista for two reasons – there were more youngsters at CCD; it was easy on the purse (I hadn’t graduated to a wallet those days!). When we finished our MBA and received Certificates at the Convocation event, we celebrated the day at CCD Ispahani Center, Chennai. A few years later, I took a Shatabdi to attend an interview at Bangalore for the role of an Area Manager at Café Coffee Day but I was rejected for the role since at the time, the hiring manager preferred someone who could also taste the food to ensure they were in fit form to serve customers, which I declined being a pure Vegetarian in my food habits. In 2006, I happened to meet Mr. Sidhartha for the first time. CCD was chosen as the preferred café for the upcoming Bangalore International Airport in a tightly fought Tender process. As Manager – Commercial Contracts, I was solely responsible for designing, conceptualising, leasing and managing the retail areas at India’s first private Airport and was delighted to meet the Chairman of Coffee Day Enterprises who came to sign the contracts. He was taller than me and a taller personality with his trademark smile. 

Over the course of years, I happened to be on the other side when I joined CCD as General Manager – Business Development (Key Accounts) in Nov. 2009. My team and I were responsible for identifying and later setting up over 140 cafes pan-India at Airports, Retail formats, Cinema Theatres, Colleges, Hospitals, Metro Rail Stations, Railway Stations and even IPL Stadia. In this period, I would get to meet him at least twice a month or more when my team and I would present the potential locations on a giant screen at the 10th floor Conference Room of Coffee Day Square at Vittal Mallya Road. He was a very affable man, loved by everyone. When I visited his hometown Chikmagalur where the group runs a finishing institute where the children of coffee farmers of the region study basic skills of hospitality and coffee making, I have seen first-hand the gratitude, love and praise these kids and their families have showered on him. Many of them stepped out of their district for the first time only to work at a CCD across India. He took care of his people very well. Many of these staff members went on to join other popular Retail chains over time. 



Chairman, as we would address him was a stickler to time. Most meetings would start and finish on time. I would be asked by my Director to come to the Tenth floor at a stipulated time to make my Presentation but I would arrive 10 minutes before for a very selfish reason. His floor would have HBR Magazines which were very pricey those days to buy and read. So, I would make the most of my time to come up and wait and in that pretext pick up reading a few interesting articles. Would never forget those days of my life where I travelled across India, three days a week, over 40 weeks a year for two years non-stop. Today, I am known in the Retail Industry with two backgrounds – Bangalore Airport and CCD despite having worked at 5 iconic Retail Companies over the past two decades.

I owe whatever little name, fame and success I have achieved to CCD which gave me a global pedestal to learn and make a good name for myself. About 3 years back, I wrote to him seeking a small round of funding for my start-up. As expected, he replied quite soon however in the negative stating that his fund invested in maturing ventures and not really in start-ups. During one of our meetings, he quipped “This is your second coffee in 1.5 hours” and I replied “Sir, I drink 6-7 cups of coffee a day” to which he replied, “Boss, don’t consume so much coffee, it’s not good for health”. Who would expect a coffee czar to say this? But he did. Because he really cared for people. Pray for his soul to attain Mukthi and reach the foot of the Lord who created this world. Om Shanthi.

Pic taken at CCD Dharamshala (2010)  - boys were from Chikmagalur

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