Comment – Wehring's Way - United Spirits: Save it 'til the Morning After
Like many other 'industry observers', I noted Reuters' brief chat with UB Group's Vijay Mallya at the Indian Grand Prix last weekend with interest.
Telling the news organisation on Sunday that he is “under no compulsion whatsoever” to sell a stake in UB's United Spirits division to Diageo was bound to lead to a flurry of headlines on Monday.
I particularly liked how Mallya mocked the idea that his commercial acumen has been questioned in recent months. He didn't get where he is today etc, etc.
It is wholly typical of Mallya to shoot from the hip: I've met him twice –even interviewed him once – and he's a highly entertaining raconteur. We journalists far prefer the outspoken interviewee to the company-line tow-er.
But, two things irk me.
Firstly, surely even Mallya can understand that his strategy has come into question of late, when UB Group's Kingfisher Airlines has had its licence suspended and the unit's staff have staged a strike over absent wages?
These developments might not be a direct result of shaky commercial acumen, but, well, it's not ideal, is it?
Secondly, United Spirits' share price looks like a 'harem scarem' roller-coaster ride.
In isolation, the link between on-the-record chatter such as Mallya's last weekend and share price movement is transparent for all to see, and totally fair enough. But, United Spirits' track record when it comes to share movement - “unnamed sources” cited in reports out of India is the usual trigger – is one that warrants some investigation.
Mallya's determination to 'save face' with his pronouncements ought to be saved for his autobiography. It has no place in his company's present and future.
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