Blog: Olly WehringThere's a new sheriff in town

Olly Wehring | 6 December 2005

The list of potential candidates for just-drinks’ ‘Man or Woman of the Year’ is shortening. The recovery job at Coca-Cola in the last 12 months has CEO Neville Isdell in with a shout, and Pernod Ricard chairman Patrick Ricard has brokered the most-talked about deal of 2005 in his acquisition of Allied Domecq.

Interestingly, one of the dark horses for this coveted position was in town last week, giving us the opportunity to see first hand the myth that surrounds a character who has been described as India’s answer to serial entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Chairman of India’s UB Group Dr. Vijay Mallya visited the UK on Thursday (1 December) to talk about his hopes for the Indian beer market along with his hosts Scottish & Newcastle - the two companies hold 37.5% each in United Breweries in the country.

Mallya’s resume is extraordinary: drinks baron, airline owner and Indian MP. His experience as a politician came in handy when deflecting tricky questions on international competition in the Indian beer market and on the thorny issue of deregulation. And he remains supremely confident about UB’s prospects for beer growth on the back of the strength of the Kingfisher brand and his nationwide deal with S&N.

For a relatively unknown figure in the drinks industry, this reasonably private man (Mallya was unavailable for interview) cut an impressive figure and was happy to speak his mind - one need only look at his comments on India’s high whisky tariffs to see this in action.

Indeed, comparisons in the Indian press between Mallya and Branson appear justified. Not only do they both own airlines, but both back words with actions.

Although Pernod and Allied may have captured the headlines in the spirits industry this year, the UB’s acquisition of Shaw Wallace & Co. earlier this year to create the world’s second largest spirits group may ultimately be the more significant deal.

Given UB’s expansion aspirations beyond India, international groups will no longer be able to view the group as a large but local player of less relevance than other international rivals. The fact of the matter is that UB is a powerful and growing force with virtually unrivalled mass in one of the very development markets that multinationals such as Diageo are looking to for growth.


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