VG Siddhartha: How a lot can change over coffee
Predicting the deregulation of coffee, then a controlled commodity, Siddhartha invested his earnings in the stock market on coffee plantations in Chikkamagaluru in the mid and late 80s.
Born and brought up among the lush hills and valleys of Chikkamagaluru in Karnataka, Siddhartha, the only son of a well-to-do coffee planter Gangaiah Hegde, chose not to continue his family’s century-old coffee-growing tradition. The student of economics started off with JM Financial, an investment banking firm in Mumbai in the early 1980s. He had made his ambition known to his family — that he will be super rich someday.
While in Mumbai, the young man saw the vast difference in the price of coffee in the international markets and the pittance that coffee-growers in India received for the bean. The seeds of his bean-to-cup business were sowed then.
Predicting the deregulation of coffee, then a controlled commodity, Siddhartha invested his earnings in the stock market on coffee plantations in Chikkamagaluru in the mid and late 80s. When the economy was liberalised in 1991, he was equipped to start the coffee business. With some capital from his father, he bought a small coffee unit in Hassan. By 1993, he founded Amalgamated Bean Company Trading. Two years from its inception, ABC became India’s largest exporter of coffee.
When he decided to open his first café on Bengaluru’s uber street, Brigade Road in 1996, even his associates thought it was a bad idea to pursue in a tea-drinking nation. Who would pay Rs 16 for a cuppa when it cost a tenth in a Darshini down the road, they wondered. When he saw people sipping beer while surfing the net – in café in Singapore — he introduced the cyber-café concept by adding a high-speed internet connection. Those were the days of dial-up internet. The rest is history.
He moved from his little office on Church Street into his own glass-fronted building on Vittal Mallya Road that accorded one of the best views of the Cubbon Park. Journalists who met him were proudly shown the view. For all the plushness of his new office, he did not occupy the office-room that CCD designed for its chairman. He liked to show that he had remained middle-class in his habits.
When Krishna’s government faced its biggest test – the spian actor Rajkumar’s kidnap by forest brigand Veerappan – Siddhartha took charge of planning ways and means to negotiate with the brigand. Most of the connections he made then — among political leaders and top bureaucracy — continued even after Krishna’s tenure ended. His closeness to Congress leader DK Shivakumar resulted in raids, soon after DK Shivakumar was investigated by the I-T department in late 2017.
The raids, said sources, clearly shattered Siddhartha, who was tending to his 94-year-old father who was in frail health. Siddhartha’s wife Malavika and two sons, Amartya and Ishaan, were at Krishna’s house in Bengaluru all through Tuesday.
(Inputs by Tushar Kaushik)