K Giriprakash in The Hindu. HereNever has the flamboyant Vijay Mallya been in such a tight corner before.
He took over the UB Group even before he turned 30 after his father, Vittal Mallya, passed away suddenly in 1983. Since then, he has consolidated the group holdings, shed those companies, including a car battery making venture, which didn't make sense to his business, won a corporate battle — and a war of words — with the pugnacious Manu Chabbria, wresting from him Shaw Wallace, once among the top companies in the liquor industry. Today, his beer business controls half the domestic market while the liquor business controls three-fourths of the market.
But as the saying goes, the quickest way to become a millionaire is for a billionaire to invest in the airline sector.The problem, of course, lay in acquisitive excess. For Mallya, there was no ducking the temptation of getting into the airline sector. For one, there was the glamour, something he couldn't get enough of despite the yachts and islands. In time, the airline became a stepping stone for the pursuit of other adventures.
He acquired Whyte & Mackay, a Scottish bulk liquor maker amidst drama and glamour, holding a press conference in London to announce the deal. He bought newspapers (Asian Age was one such), fashion and movie magazines, bought and sold a TV company and added football teams to his ever expanding empire. He even added a cricket team to his list of acquisitions and called it Royal Challengers. Someone who was known for his distaste for politicians, he actually funded a party and became a Rajya Sabha MP as well.
The acquisitions wouldn't just stop there. He went on to own a racing team (Force India) which regularly competes in Formula One racing events, launched a calendar named after his brand, Kingfisher, in which the best of the models fell over each other to feature. He held New Year parties at his famed Goan palatial bungalow.
Of course, the biggest venture of them all was Kingfisher Airlines and because he was the big daddy of the glamour world, he promised flyers a class of service not usually seen among the domestic airlines. Jet Airways was good and on time, but was for busy executives; Air Deccan was for the aam aadmi, a sort of shuttle service, while the others either didn't matter or were too small.