Karan Bilimoria, Baron Bilimoria
|Lord Bilimoria CBE, DL|
Bilimoria at the Horasis Global India Business Meeting in 2012
|Born||Karan Faridoon Bilimoria
26 November 1961
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India
|Title||Lord Bilimoria CBE, DL|
|Known for||Founder and Chairman of Cobra Beer|
|Spouse(s)||Lynne Heather Bilimoria|
|Issue||Kai, Zara, Josh, and Lily Bilimoria|
|Parents||Lt. General Faridoon N. Bilimoria and Yasmin Bilimoria|
Karan Faridoon Bilimoria, Lord Bilimoria CBE, DL (born 26 November 1961, in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India is an Indian-origin British entrepreneur and a life peer. He is best known as one of the two founders and Chairman of Cobra Beer.
Karan Bilimoria was born in Hyderabad, India into a Zoroastrian Parsi family that has a background in the armed forces and business. His father, Lt. General Faridoon Noshire Bilimoria PVSM (1933-2005), popularly known as 'General Billy', was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Central Army Command of the Indian Army, who had also served as ADC to the first Indian President, Rajendra Prasad, and commanded the 2/5 Gorkha Rifles during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Lt. General Bilimoria, while General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Central Indian Army, was also sent by the Government of India to Sri Lanka in 1990 to review the work of the Indian Peace Keeping Force which had been deployed in that country during the Sri Lankan Civil War under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, and it was on his recommendations that the force was recalled in 1990, ending India's military engagement with the LTTE.
Karan's paternal grandfather, Nasservanji D. Bilimoria, was one of the first Indians to be commissioned as an officer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst into the British Indian Army and retired as a Brigadier. His mother, Yasmin Bilimoria nee Italia, was the daughter of Jamshed D. Italia, a Squadron Leader in the Royal Indian Air Force, and Aimai Italia nee Bharucha of Hyderabad. His maternal great-grandfather, D.D. Italia, was a Hyderabad-based businessman and politician who served as a member of the Rajya Sabha in the 1950s. Both his mother and maternal grandfather were educated in Britain at Birmingham University.
Karan did his early schooling in Hyderabad where the family lived at his mother's ancestral home, Anand Bhavan, while his father served in different military stations in the country. As he grew, his family began to accompany his father, and Karan attended seven different schools before his younger brother, Nadir, and he were sent to board at the Hebron School, Ooty in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. When he was still nineteen, Karan received his Bachelor of Commerce degree from Osmania University in Hyderabad in 1981.
On receiving a scholarship, he then moved to London where he qualified as a chartered accountant with what is today Ernst & Young and received a diploma in accounting from the London Metropolitan University. Thereafter he read law at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge. While at Cambridge, Karan played on the university's polo team, organising their first ever tour of India, receiving a Half-Blue in 1988, and led the debating team against Oxford for two years, becoming also the Vice President of the Cambridge Union before graduating in 1988.
Founding of Cobra Beer
During the India tour of the Cambridge polo team, Karan noticed that the polo sticks made in India were different and of better quality than those made in Britain. At the time, polo sticks made in Argentina were very popular but following the Falklands War, imports of Argentinian products into Britain had been banned and there was little competition to British manufacturers. Karan began to import polo sticks from India to fill in the gap, selling these successfully and profitably to Harrod's and Lillywhites. He also experimented with importing fashion goods, fabrics, and other products from India, but unlike the polo sticks these were not very successful ventures.
In 1989, along with his friend Arjun Reddy, Karan founded Cobra Beer in a little flat in Fulham. The idea for the beer had come up while he was a student at Cambridge, where he regularly ate his meals at Indian restaurants. He noticed that regular lager was too gassy and bloating to be enjoyed with food, while ale was too bitter to accompany a meal. He came up with a concept for a beer that had 'the refreshing qualities of a lager' but the 'smoothness and drinkability of an ale' to accompany food - in particular, Indian food and curry. In 1989, after concluding his import-export ventures, Karan and Arjun Reddy started Cobra Beer.
At the time Karan had a student debt of £20,000, and funds to start the business were not easy to find. Borrowing money from various sources and £30,000 from a bank, Cobra commenced operations. A brewer in Bangalore, India, Dr Subroto Cariapa, and the owner of Mysore Breweries, Mr Balan, liked the idea of the beer and helped create Cobra. From India, then, it was imported to Britain. In a battered old Citroen 2CV, Karan himself began distributing 15 cases of beer at a time across London and, slowly, outside it.
Since marketing on a large scale was not an option because of the paucity of funds, penetrating Britain's highly competitive beer market required an innovative approach. The task was made all the more challenging because by 1990 the country was also in an economic recession. Cobra took off in these circumstances by creating a niche for itself in the market. Indian curry was becoming increasingly popular in the country at the time and so Cobra Beer was marketed and sold as the perfect drink to go with it. Karan himself delivered cases of Cobra to Indian restaurants, where it became very popular with customers. Within five years, the one million mark in sales revenues was crossed. Cobra began to be served across the United Kingdom in thousands of Indian restaurants and the business began to grow, expanding into the pub and bar sector and also being sold in major supermarket chains. In 1999, the company diversified into wine.
By 2001 Cobra, from which Karan's partner had now exited, had a turnover of nearly £13 million with a sales growth rate of nearly 60% per year, and was being brewed locally in the UK by Charles Wells Ltd. By 2007 Cobra was being sold in over 45 countries, and had a total production capacity of 450,000 cases per month. Revenues stood at £30 million and, with rapid expansion, were expected to cross £100 million by 2010.
The Cobra Beer Partnership
On 29 May 2009 the company went into administration. The company owed an estimated £70 million to creditors. Molson Coors, one of the world's largest brewers, then paid circa £14 million for a 50.1% share in a pre-pack administration deal, leaving Bilimoria and his shareholders with the other 49.9%, and signed a Joint Venture deal under the name the Cobra Beer Partnership, of which Bilimoria is Chairman.
On 7 October 2009 Bilimoria claimed that the creditors of Cobra Beer will be settled out of future profits of the Joint Venture.
Honours and Positions
Karan was appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 2004 for his services to business and entrepreneurship. In June 2006 he was appointed an Independent Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords and created Baron Bilimoria, of Chelsea in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. He is the first Zoroastrian Parsi to sit in the House of Lords.
Karan has since 2007 been a Non-Executive Director and Senior Independent Director of the Booker Group PLC, the UK's largest wholesale operator. Since 2011 he has been Chairman of Molson Coors Cobra India, a joint venture between Cobra Beer and Molson Coors in India. He is also:
- Founding Member of the Prime Minister of India's Global Advisory Council (2010- )
- Founding Chairman and President of the UK India Business Council (2007-2009)
- Chairman of the University of Cambridge India Partnership Advisory Board (2009-2012)
- Chairman of the Memorial Gates Committee (2003-2009)
- Chairman of the SME (Small and Medium Size Enterprise) Board (2001-2005)
- Vice Chairman of the Asian Business Association (2003-2008)
- Deputy President of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2008-2010)
- Chancellor of the Thames Valley University (now University of West London), when he was the youngest ever University Chancellor in the UK (2005-2010)
- Commissioner of the Royal Hospital Chelsea (2006-2011)
- Trustee of Saint Paul's Cathedral Foundation (2011- )
- Trustee of the British Cardiac Research Trust (2006)
- Member of the Vice Chancellor's Circle of Advisors for India, University of Cambridge (2012)
- Member of the Council of the Ditchley Foundation (2011- )
- Member of the Cranfield School of Management Advisory Board (2009- )
- Member of the UK India Round Table (2005- )
- Member of the Birmingham Business School Advisory Council (2005-)
- Member of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee: Finance Bill Sub-Committee (2011& 2013)
- Member of the National Employment Panel (2001-2007)
- Member of the Advisory Board, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge (2008- )
- Member of the New Deal Task Force (1999-2001) of the Department of Education and Employment
- Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (2002- )
- Honorary Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge (2007- )
- Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (2004- )
- 2007: Bottled for Business: The Less Gassy Guide to Entrepreneurship (London: Capstone) with Steve Coomber
- 2009: Against the Grain: Lessons in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Cobra Beer (London: Capstone)
- Honorary Doctorate, University of West London (2012)
- Honorary Doctorate, Cranfield University (2009)
- Honorary Doctorate, London Metropolitan University (2008)
- Honorary Doctorate, Staffordshire University (2006)
- Honorary Doctorate, Brunel University (2005)
- Honorary Doctorate, Heriot-Watt University (2005)
- Pravasi Bharatiya Samman presented by the President of India (2008)
- Man of the Year, Drinks Business Awards (2006)
- Outstanding Achievement Award, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (2005)
- Business Person of the Year, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2004)
- RSA Albert Medal, The Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce (2004)
- Entrepreneur of the Year, National Business Awards (2004)
- Entrepreneur of the Year, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (2003)
- Entrepreneur of the Year, Asian Achievers Awards (2003)
Styles and titles
- Karan Bilimoria, Esq. (1961–2001)
- Karan Bilimoria, Esq., DL (2001–2004)
- Karan Bilimoria, Esq., CBE, DL (2004–2006)
- Lord Bilimoria, CBE, DL (2006-)
- "Lord Bilimoria". College of Arms. Crown Office, Ministry of Justice.
- "Lord Bilimoria". Parliament Home Page. Parliament of the UK.
- Karan Bilimoria in House of Lords
- Paul, Nisha. "Multicultural Brew". Volume 15, Issue 4, April, 2007. Verve Online. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
- Biography from dodonline, retrieved 8 September 2006 Not available directly, but available by following the link from House of Lords: Alphabetical List of Members
- Sale, Jonathan (22 February 2007). "Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, founder of Cobra Beer". The Independent (London).
- Charity, Paul (8 October 2009). "Lord Bilimoria: I plan to clear Cobra debts". Morning Advertiser. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- Sibun, Jonathan (29 May 2009). "Molson Coors downs Cobra Beer in £14m pre-pack". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- The Queen's Birthday Honours List 2004 (PDF, 628 kB), retrieved 8 September 2006
- "Lord Bilimoria’s Speech at the House of Lords On the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of ZTFE". parsikhabar. Retrieved 20 June 2013.