Karan Bilimoria, Baron Bilimoria

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The Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea

Lord Karan Bilimoria at Horasis Global India Business Meeting 2012 crop.jpg
Bilimoria at the Horasis Global India Business Meeting in 2012
Chancellor of the University of Birmingham
Assumed office
18 July 2014
Preceded bySir Dominic Cadbury
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
Assumed office
16 June, 2006
Life Peerage
Chairman of Cobra Beer
Assumed office
Preceded byOffice established
Chancellor of Thames Valley University
In office
Preceded byThe Lord Paul of Marylebone
Succeeded byLaurence S. Geller
Chief Executive Officer of Cobra Beer
In office
Preceded byOffice established
Succeeded byAdrian McKeon
Personal details
Karan Faridoon Bilimoria

(1961-11-26) 26 November 1961 (age 57)
Hyderabad, Telangana, India
United Kingdom
NationalityBritish, Indian
Spouse(s)Lynne Heather Bilimoria
ParentsLt. General Faridoon N. Bilimoria and Yasmin Bilimoria
ResidenceLondon, England, UK
Alma materOsmania University
City of London Polytechnic
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Known forFounder and Chairman of Cobra Beer

Karan Faridoon Bilimoria, Baron Bilimoria of Chelsea,[1][2] CBE, DL, FCA (born 26 November 1961) is a British Indian entrepreneur[3], life peer in the UK House of Lords, and a university chancellor [4].

Bilimoria is well known for founding the popular global beer brand, Cobra Beer and currently operates as the company's chairman. In addition to his business activity, Bilimoria is a politically active crossbench member of the House of Lords, and also currently serves as Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.

Family background[edit]

Karan Bilimoria was born in Hyderabad, India into a Zoroastrian Parsi family that has a background in the armed forces and business.[5] 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 (Frontier Force) 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8] Both his mother and maternal grandfather were educated in Britain at Birmingham University.

As the name denotes, Bilimora is the ancestral name of a city situated on the banks of the river Ambika, in Gandevi taluka and Navsari district of Gujarat state in India, where the family comes from originally.

Early life[edit]

Karan did his early schooling in Hyderabad from Hyderabad Public School at Begumpet, 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 he was sent to board at The Lawrence School, Lovedale in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu,[9] alongside his younger brother, Nadir. 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, Cambridge.[10] 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.[11]

In 1993 he married Lynne Heather Walker, a South African national, whom he met through mutual friends. She is an English and Latin graduate of Rhodes University.[12]

Founding of Cobra Beer[edit]

During the India tour of the Cambridge University 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.[11] He also experimented with importing fashion goods, fabrics, and other products from India, but unlike the polo sticks these were not very successful ventures.[7]

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.[13] 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.[11]

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.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16] By 2007 Cobra was being sold in over 45 countries, and had a total production capacity of 450,000 cases per month.[17] Revenues stood at £30 million and, with rapid expansion, were expected to cross £100 million by 2010.[18]

The Cobra Beer Partnership[edit]

On 29 May 2009 the company went into administration. The company owed an estimated £70 million to creditors.[19] 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.[20]

On 7 October 2009 Bilimoria claimed that the creditors of Cobra Beer will be settled out of future profits of the joint venture.[19]

The Cobra Foundation[edit]

In 2005 Lord Bilimoria helped to establish the Cobra Foundation, an independent charity that provides health, education and community support for young people in South Asia. The charity focuses on the provision of safe water and also provides support to disaster relief efforts in the region.

Since 2014, the Cobra Foundation has partnered with Belu water to launch a new range of bottled water, with 100% of the profits made donated to WaterAid. This partnership enabled the Cobra Foundation to donate £17,000 to WaterAid's efforts in South Asia in 2015.[21]

Chancellor of the University of Birmingham[edit]

On 17 July 2014, Lord Bilimoria was installed as the 7th Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. The previous holders of the office were Joseph Chamberlain, Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, Anthony Eden, Sir Peter Scott, Sir Alex Jarratt and Sir Dominic Cadbury.[22]

Panama Papers Controversy[edit]

Lord Bilimoria was implicated in the Panama Papers leak: he was listed as a shareholder in Mulberry Holdings Asset Limited, a company registered in the Virgin Islands. However, he released a statement claiming that the company was dormant and had been formed for his ex-shareholders in Cobra, who were not residents of the UK; furthermore he stated that he was taxed on all of his global income in the UK and had declared his interests to the authorities.[23] As a result of these allegations the University of Birmingham Branch of the UCU called for an investigation into his finances in 2016;[24] the University had released a statement the day before calling it a personal matter, referencing Lord Bilimoria's previous statement to the media.[25]

Honours and positions[edit]

Lord Bilimoria was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London in 2001 and he was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2004 Birthday Honours for his services to business and entrepreneurship.[26][27] He was appointed an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the House of Lords and was created Baron Bilimoria, of Chelsea in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea on 16 June 2006.[5][28] He is the first Zoroastrian Parsi to sit in the House of Lords.[29]

Lord Bilimoria has been a non-executive director and Senior Independent Director of the Booker Group PLC, the UK's largest wholesale operator, since 2007. In 2011 he became Chairman of Molson Coors Cobra India, a joint venture between Cobra Beer and Molson Coors in India. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2005.[30] He served as the Bynum Tudor Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford for the 2017-18 academic year.[31]

In June 2019, The Times reported that Lord Bilimoria expected to be announced as the new vice-president of the Confederation of British Industry.[32]


  • 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)

Styles and titles[edit]

  • Karan Bilimoria, Esq. (1961–2001)
  • Karan Bilimoria, Esq., DL (2001–2004)
  • Karan Bilimoria, Esq., CBE, DL (2004–2006)
  • Lord Bilimoria, CBE, DL (2006–)


  1. ^ Roll of the Peerage. "Lord Bilimoria" (PDF). College of Arms. Crown Office, Ministry of Justice.
  2. ^ "Lord Bilimoria". Parliament Home Page. Parliament of the UK.
  3. ^ "Lord Karan Bilimoria's Profile on The Marque".
  4. ^ "List of Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors of British universities", Wikipedia, 26 March 2019, retrieved 12 April 2019
  5. ^ a b Karan Bilimoria in House of Lords Archived 29 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Lieutenant-General Faridoon Bilimoria - The Times".
  7. ^ a b "From the ashes - Elite Business Magazine".
  8. ^ "It's a life-changing moment: Lord Bilimoria".
  9. ^ Paul, Nisha. "Multicultural Brew". Volume 15, Issue 4, April, 2007. Verve Online. Retrieved 9 December 2012.
  10. ^ Biography from dodonline, retrieved 8 September 2006 Not available directly, but available by following the link from House of Lords: Alphabetical List of Members Archived 12 December 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ a b c http://www.annmorgan.me/Cobra%20interview%20%281%29.pdf
  12. ^ "People - Multicultural Brew".
  13. ^ Kiss, Jemima (28 October 2008). "Passion, faith, self-belief (and a love of beer)". The Guardian. London.
  14. ^ http://www.iilm.edu/iilm-online/Casebook/Cases2007/3.pdf
  15. ^ Sale, Jonathan (22 February 2007). "Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, founder of Cobra Beer". The Independent. London.
  16. ^ "Karan Bilimoria: Cobra Beer - Startups.co.uk: Starting a business advice and business ideas". 3 September 2001.
  17. ^ "Cobra Beer launches 'King Cobra'". The Times of India. 6 July 2007.
  18. ^ "Bilimoria gears up for Cobra Beer sale". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. 19 May 2008.
  19. ^ a b Charity, Paul (8 October 2009). "Lord Bilimoria: I plan to clear Cobra debts". Morning Advertiser. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  20. ^ Sibun, Jonathan (29 May 2009). "Molson Coors downs Cobra Beer in £14m pre-pack". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  21. ^ "Cobra Foundation donates £17K to WaterAid on World Water Day - Cobra Foundation". Cobra Foundation. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  22. ^ "Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea installed as Chancellor of University of Birmingham". Birmingham Post. Retrieved 3 November 2014.
  23. ^ Watt, Holly (4 April 2016). "Tory donors' links to offshore firms revealed in leaked Panama Papers". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  24. ^ UCU, Birmingham (6 April 2016). "BUCU statement on Lord Bilimoria, University of Birmingham Chancellor". Birmingham UCU. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  25. ^ "University release statement following Panama Papers". University of Birmingham. 5 April 2016. Retrieved 11 March 2019.
  26. ^ The Queen's Birthday Honours List 2004 (PDF, 628 kB), retrieved 8 September 2006
  27. ^ "No. 57315". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 2004. p. 7.
  28. ^ "No. 58024". The London Gazette. 21 June 2006. p. 8459.
  29. ^ "Lord Bilimoria's Speech at the House of Lords on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of ZTFE". parsikhabar. Retrieved 20 June 2013.
  30. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh & Scottish Borders: Annual Review 2004". www1.hw.ac.uk. Archived from the original on 13 April 2016. Retrieved 30 March 2016. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  31. ^ "Lord Bilimoria CBE appointed as Bynum Tudor Fellow". Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  32. ^ Investigations Editor, Dominic Kennedy (17 June 2019). "Next CBI chief Lord Bilimoria leaves creditors unpaid". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 17 June 2019.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir Dominic Cadbury
Chancellor of the University of Birmingham
Succeeded by