Bisleri’s Chairman Ramesh Chauhan, the former owner of Thums Up, Gold Spot and Limca, is resting easy on his laurels. From fighting almost a lone battle to stop the entry of America’s Pepsi cola into India, Chauhan has come a long way, undeterred by what he terms the palpable “tension around cola majors”.
“It is a bread and butter business for them (Coca-Cola and Pepsi), whereas ours is a cash business. While they have to be bothered about carton suppliers and cap suppliers every week, we always have enough stock for we buy on credit,” said the Bisleri boss, in a recent conversation with Business Line .
One of India's feistiest entrepreneurs, Chauhan says, “It is a great feeling that Thums Up is still number one. Despite all the years gone by, their (multinationals) own brands have not been able to overshadow Thums Up.”
In 1977, Ramesh Chauhan along with brother Prakash Chauhan and then Parle CEO Bhanu Vakil had launched Thums Up as their flagship beverage. When Coca-Cola re-entered India in 1993, in its second stint in the country, Parle sold Thums Up, Limca and Gold Spot to Coca-Cola for around $60 million. Thums Up had 85 per cent market share when sold.
Terming it a pure business decision, Chauhan says, “There are no regrets and no hard feelings in selling the business. It was a simple business strategy, though we had many critics at that time. We did not have much choice, because we were working through a franchise system at that time.”
The franchising system entailed that each owner of a franchise was an owner of his own plant. Chauhan’s hand was forced, since most franchises declared their intentions to team up with Coca-Cola.
“At that time, it was difficult to create the franchise model that was required in the carbonated drinks business. I decided to concentrate on the bottled water business, in which we maintain a leadership position despite all the competition around us,” he says.
His enthusiasm at an all-time high, Chauhan says he is a savvy businessman and is sitting on cash reserves.
“We got enough money invested with Merrill Lynch, so we can draw on the money any time we want. We don't borrow. We have a policy here, not to borrow,” says the chairman.
Stating that the company does not need cash, or finance to chart out its growth plans, Chauhan maintains, “The brand (Bisleri) is doing very well. The new positioning and new advertising has resulted in good growth. I say this despite the fact that the water business is a revolving door, easy to enter easy to exit.”
A totally-at-bliss Chauhan says he is at a stage where he “does not have to worry about glass bottles, or the price of sugar, or citric acid, or colour or even carbon dioxide gas,” all the ingredients that worked their magic to make Thums Up what it is. He is glad that the headache has moved on to someone else.