Siddhartha’s disappearance leaves many questions unanswered

K Giriprakash Bengaluru | Updated on July 31, 2019 Published on July 30, 2019

A view of Cafe Coffee Day in Bengaluru   -  The Hindu

His move to exit most of his ventures shows he was desperate to square off debts

Fifty-seven-year old VG Siddhartha, the founder of the popular Cafe Coffee Day chain and a former investor in IT company Mindtree, who went missing since July 29, isn’t given to flamboyance.

While lesser-known business tycoons are ever ready to give interviews and keep their social media active, Siddhartha refuses interview requests claiming that he does not have anything to share.

He, however, makes it a point to remind you whenever you meet him in person that his Sivan Securities (now Way2Wealth Securities) was one of the companies, apart from Vallabh Bhansali and Morgan Stanley, which rescued Infosys’ IPO from tanking by underwriting the float in 1993.

But there are stories after stories, some unfounded which keep circulating about his interest ranging from politics to his various business ventures. Known for his open admiration for the fugitive tycoon, Vijay Mallya, one of the biggest rumours surrounding him was that he funded the ransom given to outlaw Veerappan to release Kannada matinee idol Rajkumar who was kidnapped from his native village on July 30, 2000.

Married to former union minister and Karnataka chief minister SM Krishna’s daughter Malvika, Siddhartha is also related to Mallya as Krishna’s second daughter Shambhavi is married to the former liquor baron’s stepbrother.

Siddhartha, known for launching several start-ups much before it became a rage, started the first of his Cafe Coffee Day outlets at Brigade Road in Bengaluru in 1996. It was then more like an internet cafe where coffee was served free and customers could use the terminals to surf the net. When he found out that the concept was becoming popular, he decided to brand the chain and started opening more such outlets. In 2001, he roped in Naresh Malhotra, the former CFO of the UB Group to relaunch the chain. Soon after taking over as the CEO, Malhotra closed down 10 of the 18 outlets and relaunched them in a bigger format where customers could sit for hours either doing their office work or meeting clients. Today, CCD with the tagline, ‘a lot can happen over coffee’ is spread across several countries including Austria, the Czech Republic and Malaysia. As of now, it has 1,800 outlets spanning 250 cities with plans to open 100 outlets every year.

Born to a plantation owner, Siddhartha did his MBA from Mangalore University and instead of joining his father’s business, he decided to go to Mumbai where he interned with JM Financials as a management trainee. He opened his own venture, Sivan Securities in 1984 which was later renamed Way2Wealth Securities. He set up another company for trading in coffee called Amalgamated Coffee Beans now known as Coffee Day Global.

Flush with money from selling off his shares in Infosys, he contacted Ashok Soota, who was the COO of Wipro to launch an independent IT services company. Soota roped in a few of his colleagues to launch Mindtree in 1999. With a total investment of about ₹350 crore over a period of time in Mindtrree, Siddhartha sold his entire 20.4 per cent stake in the company to L&T for ₹2,858 crore which he used to pay off the debt in Coffee Day Enterprises. His exit from the company resulted in L&T making a hostile bid for Mindtree which it eventually took over after making an open offer to existing shareholders.

Soon after the takeover, it was revealed that Coca Cola Company was in early talks to buy the CCD chain which according to various estimates was valued at $2 billion. But till now, there has been no formal communication either from CCD or from Coke about the possible acquisition. This was followed by reports that Siddhartha’s other subsidiary, Global Tech Village which houses several IT firms was also up for sale.

According to several sources, Siddhartha’s move to exit from most of his ventures clearly indicated that he was desperate to square off the debts that he had taken from various people including a particular ‘friend’ he refers to in his letter to the board and employees.

His letter to the board and employees of Coffee Day Enterprises Ltd which runs Cafe Coffee Day chain raises several issues. That he was being harassed by an ex-DG of the Income Tax Department and there was a particular PE Fund which was forcing him to buyback shares, a transaction he had partially completed six months ago by borrowing a large sum of money from a friend.

KKR, Stanchart and New Silk Route are learnt to have denied the charges and have even said that they had tremendous respect for Siddhartha while the Income Tax Department has tried to clarify regarding Coffee Day Enterprises’ shares being attached by the Department. The IT Department has in its possession about 2.5 crore shares of Coffee Enterprises Ltd as of now.

The fate of Siddhartha’s assets including the listed entity hangs in balance but if anything were to happen to him, the government might have to intervene to sort out the crisis.

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Published on July 30, 2019
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