The Chairman of Coffee Day, VG Siddhartha’s passing has left me with much greater sense of shock and tragedy then I expected. It’s not just the sense of shock , the unexpectedness of this terrible decision , but the fact that it could happen at all. Almost every one i know feels the same way. Let me admit that I just hoped (till I read about the body having been recovered today) that he would be rescued or alive, or even somewhere in South America. But it seems the news of the tragedy is true and while India Inc reels, Bangalore buckles, perhaps it’s also important to pay heed and take away some lessons from this great personal and business tragedy.
As a CXO search consultant and friend I have met him several times and we have brought in several senior leadership hires including their former CEO, President-Marketing and current Group President - HR. Sitting with him while formulating and outlining the leaders he was looking for, was always an experience. Unfailingly courteous, warm and a great listener, he was absolutely focused on a person who is passionate, an innovator and a transformational leader. Somewhere, I think , simply by being all of that himself, he also underlined humility, a sense of self deprecation and focus on team. And strangely enough he always valued youth and energy as one of the biggest factors required in a leader to transcend or impel a company forward.
When I set up my own search firm Multiversal Advisory a few months ago , he sent me a warm email reply wishing me all the best and that he would be in touch once he sorted out business issues. We even spoke briefly . He was a quintessentially a son of Karnataka, with abiding love for his land and coffee estates, and respect for the farmer. His wife Vicky is a lovely person & school mate and she headed the resorts business. My heart bleeds for her and the two boys who are coping this terrible and inexplicable grief.
There are many things I recall and value about this pioneer. The view from his corner office at his HQ at Coffee Day Square was plain magnificent and as an absolute Cubbon Park fan, I would shamelessly request five minutes at the beginning of the meeting, to just walk along his wrap around glass window and look out at the waving beautiful canopy of green below me. I remember telling him that if there is one thing that I truly envy, it’s where you work and what you look out at. And I quickly added 'and CCD of course'. I’m sure Siddhartha may have rolled his eyes but was quite politely indulgent about this little distraction before the meeting. I think he was just as proud of CCD and what it looked out at .
And it wasn’t just Cubbon Park.
Who was Siddhartha ?
-Man of vision and great hunger. A man of the earth and deeply connected to the soil. Was always looking at the far distance, a point beyond one’s left shoulder.
-Coffee Day and its infinite possibilities drove him and his eyes always shone so bright when he talked about plans.
-70mm screen and a large canvas - he made us proud. And yes over the years, he showed India that a lot can happen over coffee.
-A good man and a humble, kind one. A large percentage of his serving team at CCD cafes were hearing/speech impaired. A small thing but it always warmed my heart.
- A decisive, clearheaded and strong man , which makes this suicide so much more puzzling.
-However, if this can happen to a legend in Indian brands, an entrepreneur & fearless pioneer that was an inspiration, what else is happening right now to others and what should we do about it ? How alone and isolated are people feeling, as we speak ?
Clearly, we must learn from this. In the many business groups I am a part of , we have been talking about what must be done. At the The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) for example , an industry group that is so particularly poised to promote and support start ups and entrepreneurs, clearly something must be done about ensuring that start up founders and entrepreneurs are able to reach out and get some resonance, some resolution and empathy for their problems, rather than feel so singular, contained and lonely that they feel that ending at all is the only solution. I am on the TiE Board and we have collectively responded to this and hope to take this initiative forward to serve & sustain our entrepreneur community.
India has lost a great entrepreneur and a visionary and Bangalore has lost one of its own. I can only hope and pray that the CCD legacy grows and thrives with the vision that he always had and has left behind, and some part of the legacy he leaves will be to support those who felt isolated & that there was no other way. I know I would be happy to support that in anyway I can.
A great loss to all of us, as this legend tragically passes on. He didn’t have to.
You made sure of one thing .
A lot did happen over coffee..
(Pic Courtesy : Business Today)