Siddhartha leaves behind enviable legacy of humility, foresight

Siddhartha leaves behind enviable legacy of humility, foresight
VG Siddhartha  |  Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Reuters
31 Jul, 2019

After nearly 36 hours of being reported missing, the deceased remains of Cafe Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha were recovered on the banks of the Netravati river near Mangaluru early this morning. Siddhartha reportedly took his life by jumping off a bridge on the river. It was his 60th birthday. 

Siddhartha leaves behind an enviable legacy. He built what is arguably the country's largest homegrown quick service restaurant (QSR) chain with Cafe Coffee Day. Today, the chain’s outlets have become ubiquitous across most parts of the country.

Prior to his untimely death, the first generation entrepreneur, who also happened to be the son-in-law of former Karnataka chief minister SM Krishna, was in the news for the sake of his stake in Bengaluru based software services firm Mindtree, one several steps he resorted to recently to pay off debts related to his coffee businesses. The sale of his 20% stake in Mindtree for Rs 3,200 crore precipitated the first hostile takeover in India’s storied software services sector. Siddhartha invested in Mindtree in 1999 and remained the company’s most patient investor through most of its ups and downs until later developments compelled him to find a buyer for his stake.

Siddhartha’s association with the country’s technology ecosystem, however, extended well beyond Mindtree. "He had a key role in growing the ecosystem. Given the context that not much venture capital was available for the information technology (IT) services industry, his role was pivotal. And when he invested in companies, he stuck with them by incubating them as well as providing patient capital," said angel investor and chairman, Manipal Global, T Mohandas Pai.

Pai had interacted with Siddhartha when he was the chief financial officer of Bengaluru-based Infosys in 1994. Siddhartha along with Vallabh Bhansali of Enam Securities had underwritten the Infosys public offer in 1993. "He understood the potential of IT. His role in setting up IT parks also had a big role in the city emerging as the hub of technology," Pai added.

Apart from Mindtree, Siddhartha's Global Technology Ventures invested in companies such as Ivega Corp and Kshema Technologies.

Born in the coffee-growing district of Chikkamagaluru, Siddhartha got interested in the stock markets and worked with JM Financial for two years after his post-graduation in Economics. He later founded an investment firm called Sivan Securities, which was renamed to Way2wealth in 2000. 

K Ramakrishnan, former marketing head of Cafe Coffee Day said Siddhartha was a very strong individual. "That makes this turn of events all the more surprising and shocking for me. His greatest trait was his humility, willing to learn from everyone, irrespective of age or position. He could combine large visionary thoughts with the finest and minute details," he said. Ramakrishnan worked with Siddhartha for five years and is now with consumer behaviour firm Kantar World Panel.

For Ajit Issac, chairman and managing director of Bengaluru-based staffing firm Quess Corp, the abiding memory from any of his frequent highway trips to his hometown Chennai and Bengaluru was the coffee he picked up from the Cafe Coffee Day outlets that dot the 300-kilometre route. Issac has also provided services to the coffee chain.

"We met in his office. More than our business, he was keen to understand the challenges of managing a people business. He was unassuming and a quintessentially nice guy. You would want to do business with such people," Issac said about Siddhartha, whom he has met just about seven or eight times.

Pai said that Siddhartha was a man of high self-respect and the fear of humiliation or failure might have forced him to the extreme step of taking his life. "He always kept his promises. He probably feared about not being able to do so. He was also a sensitive person and that played a role in his decision," Pai said. Cafe Coffee Day had set up its first outlet in any corporate campus for the first time at Infosys' Electronics City campus back in 1997.

According to Ramakrishnan, Siddhartha's legacy has to be seen in the context of his desire to give back to the society that made him a success. "The difference he made to Chikkamagaluru apart from numerous financial contributions… for instance, the institute called VTC, which trained boys and girls from very difficult backgrounds to be employable in the hospitality business. And once trained, even absorbed them into his enterprises. The number of families that would have seen hope as a result of this would have been really really large."