One of my first tasks, as branch manager, was to make courtesy calls on the most important corporate clients of the branch to introduce myself and establish good connections. My main point of contact with these clients was the head of finance because he was the person who dealt with banks and doled out the business.
One such person was Mr Ravindran, the finance director of XYZ Breweries, an old and familiar name which owned and marketed several leading brands of Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL), viz. whiskey, gin, and vodka.
XYZ Breweries was a very cash-rich company. Its brands ruled the market in eastern India.
In those days, liquor could not be advertised and ‘surrogate advertising’, i.e., selling sodas or mineral water with the same brand names and advertising them as ‘non-liquor’ items, had not yet been invented.
As a result, it was virtually impossible to introduce a new brand in the market because the customers would get to know of its existence only at the liquor shops which had been threatened that if they sold any new brand, they would lose the dealership of the lucrative XYZ Breweries brands.
XYZ’s market position was unassailable and zero advertising costs plus controlled prices meant that profits came rolling in.
The company was managed by an autocratic managing director (MD), assisted by a coterie of loyal subordinates. The principal owner was a British multinational corporation (MNC), which was content to let XYZ run on its own, as long as the dividends kept coming. The MD, therefore, had absolute sway over the company and had the board under his thumb.
But trouble was brewing.
A corporate raider was emerging in India - Naresh Advani. He had already swallowed several old-era companies with weak management. His recent acquisition of a tyre manufacturer, a name which even a child knew, had shaken up the corporate world.
It was rumoured that his next target was XYZ Breweries and that he was being financed by some foreign bank, generally believed to be my bank.
This was the background when I went to meet Mr Ravindran at the majestic office of XYZ Breweries.
I was surprised at the hostile reception that awaited me.
His first salvo was, “How much money has your London office lent to Naresh Advani?”
I claimed ignorance, but Mr Ravindran was not convinced. He continued in this vein for some more time.
As you must have figured, the meeting did not go well at all. I left Mr Ravindran’s office somewhat shaken and decided to lie low as far as XYZ Breweries was concerned.
It turned out that Mr Ravindran was right.
Our London branch had, indeed, lent millions of pounds to Mr Advani with which he bought control of XYZ Breweries from the British MNC, by presenting a picture of a huge capital gain instead of just annual dividends—a boon to the current chief executive officer (CEO), who was hoping to have his term extended.
The MD of XYZ fought tooth and nail, but to no avail. Within a short time, Mr Advani wrested control of XYZ Breweries, ousted the MD and placed his brother Paresh in his place. Paresh Advani quickly fired all the top executives, marked as the MD’s ‘chamchas’, including Mr Ravindran.
Unfortunately, Paresh was a young and gullible guy with very little idea of business in general, let alone the complexities of running a liquor business in India.
The company went into disarray, profits began to shrink and Paresh came under severe pressure from his brother Naresh (then very busy with other corporate raids) to fix the problems, or else…
In desperation, he looked around for an expert to help him run XYZ Breweries. The man most qualified was none other than Mr Ravindran, who was cooling his heels in Madras (now Chennai), trying to set up a consultancy.
Mr Ravindran was appointed, or should I say re-appointed, as the finance director of XYZ Breweries.
The empire had returned!
Within a short time, he cleared up the mess of the last few months. Next, he persuaded Paresh to launch some new ideas for expansion which the previous MD had ignored. They clicked and the company’s profits soared. Paresh was delighted with his ‘find’ and even Naresh Advani was pleased.
Now it was time for the empire to strike back.
With the connivance of his mentor, the deposed MD, Mr Ravindran hatched a plan. He slowly sold Paresh the notion that he was a mighty corporate honcho in his own right and no longer needed to live under his brother’s shadow. He could wrest control of XYZ Breweries from Naresh and leverage the company’s strength to build his own empire.
Unfortunately for Naresh Advani, he had neglected to iron-clad the mandate under which he had given the company to his ‘trusted’ brother to run on his behalf. In a few swift and diabolical moves, Mr Ravindran made Paresh the El Supremo of XYZ Breweries and Naresh was out.
Naresh Advani was not a man to ignore such an insult, especially from his beloved ‘chota bhai’ (younger brother). He launched a vicious legal battle against Paresh, who, in turn, with Mr Ravindran’s wily advice, fought back. The bhai-bhai battle raged on.
In the meantime, our London branch was getting restless. Naresh Advani had over-extended himself in attempting more and more acquisitions, some of which had failed. Cash was tight, particularly because the chunky dividends from XYZ Breweries had vanished. The instalments on the loan given by our London branch fell seriously overdue.
The shares of XYZ Breweries had been pledged to our London branch as collateral for the loan. When Naresh’s time was up, the shares were sold to a competing liquor baron. Both Naresh and Paresh were out of XYZ Breweries.
The deposed boss had got his revenge.
(Deserting engineering after a year in a factory, Amitabha Banerjee did an MBA in the US and returned to India. Choosing work-to-live over live-to-work, he joined banking and worked for various banks in India and the Middle East. Post-retirement, he returned to his hometown Kolkata and is now spending his golden years travelling the world (until Covid, that is), playing bridge, befriending Netflix & Prime Video and writing in his wife’s travel blog.)