Vijay Mallya, who turned 60 in December, isn’t doing too badly. Sure, everyone takes swings at him. And some banks have termed him a wilful defaulter.
But the man—who on Thursday said he was stepping down as non-executive chairman of United Spirits Ltd, the former crown jewel of his shrunken empire—gets to walk away with $75 million that Diageo Plc, which bought a majority stake in the company, partly from Mallya, will pay him. Diageo has also agreed to drop all claims connected to some very serious charges of alleged financial irregularities in United Spirits under Mallya’s watch.
Mallya, who has been downgraded to a former billionaire by Forbes, now doesn’t really have a business group to call his own. His holding company UB Holdings now has 4% stake in United Spirits; he is no longer the largest shareholder in United Breweries; and he has lost management control of Mangalore Chemicals and Fertilizers Ltd.
Vijay Mallya was born in 1955 to Vittal Mallya, the son of an army doctor who quietly built an empire acquiring companies. He was the antithesis of his son and shunned the limelight, so much so that India Today magazine, in a 1982 cover story (a year before his death) said he was almost like Howard Hughes, the famed, but reclusive American businessman.
By 1982, as India Today described him, Mallya Sr was “the undisputed king of the beer, liquor and processed foods industries. His stable of companies include United Breweries, McDowell and Carew, he has a virtual monopoly of the market for squashes, jams, lime juice cordial and ketchup (owning both Kissan and Dipy’s), commands 75% of the domestic pesticide market (Finit), and heads companies that turn out Singer sewing machines, Cadbury chocolates and some of the most commonly used drugs (Hoechst and Roussel)”.