Future Group’s Biyani, pioneer of Indian retail, to hand over empire’s control to Reliance Industries
Kishore Biyani, popularly known as KB among colleagues and considered as the pioneer of modern retail in India taking convenience shopping to the masses, is finally bowing to the winds of change blowing across the sector, giving the control of what he nurtured for over three decades to Reliance Retail.
Biyani (59), who started his business in 1987 by launching Manz Wear which later adopted the brand name of Pantaloon, has agreed to hand over the control of his retail empire to relatively new entrant Reliance Retail, a part of Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries, in a Rs 24,713 crore deal.
Biyani, a man known for thrifty approach to running the business, has been spreading himself too thin as the need for capital increased to expand his retail business amid increasing competition from new players like Reliance Retail as well as the advent of e-commerce, which he had dismissed as challengers initially.
Many a times he has been forced to divest assets to pare mounting debt of his retail empire, a business which is always considered to be cash consuming.
In 2012, he sold his majority stake in Pantaloons chain to Aditya Birla Nuvo for Rs 1,600 crore, which included Rs 800 crore of debt transfer. Back in 1992, he had listed Pantaloon on the bourses to raise funds for expansion, store improvements and marketing and from there it was never a look back for him, as he created an entire ecosystem for retail including logistics and also mentored many other entrepreneurs and brands.
Again in 2012, Biyani had also sold a majority stake in Future Capital Holdings to US-based private equity Warburg Pincus to raise funds and exited from a stationery joint venture with US-based Staples by selling its entire stake to the partner.
At that point of time, his group was laden with debt of around Rs 5,000 crore.
Similarly, in 2013 Future Lifestyle Fashion Ltd (FLFL) divested minority stakes in ethnic wear firm Biba Apparels and designer Anita Dongre-owned AND for Rs 450 crore.
In August last year Biyani had sold 49 per cent stake in Future Coupons to Amazon.Com NV Investment Holdings LLC. Future Coupons held 7.3 per cent stake in Future Retail.
Biyani’s Future group ran into financial trouble earlier this year after his listed entity Future Retail defaulted on debt repayment and lenders invoked pledged shares, a drastic low for a man who in 2019 was listed as the 80th richest Indian with USD 1.78 billion (around Rs 13,016 crore) wealth by Forbes.
Various rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s and Fitch downgraded credit ratings of Future Retail after the default and invocation of pledged shares by lenders.
According to some report, the debt of Future Group has now expanded to around Rs 13,000 crore and most of the shares of the promoter’s group are pledged.
When things came to a head, Biyani agreed to a deal on Saturday under which Reliance Retail Ventures Limited (RRVL), a step down subsidiary of Reliance Industries, will acquire popular Future brand stores such as Big Bazaar, fbb, Foodhall, Easyday, Nilgiris, Central and Brand Factory.
In order to consummate the deal, key group companies including Future Retail, Future Lifestyle Fashions, Future Consumer, Future Supply Chains and Future Market Networks will merge into FEL and will pass on the ownership of retail and wholesale business along with that of logistics and warehousing business to RRVL.
After this transaction, FEL will retain the manufacturing and distribution of FMCG goods and integrated fashion sourcing and manufacturing business and its insurance JVs with Generali and JVs with NTC Mills.
Biyani, an alumnus of Mumbai’s H R College started his journey selling stone-wash denim fabric in Mumbai in the 1980s.
According to persons near him, Biyani who owns a battery of brands and made fashion statement affordable for the masses, is known for his simple and traditional lifestyle.
His dream was of making available to everyone what only the rich could afford and launched his own label, says Biyani’s profile on the portal of Future Group.
“During this journey he also invested and mentored many other entrepreneurs and brands. He embodies the organisation’s credo, ‘Rewrite Rules, Retain Values’ and considers Indianness as the core value driving the organisation,” it says.
Biyani, who started his entrepreneurial journey when he was 26 year-old by opening first Pantaloons store in Kolkata, will now have to seek a fresh beginning when he is set to enter 60s.