‘Coffee king’ and moreUpdated: Aug 01, 2019 00:10 IST
The missing Hegde
When Veerappa Gangaiah Siddhartha first appeared on the business landscape of Bengaluru, he tried to maintain a low-profile, although this was difficult for the son-in-law of the then Deputy CM S M Krishna. He also used to sport the surname and his business cards read V G Siddhartha Hegde. He was a Vokkaliga, like his in-laws. The surname Hegde or Hegade simply means Chief or Chieftain and is derived from the old Kannada word Pergade, and is used by Bunts, Brahmins, Jains, Kurubas, Lingayats and Vokkaligas in the Malnad region to indicate status. However one of Krishna’s then biggest political opponent was Ramakrishna Hegde a former CM of the state and a Brahmin. In a state obsessed with caste, the son-in-law sporting the Hegde name was a political inconvenience to the famous father-in-law and thus Siddhartha Hegde became plain V G Siddhartha.
Bean came before the brew
While Café Coffee Day (CCD) the company which started the café revolution in India came only in 1996 (today it has 1751 outlets across the country), it is not very well known that the first major buy that Siddharatha made to enable this were two coffee estates. In 1988 he purchased Mysore Amalgamated Cofee Estates Limited for a mere Rs 2.5 crore (625 acres of coffee estate under the names ‘Teerthagundi’ and ‘Kudregundi’ were part of its holdings). Even as he later accumulated thousands of acres of coffee estates these two held a special place in his heart. Kudregundi which derived its name from the kannada word ‘Kudre’ for horse and Gundi for pit -- Tipu Sultan had marched through this place and had built a temporary resting place for his horses and soliders -- was a place he would visit often.
Teerthagundi where he had a guest house was also a favourite. Teertha refers to the sanctified water which is offered in temples. Apart from the rich Arabica coffee beans, he also grew vanilla, oranges, pepper and arecanut in the estate. The thick shola forests in the estate had teak, rosewood and sandalwood trees. .
Role in the Rajkumar episode
While Siddharatha was well known in the business circle, less known was the quiet influence he wielded in Sandalwood as the Kannada movie industry is called. When Rajkumar the legendary Kannada superstar was kidnapped by forest brigand Veerapan, S M Krishna, the father-in-law of Siddartha was the Chief Minister of the state. There were statewide protests given that Rajkumar was seen as a Kannada icon. The protests even threatened to topple the government. It was Siddhartha who leveraged his wide network of contacts to calm things down and have interlocutors speak to the dacoit who was hiding in the Satyamangalam forest range on the Karnataka – Tamil Nadu border. After 108 days, Rajkumar was released and Krishna’s government survived for another four years.
Sharp dresser and a strict teetotaler
Siddhartha was more of a listener than a talker. A sparse eater, he would toy with his food with ragi being his favourite cereal. His dinner was mostly a bowl of seasonal fruits. Known to be a bit of loner, he was happiest walking among the innumerable tress in his estates. A teetotaler and non-smoker, his one indulgence was clothes. When he wasn’t in his estates it was rare to catch him in anything but a suit.
He would call everybody including juniors whom he didn’t know well as ‘sir.’ Though he owned a stable of luxurious cars, he preferred his Innova . He was also superstitious and believed that the number nine was lucky for him. All his cars had registration numbers that added up to nine.
Interest in Infotech
Sivan Securities, a brokerage that Siddhartha founded much before he did CCD was one of the largest shareholders in Infosys in the early 1990s (Infy went public in 1993) apart from institutional investors and the promoters themselves. Siddhartha had a fascination for Infotech companies. Even before MindTree, he funded Kshema Technologies (which was eventually sold), and has stakes in Ittiam Systems and Magnasoft apart from funding several technology startups.
The Mallya connection
Siddhartha had a connection with the fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya. UB which is Mallya’s conglomerate had Naresh Malhotra as its CFO. Malhotra would become a good friend of Siddhartha and later became the CFO and eventually the CEO of Café Coffee Day. Mallya’s step brother was the brother-in-law of Siddhartha. The step brother Umesh Hingorani is married to Shambavi, who is the sister of Malavika, Siddhartha’s wife.
While Shambavi was said to have had political ambitions at one time eyeing her father Krishna’s Maddur seat, Malavika is said to have studiously avoided all politics as Siddhartha wanted to maintain a low profile.