India’s flamboyant Kingfisher tycoon turns 60

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MUMBAI: India’s self-styled “King of Good Times” Vijay Mallya turns 60 on Friday, with the flamboyant tycoon showing no sign of slowing down — despite there being little to celebrate about his shattered business empire.

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Mallya is planning a three-day bash — including performances by singer Enrique Iglesias — at his villa in the popular tourist state of Goa, to mark the occasion, according to newspaper reports.

“My birthday is a personal milestone,” the former billionaire, known for his lavish party lifestyle, told AFP in a brief text message in which he asked for his privacy to be respected “on this occasion.”

The liquor baron, who at his height was referred to as “India’s Richard Branson,” was not always so reticent, frequently flaunting his own achievements as his wealth soared in the early 2000s.

Mallya inherited United Breweries Group (UBG) from his father at the age of 28 and turned it into one of the world’s largest spirit makers, hosting extravagant yacht parties with Bollywood stars and politicians along the way.

But three decades later an indebted Mallya is deep in a financial fight following the travails of his Kingfisher Airlines, which owes over $1 billion to a consortium of state-run banks and creditors.

“You never knew when the party started and the work began or when the work stopped and the party started,” his friend and fellow entrepreneur G. R. Gopinath told AFP.

“He lived life to the full but he had idiosyncrasies and weaknesses like all of us, and he failed to see some of them, which proved fatal,” added Gopinath, who founded India’s first low-cost carrier Air Deccan.

‘Brash attitude’

As Mallya’s main liquor business flourished during the early 2000s he diversified into other areas, including chemicals and fertilizers, and in 2005 launched Kingfisher Airlines, named after his company’s best-known beer.

His profile rose further when he acquired a stake in the Force India F1 team and ownership of the Royal Challengers Bangalore cricket team.  His fortune reached a peak of $1.6 billion in 2007, according to Forbes.

But he was unable to stop Kingfisher from hemorrhaging cash, and following a pilots’ strike over unpaid wages the airline was grounded in 2012 having never made a profit, leaving thousands of employees without jobs.

“Vijay Mallya overstretched his brash attitude too much and leveraged his business too high without competent governance at key levels in his firms,” corporate governance expert Shriram Subramanian told AFP.

Mallya’s fortunes nosedived as the Indian economy began to slow sharply at the turn of the decade, with the aviation industry becoming one of the worst-hit sectors.

AFP

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