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Colorful CEO Enjoys both the 'Show' and the 'Biz'

June 2008
Colorful CEO Enjoys both the 'Show' and the 'Biz'

What exactly does Vijay Mallya, a billionaire known for his extravagance, do when he’s not seen dallying with attractive young women?

A lot, it turns out. Here’s a list (surely not complete) of what he’s involved in: aviation, breweries, petro-chemicals, racing cars, newspapers, television, horses, yachting and cricket. He’s also a Rajya Sabha MP—certainly, the most colorful member in that staid upper house of parliament. Part Donald Trump and part Richard Branson is one way to describe him, although Mallya is bound to object to such a label. One of a kind among India’s super-rich business barons, he bathes rather than basks in the spotlight. A showman with a shaman-like bearing (he favors long silvery hair and flashy jewelry), Mallya is a man of contradictions. He tootles around in a Mercedes in Sausalito, California, where he owns a house, and loves to host glamorous bashes in the Mediterranean on his Indian Empress, one of the largest privately owned yachts in the world. A few years ago, as per one source, he had 260 antique racing cars, 26 homes around the world, and three yachts. Needless to say, he also owns a couple of jets for private use.

At the same time, Mallya, who has an affinity for Sri Ravi Shankar’s teachings, likes to make austere pilgrimages to Sabrimala, Kerala, in the company of thousands of devotes. It’s no surprise that Mallya has more than his share of detractors, who may find him crass rather than cool. But whatever one thinks of him, he’s hard to ignore. He gets wide media coverage, both inside and outside India. An enthusiast who drives—not just collects—racing cars, Mallya recently led the Force India Formula One team, which he owns. Mallya is also a cricket fan. His latest acquisition, the Bangalore Royal Challengers, for which he supposedly paid over $111 million, is one of eight teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL). No wonder he’s been dubbed the “King of Good Times.”

Mallya, admittedly, works as hard as he plays. Though born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, he had to prove himself at a fairly young age when his father died of a heart attack. Known to be a micromanager, he earned his Ph.D. through a correspondence program. Mallaya started off as a beer baron, gaining a high profile only after he launched Kingfisher Airlines. His United Breweries Group also grew when he purchased the whisky maker Whyte & Mackay. “What’s next?” one can’t help asking.

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