Coffee Tycoon With a Golden Touch: Cong MP Remembers Siddhartha

“Farewell, Siddharthanna… this was not how it was meant to end,” writes Congress MP Rajeev Gowda.

5 min read
Hindi Female

When I first met VG Siddhartha in the late 1980s, he already had a reputation of having a golden touch. Many coffee planters from Chikkamagaluru turned to him to invest their savings, and he ensured they got handsome returns. Like them, he came from a coffee-planting family. He went on to college in Mangaluru, then learned the art of investing from the Kampanis in Mumbai before returning and launching Sivan Securities, which eventually became the successful investment firm, Way2Wealth.

My college classmate, Nitin Bagamane, had partnered with him to launch a granite business, and their offices were next to each other. From the 1980s onwards, every time I visited home from graduate school in the US, I got a chance to say hello to both of them. Siddhartha was unfailingly pleasant and always inquired about how he could help, if and when I returned to India.


During this period, he married Malavika, the older daughter of SM Krishna, who later became the chief minister of Karnataka, the foreign minister and Governor of Maharashtra.

Siddhartha turned out to be very effective in the world of politics, helping to resolve all kinds of crises (including supposedly helping to free the legendary actor, Rajkumar, from the clutches of brigand Veerappan) through his timely interventions.

He was also generous with his support to friends across party lines. Among his many friends, he counted the late Union Minister Ananth Kumar of the BJP as a close confidante.

‘Always Focused on His Professional Commitments’

Malavika and I grew up in Bengaluru as part of the same social circle, so our paths would often cross. Unlike the rest of us who loved to party on, Siddhartha was always focused on his professional commitments, dutifully showing up at social events, but quickly exiting after greeting the hosts.

In the early 90s, I ran into his colleague Poornima Jairaj in the USA. She was exploring the new trend of internet cafes.

Shortly thereafter, Siddhartha launched an internet cafe in Bengaluru’s youth hotspot, Brigade Road. Very soon, it turned out that coffee was drawing more crowds than the internet.

Thus was born the Cafe Coffee Day chain, which introduced India’s youth to the pleasures of cappuccino. CCD quickly became a brand that aspirational India cherished.


Siddhartha always maintained a shy public profile, but soon, newspapers and magazines started to focus on the remarkable empire he was building. He generated tremendous efficiencies by integrating the coffee supply chain, from farm to frothy frappe. He bought numerous estates and became India’s biggest coffee planter through his Amalgamated Bean Coffee Company. He launched different retail formats, and even ventured into Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

He was determined to saturate the market before Starbucks came to India, and so, he expanded aggressively, possibly taking on more debt than was wise, in hindsight.

Foray Into Information Technology & Tourism

Siddhartha also diversified into information technology. He catapulted to a different level of wealth, thanks to his timely and prescient support of the Infosys founding team at a difficult time. He helped underwrite Infosys’ IPO in 1993 after the issue was undersubscribed and this led to a lifelong friendship with Nandan Nilekani, who went on to invest in Siddhartha’s ventures.

Later, he managed to woo Ashok Soota, Subroto Bagchi and key members of Wipro’s leadership team to set up Mindtree. He stuck with them till his recent much publicised sale of his shares to L&T. That turned out to be another very profitable investment.

Mindtree is housed in the Global Technology Village, one of Siddhartha’s flagship real estate ventures, and yet another feather in his cap.

He had a knack for building strong teams and his own businesses were staffed with many youngsters from his extended family circle of coffee planters from Chikkamagaluru. They got a chance to grow and thrive under the guidance of the master investor. He diversified into high-end tourism through the aesthetically designed Serai chain of resorts, into furniture and also set up Sical Logistics. He was the passionate promoter who created a diversified conglomerate.

‘Siddhartha Created Tens of Thousands of Jobs’

At the same time, Siddhartha ensured that he gave back to society. He set up the Amber Valley School in Chikkamagaluru. He ensured that differently-abled youngsters were employed at CCD. And overall, through his various businesses, he can be given the credit for creating tens of thousands of jobs.

At a time when joblessness and job-loss is what India is experiencing, we must salute the impact that Siddhartha has single-handedly had on job creation.

In 1999, SM Krishna became the chief minister. My late father, MV Venkatappa, had kept the Congress organisation in Karnataka humming when it was in the opposition for the preceding five years. He was widely expected to be part of the new cabinet, but had been left out at the last minute. I was furious and went to Siddhartha’s home and practically had a showdown with him. He assured me that my father was being saved for the Speakership of the Assembly. Happily, that came through soon after.


Siddhartha never ever held my fighting with him against me, and I felt he grudgingly admired my forcefulness in support of my father. Indeed, years later, when I was chosen by the Congress for a Rajya Sabha seat, in the place vacated by his father-in-law, he congratulated me, acknowledging that I had succeeded against tremendous odds.

That was Siddhartha. Always gracious. Always ready to recognise the value of someone who took on a challenge and pulled it off. I’m sure it appealed to the risk-taking entrepreneur in him.

‘Siddhartha Will Always Stand Out as an Icon of India Inc’

Given how affable he was, always smiling and always insightful, the tragic events of the last few days are unimaginable. He had seen so many challenges and soldiered on, conquering them and scaling new heights. He had a range of colleagues and friends who could have lent him a shoulder to lean on. And he was the darling son of Malnad, where families are so close and loving. I cannot imagine what snapped and broke his resolve to fight.

Whatever may be the financial complications, Siddhartha will always stand out as an icon of India Inc. The extraordinary builder of India’s cafe culture and beloved brand.

I cannot accept his words in his last letter: “I have failed …” He succeeded in so many ways, impacted so many lives, and created so much value.

For us from Karnataka, especially from our shared Vokkaliga community, he was a role model as a self-made entrepreneur who broke new ground and inspired numerous youngsters to dream big.


It is imperative that all that he built is preserved, sustained and propelled to greater heights. I would urge his close friends like Nandan Nilekani and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw to reach out to the Board and lend a hand to ensure that the Coffee Day empire is not dismantled, but that its affairs are sorted out and strengthened in the wake of his tragic death. That will be the best tribute to the legacy of VG Siddhartha.

Farewell, Siddharthanna… this was not how it was meant to end.

(Prof MV Rajeev Gowda is a Congress Member of Parliament and Chairperson of the AICC Research Department. He can be reached at @rajeevgowda The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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