What may have driven Siddhartha to the edge

BENGALURU: A sharp spike in short-term loans to continue funding his business expansion over the past 12 months may have cost significantly, as the overall liquidity crunch in the financial system after the IL&FS crisis made it tough to get additional loans.

Besides, the failure of pushing through the sale of a real estate holdings, which could have brought much-needed additional liquidity, could have also helped ease his financial situation, said sources close to the founder.

Till the day before he disappeared on July 29, Siddhartha was trying to get a loan of about Rs 1,600 crore from one of the country‘s top lenders to avert the crisis. This would have eased his financial situation significantly, especially as the company had just sold off 20% stake in Mindtree to conglomerate Larsen and Toubro (L&T) for Rs 3,200 crore to ease the pressure. After taxes and expenses, this deal brought in net proceeds of Rs 2,100 crore to bring down the debt.

Earlier this month, when a CEO of a realty firm ran into Café Coffee Day founder VG Siddhartha and his son Amartya at Taj Lands End in Mumbai, Siddhartha told him how the Columbia Business School-educated youth was warming up to business by learning how to deal with income-tax related concerns.

After the Mindtree deal, the sale of Global Tech Village, a 4-million sqft development spread over 120 acres in Bengaluru, was in the works in a Rs 2,800-crore deal. Private equity major Blackstone along with local developer Salarpuria Sattva were in the race to acquire it.

At the same time, the company started talks with US-based soft drinks giant Coca-Cola for the sale of a substantial stake in the flagship Café Coffee Day business. “Working on both these deals at the same time proved to be distraction for him. If the business park sale would have been closed, it would have eased the financial pressure,” said an investment banker close to Siddhartha.

Coffee Day Enterprises saw a significant spike in short-term debt as well over the past year by nearly five times to Rs 3,890 crore. These loans had to be repaid within next 12 months, causing him to push for sale of multiple assets in the business.

SV Ranganath has been appointed as interim chairman of Coffee Day Enterprises Ltd following the death of its founder VG Siddhartha. The founder had gone missing two days ago. His body was found by local fishermen and policemen on the banks of the Nethravathi river near Mangaluru on Wednesday. Ranganath is currently a non-executive independent director.

“His problem was short-term rolling debt repayment which became a constant crisis in a liquidity starved market,” said another person tracking the development.

Siddhartha had consolidated all his businesses like retail, financial services, logistics, real estate except the coffee plantations under Coffee Day Enterprises after raising $200 million in private equity funding in 2010 in what was one of the most high-profile deals at the time.

Siddhartha had just purchased Sical Logistics and also expanded in furniture business by taking 1.85 million hectares of forest land in the Amazon forest in South America on a 30-year lease in 2011. In an interview to Forbes in 2011, he had said that he expected in the “next seven years, at least three or four of these businesses will be doing revenues of $1 billion each”.

Although organisations have begun taking initiatives to help employees manage stress levels, it‘s very lonely at the top. There have been several cases of suicide by CEOs across the globe. Stress levels are particularly high for startup entrepreneurs who are driven by the pressures of delivering high valuations. As a result, support groups have picked up pace.

But that did not materialise, as his biggest business Café Coffee Day reported revenues of Rs 2,043 crore in the financial year ending March 31, 2019.

Some of the expansion moves by the company also didn‘t pay off immediately, as it had shut down some of its stores and refurbished others.

“Coffee Day has a very strong brand value. Over the last few years, there was rapid expansion which was not very well thought-through. Some of the expansion was in high rental locations,” Naresh Malhotra, a serial entrepreneur and former CEO of Café Coffee Day.
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