Man for all Seasons

Sep 08 2013, 10:31 IST
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SummaryWith successful business interests ranging from exports, interiors to real estate, there’s much more to ousted McDonald’s managing director Vikram Bakshi than just burgers and fries

The phone hasn’t stopped ringing for Vikram Bakshi in the past one week. But these are not the regular business calls he used to get while charting the day-to-day business of popular fast food chain McDonald’s in the northern and eastern parts of the country. The calls are from Delhi’s industrialists and businessmen, who want to offer Bakshi all kinds of help that he might need in his management strife with McDonald’s, which rather uncharacteristically issued a public notice on August 30 in some select newspapers, announcing that Bakshi would no longer be the managing director of the JV company that runs the business.

In Delhi’s cut-throat competitive business environment, where gaming the powerful is a much cherished art, seeing a rival—however remote he might be—down is generally received with concealed glee. However, there seems to be no such response in the case of Bakshi, who is well known to the Delhi’s powerful business gentry, all of whom have good words to say about him and are eager to offer help. Stunned as Bakshi is regarding his ouster as MD, so is Delhi’s business circle. It is not uncommon for business partners to fight, break up or patch up, but there’s usually a long series of events predating such fracas. However, no one had any clue, including Bakshi, about the move of the US fast food giant. People close to Bakshi say he never mentioned any problems with McDonald’s; there was absolutely no hint of what was to come and putting a public notice was, indeed, humiliating.

Bakshi may be known as the “burger and fries man” to the outside world, considering his claim to fame at McDonald’s. However, Delhi’s business circles would prefer to call him a real estate person. He ventured into real estate and construction in the early 1980s and built the prestigious 14-storey Mohan Dev building on Tolstoy Marg in the heart of the capital. The list of tenants he has speaks much about his business skills—AT&T, Societe Generale and Schlumberger, to name just a few. He later also set up an interior decorating firm that designed offices for BBC, Schlumberger, Otto and Liz Claiborne, amongst others.

Bakshi also owns property in plush Jor Bagh and Golf Links, people close to him say. Ask his tenants, past and present, and no one has any complaints against him. There’s a near unanimity in the response that, “He’s easy to do business with. There’s never been a problem”. No mean compliment for a person who dabbles in real estate. The bulk of the real estate has not been created by Bakshi, but mostly inherited. People close to him say his forefathers had real estate in the city from the pre-Partition days. But he’s managed them well, though he’s not into running the property directly since 1995, when he got into an arrangement with McDonald’s.

A science graduate from Delhi’s Hansraj College, he started working early at the family’s printing press, which he eventually converted from a letter to an offset printing press. He did this by purchasing the latest double-colour, four-colour Heidlberg printing machines, Polar cutting machine, Klimsch camera, etc, in the late 1970s.

After graduation, he moved to Europe, selling Indian handicrafts. He started with just a few bags in his hands, and went knocking door to door in Germany, Austria, Belgium and various other European countries to sell his wares, including carpets. Once he established a few regular buyers, he set up an export company back home in Delhi.

Bakshi does not come across as a typical city Punjabi who’s loaded with real estate and retails burgers and fries. There’s no flashiness in the man. He’s not seen at fancy, page 3 parties and is essentially a family person. His three daughters are all business graduates from the US and Europe, and are active industry captains running companies such as Ascot Hotels and Retails. His wife, Madhurima, studied at the Delhi School of Economics and assists him in business and is on the board of the JV firm Connaught Plaza Restaurants (CPRL). The CPRL is a 50:50 joint venture between McDonald’s and Bakshi. This JV firm runs the McDonald’s outlets in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Both the sides have two representatives on the company’s board and Bakshi as MD had management and veto rights.

Bakshi is a cricket enthusiast and is usually seen in Coke’s corporate box during the matches in Delhi. McDonald’s serves only Coke at its outlets, therefore, the association. Bakshi’s friends say he’s often present at the cricket matches with his family, a rare sight in the business circles of Delhi. He also has a passion for reading, travelling and golf.

People close to him say though he’s no more the MD—something which he is contesting legally and would shortly move the Company Law Board—Bakshi’s been attending office (at Jor Bagh) regularly. “He’s an equal stakeholder in the company, so work is going normal for him,” says a person familiar to the developments.

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