Open offer move clinched it

Mumbai, March 22 | Updated: Mar 23 2005, 05:30am hrs
A day after sealing the deal with the Jumbo Group to take control of arch rival Shaw Wallace & Co (SWC) for Rs 1,300 crore, UB Group boss Vijay Mallya is taking some time off.

In a blue-and-white beach shirt and shorts, with a Kingfisher cap and sunglasses, aboard his superyacht Indian Princess off the Gateway of India, Mr Mallya is obviously enjoying his moment in the sun. The acquisition has made his UB Group the second largest liquor maker in the world, and given him global scale.

Yes, it is an emotional thing too, he admits. His battle with the Chhabrias of SWC has seen its share of ups and downs over the last two decades. But now, its time to consolidate.

At 60 million cases, UB is now clearly the leader of the pack in India. And now, Mr Mallya wants a global footprint, leveraging on his brewery presence in South Africa and the United States.

Global investment bankers keep throwing me names all the time, but I havent taken a close look yet. But thats the next step.

As is the imminent creation of United Spirits, a new listed entity which will house the entire spirits business including SWC of the group.

The other entity will be United Breweries, which essentially means there will be two key companies in the new-look UB Group.

United Spirits, he says, will be in place before FY06. But the SWC deal wasnt easy, Mr Mallya admits.

There were several others in the fray. Even at 4 am Dubai time, I thought Id walk away. It wasnt done till it was done. It was a very complex deal, he says, puffing at his cigarillo.

He says the move to go in for an open offer for 25% of SWC, even before he struck the deal for the 54.54% Chhabria stake in the company, tilted the scales in his favour, and scared off competitors. I was always a serious bidder and money wasnt a problem. The open offer substantially clinched it and caught everyone by surprise, he says with a chuckle, sipping his trademark Kingfisher beer.

Moydane aami eka (I was alone in the field), he adds, breaking into Bengali, a language he speaks fluently thanks to his early days in Kolkata. At Rs 1,300 crore, isnt SWC overvalued Ive been asked this, but I can tell you, the value this deal will bring to shareholders is far greater. Every year, SWC and UB used to spend Rs 200 crore each just fighting each other. Now, that will go straight to the bottomline, he explains.

Can you imagine the size Together, UB and SWC will pay Rs 15,000 crore every year just in taxes. Its a jumbo thing, he says, perhaps unaware of the obvious pun. Mr Mallya is clear that he doesnt want anything other than the SWC spirits business.

They have 60 days and so have I. They have to settle those issues in that time. I am concerned only with the spirits business. This means that the SWC beer joint venture with SAB Miller of South Africa isnt his concern. Nor are SWCs other holdings. UB has already signed a Rs 900 crore-plus deal with Scottish & Newcastle (S&N) for the beer business and is happy with it, he says. What does Vijay Mallya do now Rest, he quips. Its really been a complex deal. But even as he says this, hes busy putting in place plans for the launch of his latest venture, Kingfisher Airlines, which takes to the skies in May. Clearly, the rest will be short-lived.