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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Lord Bilimoria encore

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good morning, this is Jazz Shapers, it is the programme where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of Jazz, Soul and Blues alongside their equivalents in the world of business, we call them Business Shapers. Today we have a very special Encore Edition of Jazz Shapers, it’s with Karan Bilimoria; the Founder and Chairman of Cobra Beer and he joined us last in 2014, five years ago. How many things have changed since then. We have got a lot to talk about. Karan came up with the idea for Cobra Beer as a student. He loved beer but couldn’t stand bloating, harsh or bland lagers. He thought ‘why don’t I produce a beer which I will make in India’, where he grew up that has the refreshment of a lager and the smoothness of an ale. Turning that into a reality of course was never going to be easy. ‘We were’ he says ‘an unknown beer brand taking on the giants and with no marketing budget’. Karan raised every penny from day one and despite almost losing the business when the financial crisis hit in 2008, Cobra now exports to more than forty countries from the UK. Karan has also been a member of the House of Lords, an independent cross bench peer since 2006 and he started an independent charity, the Cobra Foundation, providing health, education and community support for young people in South Asia, especially through safe water provision. We’ll talk to Karan in a few minutes about all of this, about launching a new brand identity for Cobra, the first full rebrand in fifteen years and much more. As promised we have brilliant music too, from amongst others Eddie Harris, Jamie Cullum and Aretha Franklin. That ladies and gentlemen is today’s Jazz Shapers. Here’s Marvin Gaye with Inner City Blues.

That was Marvin Gaye with Inner City Blues. I am really pleased to say as I said earlier, my Business Shaper today for the second time in five years, second time in a decade is Lord Karan Bilimoria, the Founder of Cobra Beer and many other things as well. It is a pleasure to have you here. Hello. You look just the same.

Karan Bilimoria
Good to see you Elliot.

Elliot Moss
Tell me, five years ago the world was pretty different. Talk to me about Cobra. Let’s start there. How’s the business doing because you had a tough patch many years before we met and since then has the business grown? How has it grown? What kinds of things have been going on?

Karan Bilimoria
With Cobra having nearly lost the business three times in its history the last being ten years ago, during the financial crisis, we’ve had a period now where the brand has been in a joint venture with Molson Coors with of the largest brewers in the world, headquarters in Denver in the United States and it’s been a very good partnership to the extent that we’ve just extended our joint venture. We were so happy with the way that it is going we trust each other implicitly and I’ve been the Chairman of the joint venture and will continue to be the Chairman and the combination of the entrepreneurial spirit of my team combined with the giant power and synergies of Molson Coors has been very effective. I’m passionate about the brand, it’s my baby and we are going from strength to strength. So we have been innovating, we’ve just launched a new design for Cobra, we’ve upgraded the design across the range and we are very pleased with that and that is now on the supermarket shelves, even the draught font has been redesigned and these things take a lot of time and effort and we are very proud of what we’ve come up with and we’ve brought two new products which are terrific. One is, I’ve noticed with this craft beer boom that the most popular craft beer within most of these new craft breweries is their India Pale Ale, the IPA. I thought who better to bring out an IPA than Cobra. After all IPA was produced by Britain to send to India for the British troops in India. Well let’s have an IPA made by an Indian beer and the challenge was this, that most IPA’s are far too bitter and they are very difficult to drink on their own although they might have a nice aromatic aroma, initially a nice taste, they are difficult to drink and they are impossible to drink with food because they are overpoweringly bitter. So I said ‘how can I create an IPA that is as drinkable and smooth and delicious as Cobra beer?’ and it took us a long time. It took us over two years to get the recipe right, over a year of testing marketing and we now have it on the market, Malabar Blonde IPA named after the Malabar coast on the Arabian sea in South India, the exotic beaches and palm trees and we have a beer that is an IPA, top fermenting yeast made in a traditional craft brewery in North West England and we are so proud of it because we’ve produced the most drinkable IPA in the world and the only IPA in the world that goes with all food.

Elliot Moss
You should do the commercials. You’ve made me feel thirsty, you’ve just been talking and I am thinking I want to go the exotic Malabar coast. You talked about the behemoth of Molson, you talk about the entrepreneurial spirit of Cobra. It’s hard isn’t it for big and small to often work together well. What’s the secret of the success of the joint businesses now working so smoothly?

Karan Bilimoria
The combination of the structure, the infrastructure, the financial power, the distribution power, the manufacturing power of Molson Coors combined with the entrepreneurial spirit of Cobra, that’s the power and if you can innovate in the way that we’ve just done with Malabar that I have explained to you, to innovate with our other new product which is called King Cobra, made in Belgium at one of the most special breweries in the world called Rodenbach. A 200 year old brewery and it’s made like champagne. So we initially brew it like Cobra and then we double ferment it in a champagne bottle within an ale yeast. So it is the only beer in the world to our knowledge where it is a Pilsner beer that is double fermented with an ale yeast in the bottle, when it’s put into a warm room 24°C for two and a half weeks for the re-fermentation and after that it is unpasteurised with a one and a half year shelf life with the most amazing texture and aroma and it is made like champagne. And that product has just come on to the market and we are so excited about it because when we talk about craft beer, this is the ultimate craft beer made in Belgium, to me the home of some of the best beer in the world.

Elliot Moss
And your role as the Chair and obviously we are going to come on to other roles that you play whether it is the Vice Presidency, moving toward Presidency for the CBI, which will happen from next June but you have already been in place since this June or the Vice Presidency piece; whether it’s your role in the House of Lords – how do you look after this baby that you almost lost three times? And what is the, as well as the emotional connection, what is the practical side of ensuring that you play an active Chairman role?

Karan Bilimoria
It really helps that as the Chairman I am also the Founder entrepreneur. This is something that I started from scratch with nothing, just two of us, my business partner Arjun Reddy and I, also from Hyderabad in India with £20,000 of debt to pay off, no money, no experience in the industry, not knowing anything about brewing beer, only knowing about drinking beer and loving beer and passionate about beer and hating all those fizzy lagers and realising that the ales that I love just did not go well with food because the ale was too heavy and too bitter and coming up with this product Cobra which is the refreshment of a lager and the smoothness of an ale combined, our slogan today is ‘Brewed Smooth For All Food’ and that is Cobra. It accompanies all food. We started with Indian food, that’s our base, curry and Indian food will always be our base and with the support of the restaurants we would not be here without their support. In fact we are just launching a new initiative in September 2019 called the Cobra Collective where we’ve got senior members of the industry, celebrated chefs, Michelin starred chefs across different cuisines, championing the restaurant industry, mentoring young chefs, putting back in the industry so it is by the industry, for the industry. The restaurant industry is our base and now Cobra is available in Turkish restaurants, Lebanese restaurants, Chinese, Thai, Gastro-pubs, casual dining, supermarkets and the foundation will always be this drinkability, this extra smooth taste that enables it to go with all food and having that platform that you passionately believe about that sets you apart from other beers, and that hasn’t changed from day one, and when you’ve got somebody who is focused on that within a large multi-billion dollar, 20,000 employee global company, I think that’s what makes a difference – it’s that passion and belief.

Elliot Moss
The bigger business roles that you play, and specifically now the CBI and I know historically the London Chamber of Commerce, you’ve always had a public service mentality to me, looking from the outside although you are an entrepreneur, you believe in giving back. Firstly where did that giving back notion come from and secondly what’s it going to look like for the CBI?

Karan Bilimoria
So with Cobra from day one I realised that it’s not just about building a brand, having this mission of wanting to brew the finest ever beer and making a global beer brand but very soon I was able to put back by providing beer for charitable causes, for fundraising events and that became part of our ethos and we have donated millions of pounds of beer over the years to most of the major charities in this country, in fact in the last five years a new project that we’ve come up with is we’ve partnered with Blue Water, one of the most well-known waters now, in fact in Parliament the water that you get is Blue Water, and it is joint branded with the Cobra Foundation, our charity and we give 100% of the profits that we make from that water, 100% to Water Aid for sanitation, clean water, saving lives in South Asia. That’s wonderful and we’ve already clocked over £100,000 donated to Water Aid from that one project alone so there is a lot business can do to put back into their community beyond what business is great in that it creates the jobs, makes a profit, pay the taxes that pay for the public services. We should never take that for granted but business can go even further by putting back into the community in their own and I have illustrated the way in which Cobra has been doing that over the years.

Elliot Moss
But your belief in doing that pre-dated the fashionable corporate social responsibility monocle – why is that? Why do you think you care and are interested in the wider community?

Karan Bilimoria
One could say that it goes back to my origins. It goes back to my origins as a Zoroastrian Parsi, I come from one of the smallest communities in the world. There are less than 100,000 of us left and we emmigrated to India over 1,000 years ago, settled in India and have done extremely well in India and around the world. So I always say and I don’t mean this in a boastful way, I mean it in a way that I am proud that per capita of achievement the Parsis are the most successful in the world by far. But the most important thing is Mahatma Ghandi said about the Parsis, he said ‘in numbers beneath contempt, in contribution beyond compare’. And I think that’s part of being brought up in the Parsi community is you are brought up to always (a) try and do the right thing because the Taz religion are good thoughts, good words, good deeds but it is also about putting back not just into the little Parsi community but into the wider community as well and you have got example after example of that, the Tata’s, that’s a Parsi family, Tata’s are Parsi company and they are renown for the charitable work that they do, the holding company is a charitable trust that donates millions of pounds a year, every year.

Elliot Moss
And so therefore the role that you’ve now taken on with the CBI, amongst many other roles and many other Boards and Vice Chancellorships here and there, Universities and so on is just an extension really of that?

Karan Bilimoria
Yes I do believe that if you are given the opportunity of putting back into the community and I think it’s difficult when you are an entrepreneur and you start off from scratch, the first eight years I remember starting Cobra there was no question of doing anything else. You are just trying to survive, you are just trying to get this plane to take off. Just trying to get your business to, to go places and once your business has taken off, once you have been able to build a team, once you have been able to delegate, then you can start to go beyond your business and I’ve started getting involved in public life almost twenty years ago when I was asked by the Labour Government at that time, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister to join what was the National Employment Panel and Welfare to Work Reform which was fantastic and then one thing leads to another and then the House of Lords which I have now been a member for thirteen years and am now very privileged to have been appointed Vice President of the CBI.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper today, it’s an Encore Special, Lord Karan Bilimoria, he is coming up again in a couple of minutes but first we are going to hear from our programme partner, Mishcon de Reya with some advice for your business.

There are many ways for you to enjoy all our former Jazz Shapers and indeed to hear this programme again. You can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes, or if you pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes you can enjoy the full archive as well. But back to our special Encore Edition of Jazz Shapers here where we are welcoming back a former guest to share their adventures and achieves it says here and quite right too and we were speaking five years ago to Lord Karan Bilimoria, a Founder and Chairman at Cobra Beer and now we are speaking again and much has changed in the economic and political sense but also a little bit for you as well and I mentioned the CBI, the role that you have taken on. Just tell me about the two or three things that will be on your agenda as you move from Vice President to President and what role, what purpose does the CBI play in today’s environment?

Karan Bilimoria
I have been lucky to have interacted with the CBI over the years including when I founded the UK India Business Council; the Founding Chair of the UK India Business Council putting together the UK and India increasing trade business and investment between the two countries and I have always known the CBI, interacted with them and then I’ve been fortunate to be asked and appointed now as the Vice President to be President next year and CBI is a wonderful organisation. It is by far the most important voice for business in the UK, both within the UK and around the world. It is respected, it’s listened to by Government and it speaks for 190,000 businesses and the perception of the CBI is that it represents big business and yes it does. The vast majority of the FTSE 100 companies are members however people do not appreciate enough that the CBI represents all business including SME’s and as somebody who started a business from nothing with just two people, not an SME, as a micro business and then an S, and then an M and now partnering with one of the largest brewers in the world, I have been through all the stages and I’ve also been through the stages of building a business from scratch and all the ups and downs that that involves, the challenges nearly losing my business so… and I’ve also been on the Board of PLC’s, FTSE 250 companies. I was Senior Independent Director of Booker that was sold to Tesco recently, almost FTSE 100 and now part of Tesco. So I am fortunate now to have seen the different spectrum of businesses in my own business career and now to bring that to bear in the CBI and I think that I will try and champion the whole of British business, champion the good that business does and for people to realise unfortunately that business doesn’t always have a good impression and I’d like people to see business in a better light, see the good that business does beyond the profits and the jobs that business creates but also putting back in the community. Champion SME’s and also to encourage more collaboration between Universities and business. I have been proud to have been Chancellor of the University of Birmingham for five years. I am also the Chair of the Advisory Board of the Cambridge Judge Business School so I have been very involved in higher education. I am passionate about education, higher education. I think British Universities are the best in the world along with the United States of America and we do collaborate with industry but we could do so much more and I think the CBI can play a major role, in fact many of our leading Universities are members of the CBI and that of course leads to then how can we power ahead and increase the productivity in our country. The productivity of our top 10% of our companies in the UK is world beating, world class. But on the whole our productivity has been lagging and I think one of the key drivers to increase our productivity is to focus on innovation, is to focus on creativity, is to invest in R&D innovation, the moment we invest 1.7% of GDP in R&D innovation compared with Germany and America that invest 2.8%, let alone somewhere like Israel which is a powerhouse of innovation, who invest over 4% of GDP. So if we just invested that 1% extra of GDP per year in R&D innovation that’s an extra twenty billion pounds a year. Let alone catching up with the under investment over the past years, we will power ahead and we are a greatly innovative country, greatly creative country. We’ve been the forefront of innovation over the decades and centuries. That is one of the advantages of Britain is this power that it has of its people, of innovation and creativity.

Elliot Moss
You’ve just mapped out brilliantly the blueprint as it were which combines Universities, combines education, looks at productivity, the small, the medium and then the you know, the larger enterprise because on the face of it when you were appointed people were saying ‘this guy used to run a small business’ and of course it’s not true you’ve done many, many other things. In this volatile environment we now find ourselves, what are the specific things we might do to mitigate the risks that inevitably will come with Brexit? However and whenever it happens, in whatever form.

Karan Bilimoria
Those are saying that I have followed in my business journey and success is not a destination, it is a journey and it’s a challenging journey, it’s an up and down journey with obstacles in the way and it is to adapt or die and I think that the more resilient you can be, the more adaptable you can be as a business or as an organisation then you can face challenges. The stronger the brand that you have, the three things that have got me through my crisis in the past, one is having a strong brand, the Cobra Beer brand has been very resilient through our tough times. Having a strong team and support of your family and team. I have got a wonderful team at Cobra, my wife Heather, my South African wife who I met one year after I started Cobra has been by my side through this whole journey. Without her support I wouldn’t be here talking to you and then doing it with the right values, doing it with integrity and always following the principle that it is better to fail doing the right thing than to succeed doing the wrong thing. So if you apply those principles to a country like Britain, what a brand the United Kingdom is. It’s Great Britain. This is not let’s make Britain great again, Britain is already great. Let’s make Britain greater. Despite all the challenges, 1% of the world’s population we are still the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world and that is staggering considering we don’t have natural resources. We are tiny as a country, diminishing North Sea oil and gas, it’s down to the power of our people and it’s down to the power of our institutions. Institutions that have been built up over centuries that give us the best accountants, the best lawyers, the best creative industries, the best Universities, manufacturing excellence, museums, art, music, classical music, jazz, rock, pop – you name it – we are the best and that is so powerful it gives us huge resilience as a country to cope with the ups and downs and I don’t think we should ever forget that or take it for granted.

Elliot Moss
I want to play you a small clip from the interview we did five years ago, I want to talk about the future a little bit and I think I know what you are going to say but for the benefit of the listeners, this is what Karan said in 2014 about the opportunity that Britain had given him personally:

“This country has given me the opportunity over the last three decades from coming here as a 19 year old student and that time Britain was the sick man of Europe, at that time this country had a glass ceiling for somebody who was a foreigner where you wouldn’t get to the top because you were a foreigner, at that time entrepreneurship had images of Del Boy and Second Hand Car Salesmen and was looked down upon and how this country has now changed to a country I believe with opportunity for all regardless of race, religion or background. I believe this is a country of aspiration and this is a country now where entrepreneurship is celebrated. So…wow.”

So here we are five years later. Same prognosis?

Karan Bilimoria
Absolutely, just look at, look at Britain, look at the Government today. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is an Asian, a bus driver’s son, a good friend of mine, Sajid Javid, with great business background, perfect person to be Chancellor. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel is of Indian origin, a British Asian. Two of the great Offices of State so it is only a step away that we then have an Asian as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and I’ve always said I will see that in my lifetime and it is going to happen so that glass ceiling has gone, it’s shattered and this country is wonderful in being an aspirational country and allowing opportunity for all regardless of race, religion or background however my worry has been over the past three years. When I did this interview five years ago I had never faced any discrimination in this country as a student, as somebody building up my business, never but when sadly during the Brexit Referendum and afterwards I have faced awful, awful hate emails, messages, tweets, hand written letters. People telling me to go back to where I’ve come from. Nasty things which I had never experienced before and we were almost going backwards and that really, really not only hurt me and shocked me but worried me that this country had progressed so much from the time I’d come here as a young 19 year old student from India to then having this British dream that I was living, this aspirational dream and then facing this discrimination I’ve never faced in all these years. Fortunately it has died down and I think we are back on track but I am worried with the environment that’s been created. I am worried that protectionist barriers that are going up around the world, those are backward steps in my view. I think that the globalisation that has taken place over the years on the whole has benefitted the global economy and global citizens and I am worried that the more protectionism that is then we mustn’t lose the progress that we’ve made over these decades that this country has been a shining example of.

Elliot Moss
You talked about adapt or die and obviously these are structural impediments that could become realities, tariffs could happen, we don’t know but there is going, as you said, borders, barriers will go up. You are an entrepreneur, you are creative, you are optimistic, there are many thousands if not more people who will think ‘you know what we can do this’, how will someone like you and your business, because your business could be directly impacted for sure if there is immigration caps, there could be issues with talent, there is all sorts of practical things but I say to you, it feels like you will get round those, you’ll get through them. Am I right?

Karan Bilimoria
You have to. There is no choice but to get through them however when alarm bells ring I think it is always better to try and prevent something from happening rather than having to go backwards or go through unnecessary disruption and pain that you need not go through and I think the alarm bells are there. I could give you example after example at Harvard Business School which I have attended through executive education for many, many years now, straight after Brexit and the Trump election, so in January 2017 I will never forget one of the most famous respected economists at Harvard Business School showing us the charts of the rise and fall of globalisation after the First World War, Second World War and we’ve peaked in global history the level of globalisation we have today in the world beyond what existed before the First World War at the height of the empires. We’ve gone beyond that and today that going into protectionism is a worry and I think we need to be aware of that. We mustn’t lose all the good that has happened and the millions of people that have been lifted out of poverty around the world, we mustn’t stop that journey.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Karan Bilimoria, plus we’ll be playing a track from Aretha Franklin and that’s all coming up in just a moment.

That was Aretha Franklin with Day Dreaming. Karan Bilimoria is my Business Shaper here on this Encore Special just for a few more minutes. If anyone has been listening earlier and I hope you have been, you’ll be struck by just how many things you are involved in Karan, I mean extraordinary things and yet it is anchored in a very clear philosophy about life and I wrote down the good thoughts…

Karan Bilimoria
Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.

Elliot Moss
Good thoughts, good words, good deeds. If that’s your mantra, is that what keeps you sane because if you look at Coors, you look at the CBI, you look at the House of Lords, you look at the different roles you play with Universities – you are a busy guy. You don’t look like you’re a busy guy and you never do when I meet you and I’ve met you a few times over the years and you always seem calm. Is this just because you are a swan and it’s all going furiously underneath or is there some other level of… do I need to be taught by the guru here, is there something going on that you’ve got that enables you to be so centred and so apparently calm?

Karan Bilimoria
Well my wife always says ‘never ever complain that you are too busy because it is always your choice’ and if one is fortunate to have that choice I believe that I do these things (1) because I am lucky to be given the opportunity to do them and also because I genuinely love them and I am passionate about them. To be Chancellor of one of the biggest Universities in Britain, Russell Group University, the University of Birmingham, one of the top Universities in the world, top 100 Universities in the world is a real privilege. To head the Cambridge Judge Business School, to be Chair of the Advisory Board, one of the top business schools in the world, one of the finest Universities in the world – what a privilege and to be in the House of Lords, thirteen years that I’ve been there. I love every minute of it, yes a lot of it’s been challenging over the last three years, sometimes it’s been very unpleasant but it’s a privilege and to be able to participate there, to try and make a difference – it’s been wonderful. To build your own business from scratch, to partner with a big global company – wow and there is so much to go for in the future. I mean we haven’t even started, we’ve got so much more to do.

Elliot Moss
Well let me put this to you – five years from now, 2024 – what will be the big three things that you will have achieved and I don’t mean that in a trite achievement way for you, I mean for the different areas that you are trying to impact. What does success look like five years hence?

Karan Bilimoria
That’s a great question because one is always looking ahead and of course where the business is concerned I would like Cobra to continue to grow, the new products that we’ve brought on line, to be a real success, even more new products that I have already got down the line to come on line and our global reach to increase. At the moment we are manufacturing in Belgium, here in the UK and we’ve got three breweries in India with Molson Coors, I want that and exports to forty countries to grow and then what I would like is for our political situation with the terrible time that Britain’s gone through with Brexit over the last three years. We were the fastest growing economy in the Western world before Brexit in the Spring of 2016. To five years from now for something like Brexit to have been something in the past and for Britain to be back on track of being a really successful economy that the whole world looks up to and at the moment I am sorry to say it, a lot of people around the world are saying ‘what is this great country doing to itself? Why are you doing this? You don’t need to do this’ and I hope that it will be behind us and I hope that by then I would have finished my year as Vice President of CBI, two years as President of CBI, another year as a Past President and Vice President and hope to have made a difference in that role and contributed and participated as best I have been able to do and I will then also finish my second tenure as Chancellor of the University of Birmingham so who knows what next.

Elliot Moss
Put your feet up, maybe for two minutes.

Karan Bilimoria
No, no putting feet up and also what I want is the relationship between the UK and India to really power ahead, it could be much more than it is today and I think in five years’ time we should be in a special relationship like we have with the United States. I’ve always said there is another special relationship with a country like India.

Elliot Moss
Thank you for your time, thank you for your words of hope and inspiration. It’s been brilliant talking to you again and 2024, it’s a date if we are still going and you are still going, you can come back. Just before I let you go, what is your song choice, we don’t normally do this for the Encore Special but it’s you, so we are going to. What would you like to hear?

Karan Bilimoria
I thought about something relevant and it’s so wonderful serendipity, defined by Mark De Rond the Professor at the Cambridge Judge Business School, he defined serendipity as seeing what everyone else sees but thinking what no one else has thought and the serendipity is I just recently have been in a meeting in Parliament hosting the Chief Minister of the State of Tamilnadu in South India, a state that has a population of seventy million, more than the population of the United Kingdom and there we were and I thought ‘hang on Engelbert Humperdinck he was born in Madras, what is today Chennai in Tamilnadu, an Anglo Indian, an Indian’ and my father, my late father, General Bilimoria who was a great lover of jazz and the jazz that I had been brought up with from childhood is thanks to my father and one of the songs that he loved was Quando Quando and I so I said ‘why can’t we have Engelbert Humperdinck singing Quando Quando and of course Quando Quando is When: when are we going to now get on with Britain being back to what it was before and putting everything us and on that Great Britain path again.

Elliot Moss
That was Engelbert Humperdinck with Quando Quando Quando, there are three in there, the famous bossa nova classic and the song choice of my brilliant Business Shaper today on this Encore Special, Karan Bilimoria. He talked about so many things, replete with wisdom, I am just going to give you a couple; success is not a destination it’s a journey, adapt or die, and this one I love – good thoughts, good words, good deeds – because fundamentally he is on a mission to make sure that business is seen in a more positive light for all the great things it can do for the wider community. That’s it from Jazz Shapers and me, have a great weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds more guests available for you to listen to in our archive. To find out more, just search Jazz Shapers and iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Lord Karan Bilimoria CBE, DL is the Founder of Cobra Beer, Chairman of the Cobra Beer Partnership Limited, a Joint Venture with Molson Coors, and Chairman of Molson Coors Cobra India.

Born in Hyderabad, India, Karan moved to the UK at the age of 19 on a scholarship and received a diploma in accounting from the London Metropolitan University. Having then qualified as a chartered accountant with what is Ernst & Young today, he has gone on to Found Cobra Beer.

Karan has also been appointed as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for services to business and entrepreneurship, and in 2006 he was appointed an Independent Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords and created Baron Bilimoria of Chelsea in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Since 2007, Karan has become a Non-Executive Director and Senior Independent Director of the Booker Group PLC, the UK’s largest wholesale operator and a FTSE 250 company and Chairman of the Molson Coors Cobra India Ltd joint venture.

Interview highlights

This is something that I started from scratch with nothing.

I came here as a 19 year old student from India living a British dream.

Having a platform that you passionately believe about makes you different.

It’s important to give back to the community.

When you start out you are just trying to survive.

I want to know what businesses are doing beyond the profits.

We’ve been at the forefront of innovation for years.

Running a business is an up and down journey with obstacles in the way and it is to adapt or die.

It’s better to fail when you have the right values and behaving with integrity, than succeeding doing the wrong thing.

When I did this interview five years ago I had never faced any discrimination in this country.

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