Sunday, July 6, 2008

Kishore Biyani: The Man They Wrote Off.

Retail King of India.

Two years ago, no one took Kishore Biyani seriously. His company, Pantaloon Retail, was seen as a one-man show. Biyani himself was regarded as unpredictable, and not a long-term bet. Today, he is the biggest retailer in India. In two years, Kishore Biyani has bounced back to become India's largest retailer. Here's how the maverick ignored conventional wisdom on retailing, and won.

By M. Rajshekhar

His motto: "Rewrite the rules but retain the values", seems to have worked well for Kishore Biyani, MD, Pantaloon Retail (India) Ltd. In being chosen as the 'retail face of the year' by Images Retail, Biyani's efforts at 'rebranding' Indian retail has been recognised. "Pantaloon will innovate a pan-Indian model of retailing, rather than copy the western model," says Biyani.

Biyani was chosen for the award through a nationwide industry poll after a performance assessment by global retail consultants, KSA Technopak, Knowledge Partners and a jury chaired by McKinsey and Co.

The awards included 13 categories in retail segments such as fashion, catering services, food and grocery, health and beauty, leisure, consumer electronics and entertainment. The others nominated for the title included the likes of BS Nagesh, CEO, Shoppers' Stop, Raghu Pillai, CEO RPG Enterprises, KN Iyer, CEO of Crossroads, and Vikram Bakshi McDonald's JV partner in India.

Pantaloon's Kishore Biyani has become India's largest retailer, but still has several aces up his John Miller shirtsleeves.

In India's chaotic markets, Kishore Biyani is the unchallenged king of retail. He has the knack of catching rivals off-guard and striking where it hurts most.

Pantaloon Man

Unlike most people, Kishore Biyani makes no bones about his simplicity. He's the man you're most likely to ignore at the Pantaloon or Big Bazaar store, as he stands in a corner observing the way you shop. But make no mistake, what he may lack in sartorial style, he more than makes up through his observation powers.

You'll never catch him in a tie and jacket. He isn't a stickler for large cars, and has just graduated from driving a Honda City to a Honda Accord, though he's just as content driving around in a junior manager's Maruti.

He is a strict vegetarian, and is currently off cheese and fried foods, but will otherwise eat anything that is green.

According to him, golf is a waste of time. Instead, he's addicted to a daily half-hour walk and does yoga twice a week.

He used to be a lawn tennis regular but gave it up citing lack of time. He can't understand the fuss about gyms and hasn't visited any.

Biyani loves films and has even produced some, but was never part of that industry. His personal preference is films by Guru Dutt, Yash Chopra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

He believes in taking quick decisions. The deal with Bennett, Coleman & Co was done in seven days flat. He has never met V Banga of Unilever in his life, and leaves the task of relationship building to his managers.

Instead he spends time with property developers - Sanjay Chandra of Unitech is a pal - merchant bankers and investment bankers.

Biyani's victory isn't unexpected. India's own Sam Walton (the legendary promoter of Walmart) is quick to seize any advantage. Which is why the denim manufacturer who quit the trade because "it wasn't creative enough" commands over 1.3 million sq ft of retail space.

But even size hasn't made a difference to Biyani's vaulting ambitions and he's on an even faster trajectory of growth. He's booked over 4.5 million sq ft of space across the country, and will utilise 3 million sq ft by this year's end in 23 Indian cities.

He will invest over Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) to make this dream a reality. Says R S Roy, editorial director of the magazine Retail, which tracks the industry closely: "Mall developers have him in mind before they start constructing. His presence ensures footfalls and a premium for the mall."

Even Biyani concedes, "We have a store opening virtually every fortnight; I have lost count now of how many I have opened."

But don't let Biyani fool you. He keeps a close watch over his empire with the assistance of his two brothers, who are directors in the company.

He might have over 6,000 employees and 300 managers, but the buck stops only with him. Every time a store opens, managers have to rush daily reports for the first 45 days, and it isn't unusual for Biyani to be fixing any lacunae either over the phone or personally in the store.

Weekly targets are fixed and reviewed every Monday. The badshah of the bazaar jets between his stores across the country to "spend at least six or seven hours every week in the stores", he says. Even when he's in inspection mode, Biyani takes time off to cut more deals.

Check out Book on Kishore Biyani:
It Happened in India by Kishore Biyani

Kishore Biyani
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