F. N. Billimoria
Founder and Chairman of Cobra Beer
Kai, Zara, Josh, and Lily Bilimoria
Heather Bilimoria (m. 1993)
Cobra Beer, UK India Business Council
Kai Bilimoria, Lilly Bilimoria, Josh Bilimoria, Zara Bilimoria
Against the Grain: Lessons in Entrepreneurship from the Founder of Cobra Beer
Dominic Cadbury, David Eastwood, Wes Streeting
Lord Bilimoria speaks out against an elected "Senate"
Karan Faridoon Bilimoria, Baron Bilimoria, (born 26 November 1961) is a British Indian entrepreneur and a life peer. He is best known as one of the two founders and chairman of Cobra Beer.
- Lord Bilimoria speaks out against an elected Senate
- Family background
- Early life
- Founding of Cobra Beer
- The Cobra Beer Partnership
- The Cobra Foundation
- Chancellor of the University of Birmingham
- Honours and positions
- Styles and titles
Karan Bilimoria was born in Hyderabad, India into a Zoroastrian Parsi family that has a background in the armed forces and business. His father, Lt. General Faridoon Noshire Bilimoria PVSM (1933–2005), popularly known as 'General Billy', was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Central Army Command of the Indian Army, who had also served as ADC to the first Indian President, Rajendra Prasad, and commanded the 2/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Lt. General Bilimoria, while General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Central Indian Army, was also sent by the Government of India to Sri Lanka in 1990 to review the work of the Indian Peace Keeping Force which had been deployed in that country during the Sri Lankan Civil War under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, and it was on his recommendations that the force was recalled in 1990, ending India's military engagement with the LTTE.
Karan's paternal grandfather, Nasservanji D. Bilimoria, was one of the first Indians to be commissioned as an officer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst into the British Indian Army and retired as a Brigadier. His mother, Yasmin Bilimoria nee Italia, was the daughter of Jamshed D. Italia, a Squadron Leader in the Royal Indian Air Force, and Aimai Italia nee Bharucha of Hyderabad. His maternal great-grandfather, D.D. Italia, was a Hyderabad-based businessman and politician who served as a member of the Rajya Sabha in the 1950s. Both his mother and maternal grandfather were educated in Britain at University of Birmingham.
As the name denotes, Bilimora is the ancestral name of a city situated on the banks of the river Ambika, in Gandevi taluka and Navsari district of Gujarat state in India, where the family comes from originally.
Karan did his early schooling in Hyderabad from Hyderabad Public School at Begumpet, Hyderabad where the family lived at his mother's ancestral home, Anand Bhavan, while his father served in different military stations in the country. As he grew, his family began to accompany his father, and Karan attended seven different schools before his younger brother, Nadir, and he were sent to board at the Hebron School, Ooty in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. When he was still nineteen, Karan received his Bachelor of Commerce degree from Osmania University in Hyderabad in 1981.
On receiving a scholarship, he then moved to London where he qualified as a chartered accountant with what is today Ernst & Young and received a diploma in accounting from the London Metropolitan University. Thereafter he read law at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, Karan played on the university's polo team, organising their first ever tour of India, receiving a Half-Blue in 1988, and led the debating team against Oxford for two years, becoming also the Vice-President of the Cambridge Union before graduating in 1988.
In 1993 he married Lynne Heather Walker, a South African national, whom he met through mutual friends. She is an English and Latin graduate of Rhodes University.
Founding of Cobra Beer
During the India tour of the Cambridge polo team, Karan noticed that the polo sticks made in India were different and of better quality than those made in Britain. At the time, polo sticks made in Argentina were very popular but following the Falklands War, imports of Argentinian products into Britain had been banned and there was little competition to British manufacturers. Karan began to import polo sticks from India to fill in the gap, selling these successfully and profitably to Harrod's and Lillywhites. He also experimented with importing fashion goods, fabrics, and other products from India, but unlike the polo sticks these were not very successful ventures.
In 1989, along with his friend Arjun Reddy, Karan founded Cobra Beer in a little flat in Fulham. The idea for the beer had come up while he was a student at Cambridge, where he regularly ate his meals at Indian restaurants. He noticed that regular lager was too gassy and bloating to be enjoyed with food, while ale was too bitter to accompany a meal. He came up with a concept for a beer that had 'the refreshing qualities of a lager' but the 'smoothness and drinkability of an ale' to accompany food – in particular, Indian food and curry. In 1989, after concluding his import-export ventures, Karan and Arjun Reddy started Cobra Beer.
At the time Karan had a student debt of £20,000, and funds to start the business were not easy to find. Borrowing money from various sources and £30,000 from a bank, Cobra commenced operations. A brewer in Bangalore, India, Dr Subroto Cariapa, and the owner of Mysore Breweries, Mr Balan, liked the idea of the beer and helped create Cobra. From India, then, it was imported to Britain. In a battered old Citroen 2CV, Karan himself began distributing 15 cases of beer at a time across London and, slowly, outside it.
Since marketing on a large scale was not an option because of the paucity of funds, penetrating Britain's highly competitive beer market required an innovative approach. The task was made all the more challenging because by 1990 the country was also in an economic recession. Cobra took off in these circumstances by creating a niche for itself in the market. Indian curry was becoming increasingly popular in the country at the time and so Cobra Beer was marketed and sold as the perfect drink to go with it. Karan himself delivered cases of Cobra to Indian restaurants, where it became very popular with customers. Within five years, the one million mark in sales revenues was crossed. Cobra began to be served across the United Kingdom in thousands of Indian restaurants and the business began to grow, expanding into the pub and bar sector and also being sold in major supermarket chains. In 1999, the company diversified into wine.
By 2001 Cobra, from which Karan's partner had now exited, had a turnover of nearly £13 million with a sales growth rate of nearly 60% per year, and was being brewed locally in the UK by Charles Wells Ltd. By 2007 Cobra was being sold in over 45 countries, and had a total production capacity of 450,000 cases per month. Revenues stood at £30 million and, with rapid expansion, were expected to cross £100 million by 2010.
The Cobra Beer Partnership
On 29 May 2009 the company went into administration. The company owed an estimated £70 million to creditors. Molson Coors, one of the world's largest brewers, then paid circa £14 million for a 50.1% share in a pre-pack administration deal, leaving Bilimoria and his shareholders with the other 49.9%, and signed a Joint Venture deal under the name the Cobra Beer Partnership, of which Bilimoria is chairman.
On 7 October 2009 Bilimoria claimed that the creditors of Cobra Beer will be settled out of future profits of the Joint Venture.
The Cobra Foundation
In 2005 Lord Bilimoria helped to establish the Cobra Foundation, an independent charity that provides health, education and community support for young people in South Asia. The charity focuses on the provision of safe water and also provides support to disaster relief efforts in the region.
Since 2014, the Cobra Foundation has partnered with Belu water to launch a new range of bottled water, with 100% of the profits made donated to WaterAid. This partnership enabled the Cobra Foundation to donate £17,000 to WaterAid's efforts in South Asia in 2015.
Chancellor of the University of Birmingham
On 17 July 2014, Lord Bilimoria was installed as the 7th Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. The previous holders of the office were Joseph Chamberlain, Robert Cecil, 1st Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, Anthony Eden, Sir Peter Scott, Sir Alex Jarratt and Sir Dominic Cadbury.
Honours and positions
Karan was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London in 2001 and he was granted a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2004 Birthday Honours for his services to business and entrepreneurship. He was appointed an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the House of Lords and was created Baron Bilimoria, of Chelsea in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea on 16 June 2006. He is the first Zoroastrian Parsi to sit in the House of Lords.
Karan has been a non-executive director and Senior Independent Director of the Booker Group PLC, the UK's largest wholesale operator, since 2007. In 2011 he became Chairman of Molson Coors Cobra India, a joint venture between Cobra Beer and Molson Coors in India.
He is also: