August 4, 2019
So much has been said and written about the legacy Mr. V G Siddhartha, Founder, and CMD, Cafe Coffee Day has left behind. His entrepreneurial skills are eulogized. The odd interviews of this extremely shy and reticent man are being shared by news channel lucky enough to get him to speak then.
The man might have thought that this is the end, but his story has just begun.
Things are entirely different and much easier to manage when you are just a nobody with eyes full of dreams. There are more than 250000 coffee growers in India. No one thought of packaging it as a beverage and serve it in style before a maverick Siddhartha asked his father to play the gamble on him. Little did he know that he would be making cafes a cult, and drinking coffee an ultimate style statement! Young or old, everyone felt that a lot could happen over coffee. And for a young Siddhartha, a lot did happen.
When you follow your dreams so passionately, you are bound to climb the ladder of success. But while you are racing ahead and reaching to the top, it does get lonelier and lonelier. There is no sane voice except yours to guide you. No wonder that VGS found himself surrounded with people who were ready to invest in his dreams, but no one to share his nightmares.
It does get lonely at the top. But is this the way a genuine, hard-working man deals with the allegations, blames and censure coming his way?
Thousands of coffee growers, who pledged to sell their crop only to VGS, are now stunned. They pledged allegiance because they had faith in the man, his stature, and his integrity. In the last 16 years of my career as a PR professional, I have never come across a CEO who would defend his honor with his life.
It also makes me think of the futility of it all. We all have heard- “Winners never quit, quitters never win.” Isn’t jumping off a bridge, leaving a confounded 5000+ employees, a bereaved family and old parents too numb to react, quitting?
What could make a man, who remained undeterred with so many lives’ challenges, the threat from global competitors, literally jump off the cliff? Wasn’t there a better way?
As the head of a 23-year-old company, having more than 5000 employees and a revenue of Rs 4,331 crores (US$630 million) in 17-18, you have a public image to live by. People looked up to VGS as a beacon of hope, possibilities, and immense desire to succeed. Scores of entrepreneurial dreams were seen, drafted, and executed in the coffee shops he set up. A lot did happen over coffee for several generations, which found common ground to come together and share a cup of Joe.
It’s hard not to see the stark irony – There was another Siddhartha who relinquished his thrown, his riches, and his newborn- in search of greater knowledge. His restlessness to achieve oneness with the Supreme being fuelled his quest for wisdom, earning him the title of Buddha the enlightened one. He did come back to impart whatever he learned- selflessly giving back to the very same society that waited patiently for him, looked up to him.
And then there is the Siddhartha of today, who took the extreme step, never to return — leaving a huge question mark over his legacy.
Could he hear the same voice in his head that had always guided him till now?
Was it so lonely at the top that he didn’t have a single friend who had no interest in his business and his success? Someone who wasn’t looking for a partnership, but just a genuine, innocent friendship- someone he could open up his heart to?
Before we say that the system failed him, we must remember that we, as a society, failed him. In the whole world, there wasn’t a single person who could understand what the man was going through, someone he could trust to reach out to, who could tell him not to take the extreme step and that there is always a way out.
With my extensive experience and long term relationships with pivotal clients, I can vouch for the fact that you will not have a greater friendship than a fearless PR manager by your side. In more ways than one, PR people tell you what you NEED to hear, rather than just beating your drum to create enough noise. Because we are the ones, who need to deal with crises for you, help in image enhancement, and creation of long-term relationships.
Even before I realized PR was my calling, I had always been big on cultivating lifetime friendships. I am still in touch with my childhood friends, my high school and college batchmates,ex-colleagues, employees and have always been there long before we all moved to social media.
I have realized that the work I do in PR is a lot like what it takes to cultivate good friendships. To me, relationships come first, and profit comes later. And there are quite a few PR principles that rely entirely on developing deep and lasting relationships.
A famous phrase goes- “Familiarity breeds contempt”. VGS was a friend to many, but no one was a friend to him, in the end, it seems. Going away in disgrace, leaving unanswered questions and not fighting back wasn’t something he would have wanted for himself if he had that one sane voice of a single friend, telling him to stop, breathe, and listen- There is always a better way!
VGS didn’t just rewrite entrepreneurship code in the country. He left a stark reminder for all the entrepreneurs- when you reach the top, make sure you have someone who has your back. Invest as much in your life and friends as you would in your business.
Entrepreneurship needs Friendships that rise above vested interests.
About the author:
Shiv Shankar – He is the Executive Director & Founder of K2 Communications. Under his astute leadership, K2 Communications has developed into a frontrunner among PR agencies that incessantly delivers excellent regional and national PR support to clients belonging to various sectors including government, IT, education, consumer, and healthcare.