You live and you learn: Karan Bilimoria of Cobra Beer

The undisputed king of the curry house on optimism, dealing with losses and why marrying was the best decision he's ever made.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 06 Oct 2015

I founded Cobra in 1990 with a childhood friend of mine.

I was an optimistic entrepreneur with ideas. We complemented each other very well but he never believed the business would work and quit after five years.

I'm from a military family. My great-grandfather was in the police and arrested Mahatma Gandhi three times. My father was commander in chief of the Indian army. When I started Cobra, he said I'd wasted years of education by becoming an import-export wallah and told me to get a proper job.

It took six years for Cobra to take off. Raising money was the toughest obstacle but we managed it. SMEs cannot access finance now. The government isn't waking up to the problem and it's hugely frustrating.

People say Cobra never made a profit in 20 years. That's nonsense, but it's true we made huge losses in 2007 and 2008 because I made the decision to focus on growth while getting into more debt.

I met my wife 20 years ago and she has supported me through all the struggles. Marrying her is the best decision I've made.

My biggest regret was to accept £33m from an aggressive US hedge fund in 2006. It was very expensive money and we didn't have time to put a strategy in place before the credit crunch started.

We came to an agreement with 90% of our creditors. We entered a voluntary arrangement but one pulled out the day before signing and we went into pre-pack administration. Under the worst circumstances, we signed a joint-venture with Molson Coors in 2009. I'm still settling with unsecured creditors.

I wish my father could have seen me enter the House of Lords. He passed away six years ago. He had become one of my greatest supporters and I know how happy it would have made him.

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