She didn’t know what hit her. Life went 360 degrees for Malavika Hegde when her husband late VG Siddhartha, the owner of the Cafe Coffee Day chain died by suicide on July 29, 2019. Hegde was remorseful of her husband’s death when she got to know that Coffee Day Enterprises Ltd (CDEL) was under Rs 7,000 crore debt. She pulled herself together and in December 2020 became the CEO of the company and pulled it more than halfway out of the debt.
Born in Bengaluru, Karnataka in 1969, she studied engineering at Bangalore University and finished her graduation with a bachelor’s degree. Malavika Krishna Hegde married VG Siddhartha, who was the owner of CCD, in 1991 and they have two sons–Eshaan and Amartya–together.
Hegde comes from an influential family in Karnataka. Her father Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna is a politician who in the past has held portfolios like Minister of External Affairs and was the former Chief Minister of Karnataka. Her mother, Prerna Krishna is a social activist. Her younger sister Shambhavi Krishna is also a successful businesswoman.
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In 2019, things changes a lot for Hegde after her husband Siddhartha went missing on July 29, 2019, and his body was discovered on July 31. 2019. He and his driver were allegedly on their way to Sakleshpur from Bengaluru when he asked his driver to redirect their way and take a route to Chikmangalur instead. After reaching a bridge, he asked his driver to pull over there and got out of the car while asking the driver to wait for him at the end of the bridge. His body was recovered during a police search.
Malavika Hegde was married to him and was a non-executive board member of the company. Reportedly, when Siddhartha had told his wife that he will be charging INR 25 for a cup of coffee that was locally available for INR 5, she had laughed at his proposition. After modifications like adding internet surfing to his coffee plan, the first shop was opened in 1996 on Brigade Road in Bangalore.
Being a non-executive board member of the company, Hegde did not get a salary. However, she owned four percent of the company’s stock. She is a tree-planting enthusiast and planted more than 3000 trees along with her husband.
After taking over the reign as CEO of CCD, Hegde was able to reduce the company’s debt during the pandemic. In an interview with news media, she said, “Since the last 12 months my ultimate aim has been to uphold the proud legacy of Siddhartha. He has entrusted me with the task of resolving every lender to the best of my ability, growing the business, and motivating and nurturing our employees.”
The Note Which Shocked India
Post Siddhartha’s death, a typewritten note was released by the new media organisation, ANI. In the note, he was apologising for failing. The note stated him apologising for “failing to create the right profitable business model” and the kind of pressure he was under from the private equity partners and other lenders. He wrote about the harassment from the Income Tax department, which had become unbearable for him.
His note shocked the people of India because Cafe Coffee Day was not just a retail coffee chain across India, but a part of popular urban culture. The outlets had become meeting points for friends and company discussion, as well as a popular date location for the singles.
There are 572 cafes owned by the company in 165 cities of India. The total number of vending machines serving coffee to CCD customers was 36,362.
A Broken Wife
Siddhartha’s death had sent trembles to the business community and it broke his wife too. They have been married since 1991 and Hegde has been a witness to his ideas and business launch. But she pulled herself together and focused on maintaining his legacy and remembering him this way.
In July 2020, she made her first public statement and addressed the 25,000 employees of the giant company and stated, “Resolutely committed to the future of Coffee Day as a going concern,” and assured that the Coffee Day was “worth preserving.”
Facing Adversity with Courage
The death of Siddhartha had plunged the company into an uncertain future. It was already dealing with debt and fear of closure. On the day, when his death news broke headlines in news media, the company’s shares had crashed. It was eventually suspended from trading on February 3.
At this crucial moment, Hegde took the reign as CEO. Reportedly, by March 2021, Hegde brought down the company’s debt from at least Rs 7,000 crore to Rs 1731 crore. This development took place during the pandemic when the country’s economy was already hit hard by the loss of business and many shops had put shutters down forever.
Alone And A Woman – Proving Others Wrong
The process of reducing the debt was not magic. It demanded hard work and complete dedication by Hegde. According to Punekar News, the company paid Rs 1,644 crore to its lender. They accepted an amount from US private equity giant Blackstone and sold a stake in Mindtree, which helped in reducing the deficit.
Hegde reportedly entered into a share purchase agreement with reputed companies and was thus able to reduce their debt further in an economic environment where businesses were flopping due to pandemics and lockdowns. Hegde pulled CCD up and continues in her effort to reduce the debt while ensuring the smooth functioning of its outlet across the country and keeping up its competition with other coffee shops like Starbucks, amongst others.