The retail king : Kishore Biyani - a multifaceted personality

‘Rather than a specialist, I wanted to be a generalist - a jack of all trades and master of some’ - Biyani’s axiom of life


A retailer by profession and also film maker, disco-dandiya-festivals organiser, seller of stone-wash fabric to shops in Mumbai and marketing agent for foreign cricketers in India, this man has done it all fits well into his axiom of life. Kishore Biyani, MD, Pantaloon Retail, is an innovative and restless soul always keen on experimenting new things. He is one of the most colourful entrepreneurs of today. While in college, he organised Disco Dandiya festivals and, later, tried his hand at the film line. He made two Bollywood movies.


His first autobiography

His latest experiment is his autobiography entitled ‘It Happened in India’. The book cannot be, in the true sense of the word, taken as an autobiography for Mr Biyani is just 45 years old and, still, has a long inning ahead. The book is more of a journey through his retail career and the success of his ventures so far. The book conveys the message - ‘if an idea is nurtured well, it can turn out to be a successful business model’. From this perspective, aspiring entrepreneurs look upon the book as a source of great inspiration and Kishore Biyani a role model. The book seems to be an initial step for Biyani’s long and lasting retail journey and understanding the psyche of the Indian consumer. Kishore Biyani pioneered the retail revolution in the country. He built his business based on the consumerism that was about to unfold in the post-liberalisation country, leveraged on it and got benefited from it. This is the first book by an Indian entrepreneur who scripted his success story in the post-liberalisation economy. In the book, Kishore Biyani explains the emergence of a new era - creative economy. This era will be dominated by ideas, imagination and creativity. While other business houses are getting into retail, Kishore Biyani is, far beyond retail looking, into the entire consumption space in India. He is launching companies that will sell insurance and consumer finance products, build shopping malls, launch consumer brands and manage media spaces. The content of the book is garnered from the archives, from Biyani’s old schoolmates, college-mates, colleagues, associates, acquaintances and family members who shared their thoughts, experiences, views, comments and judgments about him. These people also gave their suggestions for enhancing the manuscript. Large part of research work that went into the writing of the book was based on company documents and reports, Indian and foreign media sources, various articles and books published and, moreover, business partners who collectively serve millions of customers and enjoy the trust of thousands of shareholders. The message that Mr Biyani wanted to convey is to ‘Believe in India and Indianness’. He wanted Indians to understand the fact that Indian economy is capable of providing huge opportunity. He also asks people ‘Not to be ashamed of failures, rather learn from them’. Very few entrepreneurs do have the courage to allow scrutinising their mistakes and Kishore Biyani is one of them.


Kishore Biyani as an individual

The retail journey is matured now and he is looking at various other options. A retailer’s true success lies in understanding the demands of consumers and Big Bazaar has rightly been able to do that. Though he deserves the epithet, ‘king of Indian retail’, he has never claimed it. While describing his experience of working with Biyani, Dipayan Baishya says, “He understands the importance of decision-making. One can learn a lot from him as he is creative and has a sense of analysing things. He believes in simple living and is a very family oriented person. He still retains the character of a middle class, and can be found roaming outside Big Bazaar watching the shoppers. There is hardly anything that differentiates him from the crowd.” Even after reaching the pinnacle of success, he is still down to earth and keeps himself close to the ground realities. A creator and a destroyer, by his own admission, Kishore Biyani draws extreme reactions from his peers. He uses the original entrepreneurial skills like ability to read consumer’s mind, intuition, gut feel and taking gigantic risks coupled with shrewd business. And he combines these with new age concepts like design management and the memetics'. Kishore Biyani believes that no sale target is impossible to achieve. Couple of emotions determines the shopping behaviour of Indian consumers and most fundamental of these are greed, altruism, fear and envy. Kishore Biyani believes that every Indian who has some aspirations is a potential customer. Kishore Biyani was seen as a small time Marwari Bania as he did not have financial muscle, business experience or any legacy to boast of. All that he had was an intense passion and self-belief. He took great risks, made a number of mistakes, faltered on the way and, while doing so, learned things. He is a compulsive risk taker. He opted to become an entrepreneur because he wanted to do things his own way. He dresses up like a dukandaar with no airs and acts with the guidance of intuition and ‘gut feel’. He believes that critics actually helped him to be continuously on his toes and improve upon what we are doing. They push us hard to perform better and prove them wrong. He is obsessed with rationality. To make him do something, some one had to give him a good reason or offer some amount of logic. During his college life, he learned about human dynamics and developed relationships. Dhirubahi Ambani was his first mental inventor, his personal role model. Possibly, he was one of the few businessmen Biyani could relate to.

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