Ravi Jaipuria: India's Bottler-Billionaire

PepsiCo bottler Ravi Jaipuria’s insatiable thirst for growth earned him a fortune

Published: Mar 26, 2013 06:57:10 AM IST
Updated: Mar 22, 2013 03:07:04 PM IST
Ravi Jaipuria: India's Bottler-Billionaire
Image: Anay Mann For Forbes
Ravi Jaipuria has business in his genes

I like to be near water,” says Ravi Jaipuria, seated in his office on the top floor of a building that bears his initials and is situated in Gurgaon, a bustling township adjacent to Delhi. The ocean is nowhere close so the chairman of the privately held RJ Corp—revenues in excess of $1 billion—has to make do with an artificial waterfall in the terrace adjoining his office.

Water of the flavoured kind has made Jaipuria, 58, a fortune: PepsiCo’s largest franchise bottler in India. He claims to be among the multinational giant’s top three globally—is among India’s new crop of billionaires, with a fortune estimated at $1.4 billion.

Jaipuria gets a chunk of that wealth from bottling unit Varun Beverages, which accounts for over half of RJ Corp’s revenues. Named after his son, who works with him, Varun Beverages has 10 bottling plants in India plus an international footprint that includes Sri Lanka, Nepal, Morocco, Mozambique and Zambia. It claims to have close to a third of Pepsi’s business in India. A PepsiCo India spokesman says that half of its beverage volume is from seven franchise bottlers, of which Varun Beverages is the biggest.

To fund what some say is an unquenchable thirst for growth, Jaipuria sought out private equity for the first time in 2011. Standard Chartered Bank’s private equity arm invested $78 million in two tranches for about 8 percent in Varun, valuing the bottling unit at close to $1 billion. Jaipuria is planning to take the company public “either later this year or in 2014”, he discloses.

Meantime, he’s further cementing his position as India’s bottling king. In February he sealed a deal for an estimated $65 million to acquire his older brother Chandra Kant Jaipuria’s bottling business in the National Capital Region, the biggest metro market for soft drinks in the country. “Delhi is as big as Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata put together,” says Jaipuria, sounding elated over his latest coup. “In the north, people will drink a whole bottle. Elsewhere, people tend to share and we have to compete with coconut water,” he adds by way of explanation.

Another fast-growing part of Jaipuria’s empire is fast foods, which is benefiting from an eating out culture that’s caught on with urban Indians. RJ Corp’s Devyani International (named after Jaipuria’s daughter) has the franchise for Pizza Hut and KFC, both part of Yum Brands, as well as that for the UK’s Whitbread Group’s coffee chain Costa Coffee.

Devyani also includes a South Indian fast food chain Vaango, which means ‘Please come’ in Tamil, and ice cream chain Swensen’s. With 340 outlets in all, this business is growing in double digits, says RJ Corp’s fast foods head, Virag Joshi.

In this business, too, Jaipuria has sought private equity: ICICI Venture, the private equity arm of ICICI Bank, invested $26 million for a 10 percent stake, valuing Devyani at $260 million in 2011. That valuation has surged, notes Prashant Purker, private equity co-head at ICICI Venture. Investors have seen the pace of business expansion and the lofty value of close rival, $1.3 billion (market cap) Jubilant FoodWorks, which has the franchises for Domino’s Pizza and Dunkin’ Donuts, with a network of 560 stores.

Jaipuria, typically, is looking for more—and biding his time to list Devyani as well. Abneesh Roy, associate director at Mumbai firm Edelweiss Financial, says that with Jubilant trading at 40 times 2014 earnings, fast food remains a draw for investors: “Consumption is a hot sector. Growth rates will accelerate.”

Jaipuria has been betting on that growth since the outset. “I’ve known Ravi for 22 years, first with PepsiCo and now with Yum. He’s never fallen short of a target and is always looking to expand,” says Micky Pant, chief executive of Yum Brands International, who was earlier with PepsiCo India.

In 1997 PepsiCo named Varun Beverages ‘Bottler of the Year’; Jaipuria proudly displays a framed photograph of himself receiving that award from former President George HW Bush at a PepsiCo event in Hawaii.

Jaipuria has business in his genes. His father, Chunni Lal Jaipuria, and his uncle Mahavir Prasad Jaipuria were involved in trading textiles (as distributors for Raymond) and banking. His father co-founded the Bank of Rajasthan, which he later sold. In the 1960s Chunni Lal Jaipuria got the bottling franchise for Coca-Cola after a chance meeting with a Coke executive in Atlanta. When Coke left the country in 1977 following an anti-multinational wave, the Jaipurias switched to bottling Thums Up, a local brand.

Ravi, the youngest of three brothers, went abroad to study, getting an undergrad degree in business management in New York. He settled in Montreal with a small venture in textiles and real estate. The death of his wife in a plane crash in 1985—she was going to Delhi to bring back their daughter—made him return home for good, where he eventually remarried. (He did, however, retain some ties to Canada by maintaining his home and status as a Non Resident Indian, though he never gave up his Indian citizenship.)

In 1987 Chunni Lal divided the business among his three sons. Ravi got one bottling plant in Agra as his share and says he has built his empire up from there. In 1991, two years after PespiCo entered India, he switched allegiances and has stayed with Pepsi since. (His brothers did likewise.) He admits to being the most ambitious of his siblings. Jaipuria expanded into fast food by picking up the franchises for KFC and Pizza Hut, which were then with Pepsi Co, even though his father, a staunch vegetarian, was against it.

Jaipuria’s thirst for growth is matched by his appetite for risk. “Ravi was the most active and enthusiastic among our bottlers,” says PM Sinha, a former Pepsi-Co India chairman. That quality proved useful in dealing with the rough turns in his businesses. Fast food, for example, was hardly an instant success.

When KFC opened in India in 1995 it was met with a volley of protests from farmers. Pepsi, like Coke, has often been the target of the anti-multinational lobby. In 2006 the soft drink majors saw sales plummet when an environmental group reported traces of pesticides in their colas. Jaipuria recalls that period as a “tough time” that compelled him to look for other growth avenues.

He’s built a reputation for a willingness to tap difficult markets, notably in Africa, where he has interests in bottling, fast food and dairy. Jaipuria sees Africa as the next big market after India. “It’s a wide patch, and how big you can be depends on how much you can handle.” He hopes to expand RJ Corp’s presence there from nine countries currently to 20 by 2015. Jaipuria’s African safari had its shaky moments. In 2003, on his first business trip to Angola, a prospective partner whom he was accompanying was murdered in his hotel room. Jaipuria, who was staying at the same hotel, took refuge at the Indian ambassador’s house until his safe passage back home was arranged.

In the past decade, as Jaipuria has stepped up his game, RJ Corp has entered new areas. In 2007 it formed a beer joint venture, Anheuser-Busch InBev India, in which Jaipuria has a 51 percent stake. Another business is dairy, under which he owns Devyani Food Industries, which sells Cream Bell ice cream in India. His other venture in the same space is Sameer Agriculture & Livestock, a dairy joint venture in Uganda.

While Jaipuria has remained largely focused on businesses he knows best, he has lately made unusual investments that suggest a dilution of focus.

But Jaipuria insists that RJ’s emerging businesses, in areas such as education and health care, are his wife Dhara’s domain. It has Cryobanks International India, which offers stem cell banking services, and two schools under the Delhi Public School franchise, with a new school coming up.

RJ’s latest venture is a franchise for Nike that Jaipuria’s son is spearheading.

Is the ace bottler spreading himself too thin? Jaipuria maintains that all his businesses are run by professional managers, many of whom have stayed loyal. Fast food head Joshi was almost poached by Starbucks but opted to stay back. Additionally, he’s sought out experienced senior hands with international experience such as Chris White, a former Nestlé executive who was made group CEO in 2008. “I’ve known Ravi since he had just one shed in Agra and was loading trucks himself. He’s always looking for the next big thing,” says White.

While Jaipuria insists that RJ Corp has moved with the times and is ready to make a public splash, he prefers a low profile for himself and shuns modern gizmos such as smartphones and computers. Jaipuria carries a vintage cellphone and insists reports be faxed to him wherever he is.

He spends half his time travelling overseas (partly to maintain his non-resident status) and is planning to set up a base in Singapore. In Delhi Jaipuria lives in the elite Lutyens area in a house that was once part of a joint family estate before it was divided three ways by the brothers a few years ago.

As for his love for water, he has bought a beachfront house in Goa but, unsurprisingly, doesn’t go there too often.

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(This story appears in the 05 April, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Amit Aggarwal

    Mr Ravi jaipuria is a great personality to the nation.

    on Jun 5, 2014
  • Amit Kumar

    Excellent work done by Mr. Ravi Jaipuria, having that kind of person in country makes us proud..:-):-)

    on Aug 23, 2013
  • Dharminder Singh

    Mr Ravi Jaipuria is a visionalry leader , man with clear vision . We wish him good luck and to be a biggest beverage bottler in the World .

    on Aug 10, 2013