In the early 1980s, when Veerappa Siddhartha Hegde set out for Mumbai, he borrowed Rs 7.5 lakh from his coffee planter father. By 1985, the soft-spoken youth from Mudigere owned over 10,000 acres of coffee farms in the Malnad region. Out of this, just 500 acres were his ancestral property.
But Siddhartha’s ambitions were much beyond coffee estates. Inspired by a German chain of coffee retailers, he started a restaurant on Bengaluru’s Brigade Road in 1996. Today, the Café Coffee Day chain operated under Coffee Day Global has over 1,772 outlets across India along with more in Austria (Vienna), Czech Republic, Malaysia, Egypt and Nepal.
“He had a very close relationship with coffee and wanted to take Karnataka coffee to global markets. He succeeded in doing so,” said Halappa, who has known the family for long. “Siddhartha, with his good agricultural background, started to invest in agricultural land. After coffee trading liberalised around the same time, he started to invest coffee trading and set up coffee procurement centres across Malnad through his Amalgamated Bean Coffee (ABC) company,” he added.
A measure of his success, as a CCD employee said, could be that the entire chain’s coffee came from Siddhartha’s plantations. So it is no surprise that the coffee czar, whose body was found on the banks of the Netravati river in Mangaluru earlier today, was fondly called ABC Siddhartha in his taluka.
On Wednesday, the shock at the untimely demise of arguably the most successful business person from the district was palpable in Chikkamagaluru.
The Karnataka Coffee Planters’ Association had declared a holiday for all estate workers in Chikkamagaluru, Kodagu and Hassan districts, while all commercial establishments in his hometown were closed for the day in mourning. Siddhartha was known for his philanthropic work in Mudigere and had backed many major development programmes in the area.
“During festivals, Siddhartha used to have food with the plantation workers and he always remembered the names of people working in his estates,” remembered Dr Pradeep Kenjige, a scientist in Cafe Coffee Day’s research and development wing. Kanjige said the CCB boss used to work almost 18 hours a day and always helped people working for the company.
For former minister and friend D K Shivakumar, Siddhartha was a “soft-spoken and simple man” who never interfered in anyone’s life. “He is the pride of Karnataka. He has created employment opportunity for thousands.”
Plantations and coffee were in Siddhartha’s blood. His family has been running coffee plantations for over 140 years in the lush Malnad region of Chikkamagaluru district in Karnataka. He was born as the only son of coffee planter Gangaiah Hegde, also a freedom fighter, and Vasanthi.
He spent his childhood at the family’s Chethanahalli coffee estate and did his schooling at the Mountain View School in Chikkamagaluru. He completed his post-graduation in economics from the St Aloysius College in Mangaluru.
In the early 1980s, he moved to Mumbai where he worked with JM Financial, an investment banking firm. This was also when he studied the stock market and started investing in it.
Senior Congress leader B L Shankar attributed his close friend’s success to his “own self ability and determination to build such a huge business”. Shankar, who is from the same village as Siddhartha, added: “He took Karnataka coffee to the international level and gave employment to many. But still, he remained a very humble person and never discussed his business problems family or friends.”