Born in Hyderabad, India on November 26, 1961, and the son of Lt. General F. N. Bilimoria. As a child Karan was fascinated by stories of his great-grandfather DD Italia, who started a liquor business from scratch and became a member of the House of Lords in India. He attended several different schools growing up, the result of being born into a military family.
He received a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Osmania University in 1981, and went to work as an accountant for Ernst & Young, the following year. For the next four years he trained and became a chartered accountant. Meanwhile, he studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law at Sidney Sussex College, University of Cambridge.
Having a Law and Accounting degree behind him, he wanted to venture into business for himself and began selling polo sticks made in India to retailers in the UK. His family was not supportive of his business venture, because they believed he was well educated and able to secure a good job. Nevertheless, Karan chose to find a suitable business that would fulfill his dreams.
That idea came along in 1989, he wanted to manufacture a beer that was less gassy than traditional beers on the market, and a brew that would compliment the curry-laden diets of his native countrymen.
He was 27 years old, over £20,000 in debt and no experience in brewing. Nevertheless, along with his partner, Arjun Reddy, they formed Cobra Beer. Arjun’s Uncle Keshow Reddy, introduced the two to Mysore Breweries in India, and soon their new beer was being brewed and readied for sale.
Having some experience in sales from his previous polo venture, Karan drove his battered old car around India loaded with samples, visiting pubs, and restaurants to sell his new brew. He hit an unexpected hurdle when he soon discovered many of the owners he was trying to sell to did not drink due to religious reasons. Karan then offered his beer to regulars of the establishments, and it was an instant success.
He first had Cobra brewed in Bangalore, India until 1997, when he decided to begin brewing under license with Charles Wells Brewery (the largest brewery in the UK), to capture the UK market.
Karan built the business, in his own words stating “I’ve done every single thing in the business, I’ve delivered the beer, I’ve done the books, done the marketing, every single thing. It’s a wonderful position to be in.”
His hands on approach helped Cobra beer enter a very competitive worldwide market and today, the company imports its product to more than 50 countries. He introduced General Bilimoria Wines (named after his father) in 1999. Sales as of 2006 had skyrocketed to over £96 Million.
In 2005, Cobra Beer launched CobraVision, a program to allow amateur filmmakers to screen their films during commercial breaks on UK TV. This competition led to an annual show in London and the CobraVision Awards.
In 2005, Karan became the UK’s youngest university chancellor at the time as the Chancellor of Thames Valley University.
In 2006, Karan became the Host of UKTV’s The Big Idea, where aspiring entrepreneurs competed for a £100,000 prize by pitching their business ideas to a panel of experts.
He published a book in 2007 called ‘Bottled for Business: The Remarkable Success Story of Cobra Beer’.
Today he is know as Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea and has reached the same acclaim and prestige as his great-grandfather of whom he loved to hear stories about when he was a young boy.
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