Tipple all the way

We met Abhishek Khaitan, the MD of the liquor giant Radico Khaitan, for a chat, and discovered a cheerful young man who is having a lot of fun with spirits, music and cars as he builds an empire to be proud of.

Dhiman Chattopadhyay        Print Edition: October 5, 2008

Abhishek Khaitan
Abhishek Khaitan is a chilled out dude. Sitting at the helm of India’s secondlargest liquor firm, the 35-year-old with a passion for big cars says life at work and beyond is all about fun. And why not? ‘Work’ that involves sipping the finest spirits and pub hopping can only make us envious. Small wonder then that Khaitan is a man who smiles a lot. And, indeed, he is all smiles as he arrives in his gleaming white Porsche for our meeting at the exclusive Belvedere Lounge at The Oberoi in Delhi.

As we sip coffee, we chat about how a boy who aspired to be a Chartered Accountant, became a liquor baron instead. “I always had a fascination for figures,” he says, before quickly rephrasing: “I mean numbers! But accountancy didn’t happen. I ended up doing engineering and then the family liquor business beckoned.” Radico Khaitan is one of India's oldest liquor manufacturers, established in 1943. Since 1999, under the stewardship of Abhishek’s father Dr Lalit Khaitan, Radico has launched its own brands and has become a brand to reckon with.

Things, however, were not always so rosy. In the mid-1990s, the Khaitan family business (which included construction, real estate and liquor industries, among others) split and Abhishek’s father inherited the relatively small liquor division. The younger Khaitan joined as a management trainee. Since then, from being mere bottlers, RK has become India’s second-largest liquor manufacturing company. Not that getting into the liquor business was a radical leap for Khaitan. He had already discovered his love for spirits while in college. “Initially, life in Bangalore’s BMS College of Engineering was pathetic.

In a class of 100, there were only three women. Thankfully, a few of us made Bangalore’s pubs our second home. This was 1991. I was into serious ‘pub training’—checking out different places and getting to know drinking habits of the old and the young,” he says. Today, as he builds on his Rs 1,500-crore empire, Khaitan continues to be ‘inspired’ whenever he goes pub hopping. Even RK’s most-talked about product—Magic Moments vodka, was conceived while gambling and sipping cocktails at a Las Vegas casino. “We were casino hopping after winning a fair bit at Roulette. At most clubs, we found people drinking vodka. That’s how the idea to launch a young vodka was born,” he says.

Spirits is not the only passion for this spirited man. He has a thing for cars, an obsession that has taken him to the F1 tracks in Dubai to drive the new Audi TT. Back home, he owns several luxury vehicles, though he is wary of talking about them. “I love my cars. But I would hate to sound like I am flaunting them,” he smiles. So, does he believe in living life on the edge? “Not really. There’s nothing that I like more than a lazy holiday where I can get a fabulous massage,” he laughs. No wonder then that Thailand is a favourite destination.

Has he ever done something he regrets after a drink too many? “Once, in college, between exams, we went pubbing and drank through the night. Needless to say, we did rather badly in the exams,” he laughs. This evening, however, there are no risks of a hangover as one quick drink later Khaitan is on his way to another meeting. At the helm of an empire, still under 40 and someone who terms sipping vodka and whisky as ‘research’—Abhishek Khaitan has got it made.

Khaitan’s day out
7.45 A.M.: Wake up, spend time with kids
8.15 A.M.: Do pooja and then read at least half a dozen newspapers
9.15 A.M.: Tea and toast for breakfast
10.30 A.M.: Reach office
7 P.M.: Leave office
7.30 P.M.: Reach home and head to the home gym with personal trainer
9 P.M.: Dinner at home or dine out
10.30 P.M.: Head to bed unless heading out to a pub

Inside track
Born:
April 29, 1973, Delhi
Family: Wife Deepshikha, son Shivraj and daughter Devika
Education: Modern School Delhi; BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore; Harvard University
First job: Management Trainee at Radico Khaitan
First salary: Rs 15,000 per month
Favourite music: Groups like Abba and artistes like Bryan Adams, Madonna and Michael Jackson
Favourite food: Punjabi
Favourite destination: Thailand

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