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Deccan 360's Capt G R Gopinath moves into express logistics

K.R. Balasubramanyam     April 12, 2011
When Capt. G.R. Gopinath set out to launch Deccan Aviation in the mid -1990s, he stepped into a market where competition was almost nil. The only other air charter company, Pawan Hans, as a government-owned entity, had priorities other than profit. There was also a large pool of retired but young defence pilots and engineers for him to pick from. Captain Gopi, as he is widely known, felt the moment was auspicious. "My God! This is a combustible mix. One just cannot go wrong," he told himself.

What Capt. Gopi began in 1997 along with friend Capt. K.J. Samuel with a single leased helicopter - operating out of a small office on Bangalore's Infantry Road - has since grown into a mature business with a fleet of 13 choppers and three aircraft. His subsequent airline venture, Air Deccan, India's first low-cost carrier, may have now passed into history, but it did show how the low-cost model was the way forward for the airline business. Capt. Gopi's new start-up, Deccan 360, is pinning similar hopes on the growth potential India holds in the express logistics space.

Deccan 360/Deccan Charters Ltd
Founder: Capt. G.R. Gopinath, 59
Wife: Bhargavi runs a bakery venture, Bun World
Daughters: Pallavi works for Deccan 360. Krithika is with Deccan Charters
Why I did it: "There was not a single private helicopter company, while there were thousands of pilots and engineers who had retired from the defence forces, who were still young, capable but had no jobs. The country was on the path to reforms and it suddenly struck me: My God, this is a combustible mix of factors. One cannot go wrong."
Total turnover: Rs 375 crore in 2009/10

When he roped in Mukesh Ambani as a strategic investor in April last year, it was evident that he had decided not to repeat the mistakes that forced him to ultimately give up on Air Deccan. Later, he also tweaked his management structure to demarcate the line between the owners and the managers. Deccan 360's CEO reports to the company's board, not to him.

"I have put in place a good corporate governance structure and have distanced myself from the management,'' says Gopinath, who is its chairman. The ex-Army officer's entry into aviation came after he had tried his hand at a series of business ventures in his native district of Hassan in Karnataka. "I reared cattle to sell milk, got in poultry farming, silkworm farming, then turned a motorcycle dealer, an Udupi hotel owner, a stockbroker, irrigation equipment dealer, an agriculture consultant, a politician and finally an aviation entrepreneur - struggling, falling, rising, falling, rising again and taking off," he writes in Simply Fly, his autobiography.

What is less known, perhaps, about Gopinath is that his wife is an equally successful entrepreneur, though on a much smaller scale. Bhargavi Gopinath's business, Bun World, a bakery in the upscale Malleshwaram neighbourhood of Bangalore, is both popular and profitable. Gopinath claims credit for the idea. He thought she possessed the skills to run a bakery, a business many of Gopinath's relatives were already in. As he waited for his aviation licence in the mid-1990s, he asked her to go through a short-term course in baking and later another year-long one at VB Bakery, a landmark in Bangalore, owned by his brother-in-law. "I would have thought about expanding my business, but my daughters are not interested in joining me, as of now," she says.

Both their daughters have chosen to join their father instead. Pallavi, 29, who is an MBA in aerospace from Toulouse in France, looks after business development at Deccan 360. Krithika, 23, is employed at Deccan Charters Ltd. "(Eventually) my children will own my shares, but not the management," Gopinath says. Pallavi, however, does not think she will become an entrepreneur ever.

Having placed his businesses in the hands of his trusted CEOs, Gopinath uses his time to sew up big plans and give big surprises. The Gopinath couple also often host Indian classical music concerts in their grand old bungalow next to Vijay Mallya's residence in Bangalore.

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