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How Kishore Biyani's maverick moves pushed him to breaking point

The pioneer of India’s modern retail built an empire but created little value for shareholders 

Kishore Biyani, or KB, had taken a “pilgrimage” in 2000. It was actually a visit to Saravana Stores, on a thickly crowded Chennai street. Families spend hours in that five-storey shop, jostling each other, to buy everything from utensils and clothing to jewellery and gadgets. KB wanted that. That urgency of customers, that push-and-shove of demand and that clamour for everything; they thrilled him, he told Outlook Business, for the Secret Diary edition in 2018. It is a rush he has continued to chase, only to bring himself to the brink of losing control of his business time and again.

The first phase of his growth story seemed like a wild goose chase, as expansion failed to bring in the required profit, pushing the company deep into debt. In 2012, Kishore Biyani bailed himself out by selling the proverbial family silver — Pantaloon Retail — to Kumar Mangalam Birla for Rs.16 billion.

The next innings has not turned out any different. The pioneer of India’s modern retail is neck deep in debt once again. Biyani’s lenders have been growing nervous. This March, ICRA downgraded the credit worthiness of Future Corporate Resources, one of the four holding companies of the group, to BB+. Its report said the downgrading was driven by an increase in the total debt of the operating companies to Rs.127.78 billion on September 30, 2019, from Rs.109.51 billion on March 31, 2019.

Sensing the stress, shares of Future Group companies tanked between 40% and 60%, prompting lenders to attempt to sell the pledged holding, with Biyani unable to meet margin calls right before the lockdown. Almost all the promoter holding is pledged i

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Kishore Biyani is a storied entrepreneur, having introduced modern retail to India. His inability to hold on to his business empire once again drives home the fragility of entrepreneurship.

By construct, entrepreneurs take disconcerting risks, especially when there isn’t much to lose as they chase a dream against all odds. But as they grow, and there is