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March 2, 2008

Confessions of a retailer

Issue 12 - Mar 2008

Ravikiran Rao

Quite clearly, Mr Biyani understands India—or at least “India Two”, the one that he grew up with. He also has the business acumen to take advantage of the opportunity that the rise of this class has presented. The challenge is to institutionalise this knowledge so that it is not confined to his head, but spread within the company. The challenge is also to put in place the management structure and strategic vision that will enable him to run the conglomerate that he is creating. How is he doing on those counts?

On the face of it, very well. His retail chain now encompasses Pantaloon, Big Bazaar, Central (mega malls designed to be the central attraction of a city) Ezone, the electronics shops and Home Town, for home furnishing. They are all expanding at a breathtaking pace and soon every urban Indian would have shopped at one of Mr Biyani’s stores at least once. He has also set up Future Money to provide finance to buyers, and his umbrella Future Group is expected to go public any time soon. Most intriguingly, he has also mentored Idiom, a design shop that seeks to create a new “Indian idiom”, which he is now using for all his branding and advertising needs.

But still, there are troubling signs that his impatience and his insistence that he is breaking a new path may cause problems for him.

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