To pity or not to pity Vijay Mallya
Picture this â€“ You run an airline that never made a profit, you need to pay off $1.4 billion debt from who-knows-where and airports, taxmen and oil companies are pursuing you to get their money back.
You still believe you can turn the airline around. You still believe you will find a white knight who will buy into your carrier and help it back on its feet. You are giving your best to convince investors that your brand-value is still strong, you can still attract passengers â€“ all you need is some hard cash immediately.
And then, suddenly, your airline is forced to cancel dozens of flights because your pilots want their salaries before you are allowed to run the airline, or even negotiate with investors to save their jobs.
It must be frustrating to be in that position. It must be difficult being Vijay Mallya.
“Why should I spend every day to keep our airline afloat if the actions of our own colleagues lead to loss of guest confidence and lower income by cancellation of flights or low load factors that result from uncertainty?â€ť a frustrated Mallya wrote in a strongly worded letter to employees on Thursday, according to local media. â€śWhat is the confidence that I can give to investors who I am in dialogue with?”
His sheer frustration is understandable.
He is so furious that he asked employees to quit if they do not believe in the company â€“ Kingfisher Airlines, a carrier that was Mallyaâ€™s prized possession, his status symbol and until recently the perfect reflection of his high-flying five-star image.
Itâ€™s hard not to pity the flamboyant liquor baron who has been reduced to a desperate cash-seeker to rescue his airline.
But sympathy fades when you realize that Mallya has been talking for months about potential investors who are waiting to pour in cash, about paying his staff on time, about clearing tax dues and coming out of a bank-accounts-frozen mess, and nothing has happened.
You have to take Mallyaâ€™s statements with a pinch of salt when you figure out that all his sweeping statements were made whenever there was trouble â€“ with employees, with regulators or with taxmen.
It is indeed incredible that Mallya is still running an airline that everybody thought was finished long back, and has not lost its â€śscheduled carrierâ€ť status yet.Â Mallya deserves credit for pumping in cash to a limping company through its worst times.
But to continue doing that, or to revive the airline, Mallya needs to back his statements with quick concrete actions.
Public sympathy and loyalty, which he desperately needs now, will not last long with a man who talks big, but never keeps his promises.
Talks about his cricket, Formula One and soccer teams or the richest yacht in the world will further harm the iconic businessmanâ€™s image.
He has not been able to pay cricketers who play for his Royal Challengers Bangalore team in the lucrative Indian Premier League, and banks are just waiting to seize his assets to recover debt, already hurting his reputation hard â€“ assuming itâ€™s not already beyond repair.
These are not so good times for Vijay Mallya.