Lord Karan Bilimoria puts diversity on agenda as new UK business chief

Lord Karan Bilimoria puts diversity on agenda as new UK business chief

Lord Karan Bilimoria, a well-known Global Indian entrepreneur as the founder of Cobra Beer, has been elected the new President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) - the UK's premier non-profit membership organisation which represents over 190,000 businesses across Britain.

CBI said the India-born businessman and House of Lords crossbench peer was elected with an “overwhelming majority” at an annual general meeting this week, held virtually in light of the Covid-19 crisis.

Bilimoria, who had been the Vice-President of CBI since last year, had announced his plans to stand for the post of President recently. The 58-year-old, an active Indian diaspora leader in the UK, said he was honoured to take on the responsibility at a crucial time for UK businesses, which have been reeling not only from the pandemic-induced lockdown but also Brexit.

Economic recovery

“As the four nations of our country embark upon an ambitious economic recovery plan, I will do all I can to help ensure we build back better through inclusive and sustainable growth,” he said.

Lord Bilimoria, chair of the Cobra Beer Partnership, went on to elaborate on his top four priorities for the new post, including ensuring diversity and representation for ethnic minorities across the UK's boardrooms as well as support for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

He said: “Ensuring the CBI is seen as a home for entrepreneurs and SMEs [small and medium enterprises] is first among my top four priorities during my time as president.

“Secondly, establishing the UK as a trading powerhouse, which is vital for our future prosperity.

“Thirdly, I will use my background in higher education to champion the UK's unique soft power offer.

“And last but by no means least is the importance of acting to increase inclusive workplaces. Diversity drives better decisions. And it will be my aim to get better black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) representation in boardrooms across the country.”

UK-India ties

The CBI described Lord Bilimoria as one of the UK's leading entrepreneurs, who has played an active role in the sphere of promoting the UK-India relationship, including as the founding-chair of the UK-India Business Council (UKIBC).

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said: “We're delighted Lord Bilimoria has been elected as CBI President. His experience, global outlook and tenacity will prove invaluable to the CBI and the UK business community.”

In 2014, he was appointed the seventh Chancellor of the University of Birmingham and is also Chair of the University of Cambridge Judge Business School Advisory Board.

London-based Lord Bilimoria was born in Hyderabad into a Zoroastrian Parsi family with a distinguished background in the armed forces and business. His father, Lieutenant General Faridoon Bilimoria PVSM ADC (1933-2005) was the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Central Indian Army, also having served as ADC to former Indian President Rajendra Prasad, and led the 2/5 Gorkha Rifles during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

His mother, Yasmin Bilimoria?nee Italia, a graduate of Birmingham University, was the daughter of Jamshed D. Italia, a Squadron Leader in the Royal Indian Air Force. His maternal great grandfather, D.D. Italia, was a Hyderabad-based businessman and politician, who also served as Member of the Upper House of the Indian Parliament (the Rajya Sabha) in the 1950s.

Business and politics

His idea of creating a less gassy beer that would complement Indian cuisine led to the creation of Cobra Beer in 1989. Molson Coors, one of the world's largest brewers, acquired a 50.01 per cent share a few years ago to create the Cobra Beer Partnership joint venture, of which Lord Bilimoria remains the chairman.

His contribution to the UK-India bilateral relationship were recognised back in 2008, when Lord Bilimoria was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by then President of India Pratibha Patil.

In the House of Lords, he remains an active peer across a wide range of issues covering commerce, entrepreneurship, diplomacy, defence, the European Union, the Armed Forces, education, culture, minorities' contributions and academia.

In his frequent speeches in Parliament, he speaks out regularly for immigration policy reform to allow the brightest and best to come to the UK from countries like India to develop their skills and business plans.

by Nadia Hatink

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