British Indian entrepreneur and peer Lord Karan Bilimoria has been elected as the new President of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), a non-profit membership organisation which represents over 190,000 businesses of the UK.
India-born Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer, had been the vice-president of Confederation of British Industry (CBI) since last year and the 58-year-old entrepreneur was elected President with an “overwhelming majority” during an annual general meeting of the organisation held on June 16, 2020.
“I am honoured to be President of the CBI during this hugely important time for UK business. 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,” said Bilimoria.
“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,” he said, listing out his priorities in his new post.
“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,” he said.
Bilimoria is described by the CBI as one of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs, who was also founding chair of the UK-India Business Council.
In 2014, he was appointed as the 7th Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. He is also Chair of the University of Cambridge Judge Business School Advisory Board and has been an Independent Crossbench Peer in the House of Lords for 14 years.
“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,” said Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General.
Bilimoria takes over the president’s post from John Allan, who becomes CBI vice-president.
Bilimoria is well known for founding the popular global beer brand, Cobra Beer and currently operates as the company’s chairman. In addition to his business activity, Bilimoria is a politically active crossbench member of the House of Lords, and also currently serves as Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.
Karan Bilimoria was born in Hyderabad, India into a Zoroastrian Parsi family which hailed from Gujarat. As the surname ‘Bilimoria’ denotes, the ancestral home of the family is the little town of Bilimora, situated on the banks of the river Ambika, in Gandevi taluka of Navsari district of Gujarat state in India.
Bilimoria’s family had a strong background in trade and commerce, but his father and both his grandfathers served in the Indian armed forces. His paternal grandfather, Nasservanji D. Bilimoria, was one of the first Indians to be commissioned as an officer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst into the British Indian Army and he retired as a Brigadier.
Karan Bilimoria’s father, Lt. Gen. Faridoon Noshire Bilimoria PVSM (1933–2005), popularly known as ‘General Billy’, had a long and distinguished career in the Indian Army. As a young, newly commissioned officer, he served as ADC to the first President of India, Babu Rajendra Prasad. Many years later, he commanded the 2/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force) during the Bangladesh Liberation War. He later served as General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Indian Army’s Central Command. In 1990, while serving at that post, Lt. General Bilimoria was deputed by the Government of India to Sri Lanka to review the work of the Indian Peace Keeping Force, which had been deployed in that country during the Sri Lankan Civil War under the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. It was on his recommendation that the force was recalled in 1990, ending India’s military engagement with the LTTE.
Karan Bilimoria’s mother, Yasmin Bilimoria nee Italia, was the daughter of Jamshed D. Italia, a Squadron Leader in the Royal Indian Air Force. Her mother, Aimai Italia nee Bharucha of Hyderabad, was the grand-daughter of D.D. Italia, a Hyderabad-based businessman and politician who served as a member of the Rajya Sabha in the 1950s (this was Karan’s maternal great-grandfather). Both his mother and maternal grandfather were educated in Britain at Birmingham University.
Karan did his early schooling in Hyderabad from Hyderabad Public School at Begumpet, Hyderabad where the family lived at his mother’s ancestral home, Anand Bhavan, while his father served in different military stations in the country. As he grew, his family began to accompany his father, and Karan attended seven different schools before he was sent to board at The Lawrence School, Lovedale in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu, alongside his younger brother, Nadir. When he was still nineteen, Karan received his Bachelor of Commerce degree from Osmania University in Hyderabad in 1981.
On receiving a scholarship, he then moved to London where he qualified as a chartered accountant with what is today Ernst & Young and received a diploma in accounting from the London Metropolitan University. Thereafter he read law at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. While at Cambridge, Karan played on the university’s polo team, organising their first ever tour of India, receiving a Half-Blue in 1988, and led the debating team against Oxford for two years, becoming also the Vice-President of the Cambridge Union before graduating in 1988. In 1993 he married Lynne Heather Walker, a South African national, whom he met through mutual friends. She is an English and Latin graduate of Rhodes University.