Vikram Bakshi, once the chief of McDonald’s franchisee for north and east India, Connaught Plaza Restaurants Ltd (CPRL), has finally called it quits. CPRL was a half-half joint venture between him and the American burger chain. The two partners had been locked in a bitter dispute that had stalled McDonald’s expansion for about half a decade before they reached an out-of-court settlement. Under the deal, Bakshi sells his stake to the US company and walks away.
What Bakshi shall be remembered for is the way he adhered to the marketing dictum, “Think global, act local", as he furiously went about adapting this American brand to the Indian market in its early days.
After India opened up to foreign fast-food networks in the early 1990s, the US fried chicken chain KFC had beaten McDonald’s in throwing its doors open, but only to face fierce local resistance.
To not be seen as “alien", McDonald’s needed to tread carefully, and Bakshi was the man for it. Beef and pork was an outright no-go, but not just that, vegetarian fare would have to share equal space with non-veg burgers on the menu. Thus came the now-legendary McAloo Tikki burger, plus much else that made the most of McDonald’s food-factory model in a domestic setting. Veg and non-veg kitchen were kept separate (and in full public view) at every outlet, with green aprons for veg workers and red ones for their non-veg counterparts for fussy patrons to confirm its claim of an invisible wall between the two sections.
Extreme as it sounded, the chain was a roaring success under Bakshi. And then the inevitable happened. With the brand’s localization done and demand generated, McDonald’s Inc appeared keen to expand operations—with or without its local partner. Since Bakshi held half of CPRL, he could not be ousted. He resisted the US company’s efforts to sack him as the franchise company’s chief and stuck on. In response, McDonald’s withdrew the right to the use of its brand, and a brand-orphaned CPRL slogged on, serving customers even as it ran thin on supplies.
The standoff had to end at some point, and it has ended with the Indian partner’s exit. Bakshi’s chief legacy, the McAloo Tikki burger, is likely to be retained, given the hot seller that it is. What he has got for his share of CPRL remains undisclosed, but few would grudge him a small fortune.