Care for a coffee?


The bucks stop here. Yes that’s how I intentioned it.


India’s business honchos to policy eagles are shedding some of their black-tie and boardroom meetings for open collar coffees. Client meetings or a tete a tete with journalists, a lot is happening these days at StarBucks, at least in Mumbai. It’s the new five star ‘lobby’.


The financial capital is taking the java juggernaut quite seriously. Perhaps bored of office vending machines or even a variety of ‘chambers’ available for meetings, executives are opting for the cool, easy and casual. And they just don’t mind queuing up to buy against having secretaries or staff bring them their brew.


Realising that is the norm in the United States, Indian CEOs are letting a bit of casual slip into their straight jacket office spaces. Can’t deny they have inspiration. And plenty of it.


In the US, many a celebrity visit the coffee chain, giving paparazzi a peek into the plain side. Jodie Foster normally picks up an iced decaf grande latte, Kim Kardashian adds an Indian twist with a tall chai. Renee Zellweger orders the cafe pumpkin spice.


From Bill Gates to Warren Buffett, they have all stood in queues to get their shot of caffeine at some stage of their lives. The Vegan Steve Jobs – not a coffee monster – but demonstrated Google Maps integration by searching for a Starbucks, finding a local store and then calling and ordering 4,000 lattes to go.


India’s tea drinking tradition has had serious competition from the apparently ‘cooler’ coffee. In the stately facade of Horniman Circle in Mumbai’s financial district, I sat at the StarBucks waiting for a CEO. Thrilled that I would have free Wifi and will have to wait in a rather pleasant atmosphere with interesting people instead of empty black chairs lined up on either side of a long oak table of a boardroom. The coffee shop’s interiors are lovely, so different from the mostly functional ones in the United States, and they do have grab of the art deco exterior of the building. As I queued up, it was wonderful to see Dr Subir Gokarn the former RBI deputy governor lining up to pick his coffee. He chose a strongly brewed option. That probably had nothing to do with his retirement the previous day from the RBI even though experts had speculated an extension for him.


The famous crude analyst and NGO Pratham’s President and crude oil expert Arvind Sanger looked easy. He is not one for ties unless forced. Starbucks was his stop on this India trip to get a pulse of things in Asia as he conducted his meetings.


When I was ready to order for my hibiscus iced tea, I bumped into former JSW Strategy Officer Murari Rajan right up front picking his Frappe and grilled sandwich. And only minutes after settling into the chair, I saw Deutsche Bank’s Asia Co-CEO walk in for a black coffee.


Not sure how soon these CEOs will have a Tim Cook moment when earlier this year he raised over half a billion dollars for charity by offering a coffee date with him. But that coffee shops are a break from five star hotels is also a reflection of the easing up of the CEO and the onset of young entrepreneurs once again. Starbucks is just one example in many because it’s fashionable now to go to the Seattle-started chain where many a start-up sowed their first seeds.

One Response to Coffee conversations

  1. Simrandeep CHAMAK says:

    First & foremost… An honest appreciation to you Shaili for a very suave writeup. Keep it up and augmenting. This also made me recall of my profound excitement over Starbucks coming to India and especially in Delhi. I was desperate to visit their very first outlet at Hamilton House in Connaught Place which lay open on Feb 7th to make it a reality only after good 5 days. Queued up on that midweek young evening… the protracted logjam that snarled for over 90 minutes well tested my patience and embellished the apetite though when finally I could relish “my cup of coffee”. Thanks.

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