Vijay Mallya court
Force India co-owner, Vijay Mallya, leaves after an extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, in central London on June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

United Spirits might be an unlikely candidate in the list of top paymasters, but the country's largest spirits maker has more crorepatis in its ranks than IT giant Infosys, and all FMCG companies, except Hindustan Unilever, according to an Economic Times (ET) report on Monday.

As many as 56 executives at United Spirits (USL) took home more than Rs 1 crore in salary in the year ended March — against 52 in the previous year — according to the firm's annual report. This despite managing director Anand Kripalu describing fiscal 2017 as "the single-most challenging year from a regulatory perspective", the ET report said.

The report noted, quoting experts, that Diageo, the world's largest spirits maker that owns United Spirits, is looking to attract and retain talent in India as it pushes hard to build up sales and fight competition in what's emerging as a key market.

It said that consumer goods giant Hindustan Unilever, which had 129 executives taking home more than Rs 1 crore in salaries last year, and IT major Wipro, with 51 such people, both saw the number of crorepatis shrink from the previous year.

"Alcobev as an industry has similar business structures to FMCG, but traditionally has not been an attractive industry for talent," the report quoted Anandorup Ghose, partner at HR consultancy Aon Hewitt India, as saying. "Consequently, it tends to offer higher pay levels or premium to attract talent." The maker of McDowell's No.1 and Antiquity whisky saw its sales grow 4 percent and net profit 39 percent in fiscal 2017.

A HR consultant told ET that when embattled businessman Vijay Mallya was at the helm of USL, very few people were paid very high salaries. "Now that USL is being run more professionally and management is spread out, the number of people earning more has gradually gone up," the person was quoted as saying.

In fact, more than 20 executives who took home eight-figure salaries last year joined United Spirits in the past three years after Kripalu took the helm, ET reported.

A headhunter was quoted by the financial daily as saying that the spirits business is now "far more acceptable" than before among job seekers. "There may be temporary setbacks because of policy changes, but the liquor business is here to stay and India as a market will continue to grow," the person who, the report said, is familiar with USL told the newspaper.

Diageo, the maker of Johnnie Walker Scotch and Smirnoff vodka, bought a controlling stake in USL from Mallya in July 2013 and later raised its holding to 55 percent. India, the largest whisky market in the world selling almost 200 million cases annually, accounts for almost 40 percent of Diageo's sales volumes.

The Indian unit of Diageo filed multiple complaints against Mallya after inquiries uncovered "improper transactions" worth Rs 1,225.30 crore.