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Saturday, August 02, 2008

This captain maps his own destiny

Captain Nair is very fortunate to get the right advice at every step of his life and one person who has played a key role, is his wife Leela. All his ventures are named after her. When you see the 84-year-old Captain CP Krishnan Nair, all charged up like a young cadet discussing his hotel expansion plans, you would wonder where he gets his energy from.

May be, it comes from his many years in the army. Captain Nair seems to prove the rule that a good soldier never retires. That is evident when you see him behaving like an army captain at his workplace - guiding his men around, explaining how to strategise and work towards a business plan.

Not only does his work impress you, but what strikes you immediately is his sharp and agile mind, his meticulous planning and eye for detail. All these qualities show in the chain of hotels he runs. His group, Hotel Leela Venture owns properties in Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore and Kerala and many more are coming up. So, how did he plunge into this business or who advised him? Well, here's his story in his own words.

"I was having a successful army career. At that time, my wife's father was running a very large handloom complex in North Kerala. They were having some marketing problems. My wife Leela thought if I quit the army and join the handloom industry - with my experience in Bombay and my knowledge of the Textile Commissioner and many people here - would help it immensely."

He continues, "Gandhiji was my inspiration. He said handloom and khadi will be the mainstay of the nation. So, when Leela suggested this thing, I took it up as a great opportunity to serve the people."

He made his wife's handloom inheritance into a Rs 300 crore success story and decided to leave everything and become spiritual. But he was advised against it by Swami Sivananda, who told him to go back to the people and be of service to them because he had an active and probing mind. So he did just that and more.

At age 60, when people think of retiring, he thought of starting a new venture and also made it successful - the Hotel Leela Venture. So, how did he dare to dream so big, so late in life? He explains, "I was a part of a trade delegation to Germany in 1957. At that time, Morarji Desai was the Commerce Minister and he nominated me on that trade delegation. Trade was very crucial for Germany and for India also. We were the guests of the German federal government and we were put up in the best hotels in Germany."

"They provided us with the ultimate in luxury. Although, it was a war-ravaged country, their hotels were all in good conditions and they were resplendent. That inspired me. Why should India not have these kind of hotels. I decided one day, if I have an opportunity, I will build hotels like these in India. That was my dream in 1957, only after 1984 could I make it happen."

His wife has a influence over him like no other. She also managed to convince him to set up the first lace factory and helped him with production, whenever he was abroad for marketing the product. So, he has the distinction of setting up the first lace factory in India. But he gives credit to some other people who guided him.

Captain Nair says, " I go for advice to only those who are personally and intimately involved with me. In business, Leela is my advisor, I do not go to many other people. In the hotel business, I never went to anyone. It's only our intuition. But I did go to Vasantdada Patil, who laid the foundation stone for this (Mumbai) hotel, who was very sagacious. He gave me great confidence. Until his death, I wanted to get some permission from the Maharashtra Government and he did not have any problem with that."

Even today, this octogenarian's spirit is as young as ever. And true to this zeitgeist, he says, if he was given advice to start a fresh venture, he may take it up! As he puts it, "My guidance is from old Indian scriptures, Indian ethos, Indian culture or basic Indian psyche. Once the wisdom comes from an elderly person or a child, you must accept it with grace."

So says the the great old man of Indian hospitality - which is another quintessential Indian trait - to make sure your guests are well looked after is an Indian tradition that he's living up to.

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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