Leela Group founder Capt. C P Krishnan Nair dies at 92

Mumbai: Capt. C.P. Krishnan Nair, a war veteran and founder of the Leela Group of luxury hotels and resorts, passed away Saturday morning after a brief illness, family sources said. He breathed his last around 3.30 am at the Hinduja Hospital here.

Nair, 92, is survived by his wife Leela and sons, Vivek, chairman and managing director of the the 28-year-old chain, and Dinesh who is co-chairman.

The funeral is scheduled Sunday at the Vile Parle crematorium here.

Born in 1922 and raised with his seven siblings in a family of modest means in Kannur, Kerela, Nair founded the Leela group in 1985 when he was 65 and was seeking to replicate the high standards of hospitality he was exposed to during his visits to Europe and the US.

Two years later the first property, named after his wife Leela, was launched here.

Today, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts has eight luxury properties in New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Gurgaon, Udaipur, Goa, Chennai and Kovalam, with new hotels opening in Noida, Agra, Jaipur and Lake Ashtamudi in Kerala.

People who have worked closely with him said Nair was a born rebel and joined India’s freedom movement when he was all of 13. He later became an officer in the Indian Army and resigned his commission in 1951.

Nair then helped in the establishment of the All India Handloom Board and developed a hand-spun yarn that met global standards, called bleeding Madras – a rage in the US. He has even been honoured by the government as highest exporter of clothing from India.

His entrepreneurship and philanthropic endeavours also secured him Padma Bhushan among the numerous domestic and international awards.

Nair also forged several global partnerships with several hotel chains like Kempinski, Four Seasons, Penta and Regent. When some of the deals fell through about a decade ago, some people even wrote him off. The deal with Kempinski also ended in 2013 after 25 years.

But he pulled it off and turned around the group’s fortunes since early 2000.

Again in the past few years, Nair had been trying to raise funds for Leela Ventures, as the company is named. His family’s holdings, as a result, have come down to around 62.71 percent, as per a filing with the Bombay Stock Exchange where it is listed.

ITC, which also runs hotels, and its investment arm Russel Credit, have a 12-percent stake in the company. This apart, the group has also been trying to sell its assets to meet its debt obligations.