From a young freedom fighter to an officer of the Indian Army, to pioneering the globalization of India’s textiles industries, and later being a thespian of India’s hospitality industry and one of the leading luxury hotel groups, Capt. C. P. Krishnan Nair’s singularly inspiring life was dedicated to the pursuit of excellence and advancement of tourism and India on the global stage. He rose to fame and success through an indomitable spirit, sheer grit and hard work.
Capt. Nair was the recipient of the Padmabhushan from the President of India. For his untiring efforts in environmental conservation, Capt. Nair was conferred the Global 500 Laureate Roll of Honour by the by the United Nations Environment Program. He was also the recipient of many prestigious accolades for his invaluable contribution to the tourism industry and for setting benchmarks for excellence in the hospitality industry.
Globally recognized as hotelier extraordinaire, visionary and an environmentalist, Capt. C.P Krishnan Nair, Founder Chairman and Chairman Emeritus of The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, passed away peacefully with his family beside him, at the age of 92, on 17th May 2014, following a brief illness. Capt. Nair is survived by his wife Madam Leela, their sons – Chairman and Managing Director, Vivek Nair, and Co-Chairman and Managing Director, Dinesh Nair, their wives and children.
Born on 9 February 1922 in Kannur, Kerala, India, Capt. Nair received his early education at a small elementary school in his native village. A born rebel, he joined the Freedom Movement at the young age of 14 when he became an aide of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, and came into close contact with inspiring leaders of India’s Freedom Movement – Mahatama Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel. These early experiences made Capt. Nair determined to make a contribution to the development of a free India.
Educated in Chennai, in 1947, Capt. Nair volunteered for the Indian army and rose to rank of a Captain in the Maratha Light Infantry. Giants such as Lord Louis Mountbatten, and V. P. Menon, architects of the transition from British rule to Indian democracy, befriended him. In 1951, he resigned his commission to secure the formation of the All India Handloom Board for modernization and promotion of handloom textiles.
Capt Nair. was instrumental in inventing the “Bleeding Madras” fabric which helped place Indian fabrics on the global map and catapulted the growth and exports of the Indian textile industry. His textile company, Leela Scottish Lace, became one of the most prosperous enterprises of its kind in the country. Capt. Nair himself was credited with being the “father” of globalization of India’s garment and textiles industries. By 2001, he was the recipient of the prestigious Golden Globe Award for the highest exports in clothing in India from The Ministry of Textiles, Government of India.
His frequent business trips to Europe and America exposed him to international hotels like Adlon Kempinski, Dorchester Savoy, George Shanvk and Waldorf Astoria which reflected the highest standards of guest services, inspiring him to make his first foray into the hospitality sector. At the age of 65, he started to build The Leela group of hotels which today has become one of India’s leading luxury hospitality groups.
He set up the first Leela hotel in Mumbai in 1986 and signed a marketing alliance with Kempinski. His mission - to delight his guests’ gracious Indian hospitality, laid down in the ancient Indian scriptures as Atithi Devo Bhava or ‘Guest is God’. Today, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts has eight luxury properties in strategic urban and leisure destinations around the country- New Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Gurgaon-Delhi N.C.R., Udaipur, Goa and Kovalam; with more projects underway in Jaipur, Bangalore, Noida, Agra and Lake Ashtamudi in Kerala.
Long before “environment” and “ecosystem” became buzzwords, Capt. Nair had a vision for green zones and luxuriant planting. Over the years, he and his wife Madam Leela, personally handpicked plants and saplings of trees and supervised the greening of each hotel systematically - one sapling at a time. Their daily gardening turned entire deserted areas into a green oasis that spill into the adjoining neighborhoods even today. Today, Capt. Nair’s green vision has inspired The Leela group’s enduring commitment towards building sustainable, Platinum LEED certified hotels, and practicing world-class green standards. Each Leela hotel through its own sustainable design and operations contributes everyday towards protecting the environment and conserving natural resources.
For his untiring efforts in environmental conservation, the ‘Green Hotelier of the Decade’ Award by Gulf Connoisseur; the ‘Green Hotelier’ Award by the Geneva based International Hotel and Restaurant Association (IH&RA) and the Maharana Mewar Foundation’s Uday Singh Award for “Outstanding Practical Achievements in the Protection and Improvement of the Environment” in 2002; and most recently an honorary doctorate by the Jodhpur National University for his exemplary contribution to the environment and hospitality.
Three prestigious awards for setting benchmark for excellence in the hospitality industry were conferred on him back-to-back in the year 2011. These awards include the Lifetime Achievement Award at Hotelier India Awards 2011, Lifetime Achievement Award at Condé Nast Traveller Awards 2011 and the Lifetime Achievement Award 2011 by The Times Travel Academy. Acknowledging his invaluable contribution to the tourism industry, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) and Hotel Investment Forum India conferred the Hall of Fame award to him in the year 2012 and 2010 respectively.
In 2008, Business Week, US listed him among the 50 global octogenarians who still ‘rock the world’ and in 2010; the International Hotel and Restaurant Association conferred on him ‘Hotelier of the Century’ Award.