Gentleman par excellence

R K Krishna Kumar, who retired from the executive positions of the Tata group recently, is a leader with unmatched qualities

R K Krishna KumarKochi: The successful story of the purchase of the loss-making Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company Ltd from James Finlay and turning it into a profit-making company through innovative marketing strategies is an epic chapter in the history of Indian management.

The acquisition of the Tetley group of London against the global competitive bids was another historic milestone in the highway of Indian industry. It was a prestigious win-win not only for the Tata group but also for the whole Indian industry. The credit for all these achievements goes to R K Krishna Kumar, who retired from the executive positions of the Tata group on 19 July 2003.

The first time I met Kumar was in the second-floor corridor of the Bombay House, on one fine morning, 35 years ago. Then he was the executive director of Tata Finlay and I was an employee in the public relations department. Though he did not know me, he gave me a pleasing smile and walked away. This rare trait of the person surprised me. Later, when I enquired, my colleagues told me all about this unassuming TAS executive. Even in those days, he was called 'KK' by his close friends and colleagues.

It was world-renowned astrophysicist Dr Vainu Bappoo who made it possible for us to come closer. Bappoo had a lot of accolades to his credit. He was the only and the first Indian to become the president of the World Astrophysicists Forum. He was the only Indian scientist in whose name a comet is known to the world. And is probably the only scientist in the world whose name decorates a planetarium. The list expands, but this globally acclaimed scientist never liked publicity. And this distinguished personality was none other than Kumar's brother-in-law.

Bappoo was to deliver the keynote address at one of the seminars organised by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. The previous day Kumar called me to his office and said: "Dr Bappoo is a media-shy person, who keeps himself aloof from publicity. Can you arrange without his knowledge some media coverage on his visit to Bombay?"