The brilliant Chartered Accountant was a prized manager who worked for the multinational Pierce Leslie Co Ltd, a renowned British company that was doing flourishing business in plantations, shipping, textiles, cashew processing... He joined Shaw Wallace and rose to the position of CEO and non-executive chairman. He reached the pinnacle of his career as the Executive Chairman and Chief Executive of Best & Crompton Engineering Ltd.
Founded in the 1870s, B&C grew through mergers and acquisitions. It went for a public issue in 1978 but could not get it fully subscribed. The financial institutions under wrote the shortfall, that made it a sitting duck for a raider like Mallya to acquire control. In just a decade from 1978 revenues grew five’fold and profits seven’fold! Under his tenure, Best & Crompton recorded multi-faceted growth. He embarked on a large number of collaborations with reputed multinationals. Beacon Kone, Beacon Rotork Controls, Beacon Weir, Krest Development and Leasing and over a dozen such subsidiaries and associated companies were founded and were reputed for the quality and service of their products.
The company also set up joint ventures in Malaysia, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Forged relations with Australia, Finland...
Kumar was the first to forge a prized collaboration with Finland’s Kone Corporation, the European leader in elevators and escalators, for manufacturing in Chennai. His financial genius was helpful in accessing funding from the Finnish Fund as an equity partner.
Best & Crompton flourished in that period as a renowned engineering company engaged in a wide range of manufacturing and engineering construction activities. He lent his expertise as the President of Indian Society for Training & Development, President, Madras Chamber of Commerce & Industry and later President, ASSOCHAM and Founder-President of Indo-Australian Chamber of Commerce, which was unique as a bilateral apex chamber having its headquarters in Chennai.
The brilliant business leader trained, groomed and mentored a number of young executives to rise to coveted managerial positions. The rapid expansion of the company by forging new collaborations helped in the quick ascent of managers across the group.
Best & Crompton was financially starved and was heavily dependent on support from financial institutions. Vijay Mallya, with his booming liquor business, went on a mad spree of acquisitions and one of the victims was Best & Crompton. I remember the poignancy with which Kumar referred to this: “in that era of flourishing liquor business, all that was needed for a liquor baron was to dedicate one of his distillery’s income for acquiring even a large, well-established, century plus old company like Best & Crompton.” Best & Crompton, which he took to great heights, suffered like many other acquisitions of Mallya’s.
At a time when Chennai was dominated by family-owned businesses, Kumar provided an exception of a managerially strong, professionally managed company which reached great heights under his leadership and enjoyed the reputation of a L&T ECC!
It took Mallya less than a mere five years to strip B&C’s assets to the bone, default on bank loans (how callously banks refused to learn lending lavishly to Kingfisher Airlines!) and to sell the company.
IE pays its homage to Kumar and sends its condolences to his family and that of his illustrious brother M K Narayanan, former Governor of West Bengal.