For 89-year-old Capt C P Krishnan Nair, it has been a long diverse journey from his days in the Army to a textile business and hotels. Named after his wife, The Leela will now see Nair in the role of chairman emeritus, as he decides to hang his boots. In conversation with Ruchika Chitravanshi, he shares his dreams and still unfulfilled ambitions. Edited excerpts:
Congratulations on the launch of The Leela in New Delhi. What is it that keeps you going in the cut-throat hospitality business?
I am a proud Indian and I am an international Indian. I travel to all corners of the world. When I go to Paris, I don't stay in 2 or 3-star hotel, I stay in George Sand. It is a 900-year-old hotel. In London, I stay in Four Seasons at Park. In Shanghai, I stay in Park Hyatt which is $800 a night. I am not a rich man, I am a working man. But I want to see the comfort, convenience and luxury of such hotels because I am in this business. I don't mind spending some money, but I want to live comfortably during a three-day stay. This is the mindset.
Why haven't you planned taking your brands to International markets till now?
It will come soon. I have been offered land in London and New York. But I want to complete the India story first. We are not in a hurry. We want to be in all the capital cities — Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. Kolkata is also on my list. It is an iconic city and I would love to open a hotel there. We are also getting into budget hotels starting with pilgrim cities. I am trying to persuade the government to give us land on lease in pilgrim centres. I will convert them into gardens and then hotels. I am keen on opening one in Sabrimala, although it is difficult to reach there.
Do you have any succession plans yet?
In the next general body meeting in June, I want to announce my retirement and take everyone's approval for it. After that, my eldest son, Vivek, will be the chairman and Dinesh would become the vice-chairman.
What are your plans after retirement?
My plan would be to be by their side. If they need my advice, I'll give it and visualise the future. I will be like a mentor.
Your grandchildren are also involved in the hotel business. Can you elaborate on their roles.
My three granddaughters are involved in the hotel business. Samyuktha would take care of Leela Garden, which is our budget hotel, as soon as she comes back (from Switzerland). It is in our plan. She wants to open in Nasik. We want to start with pilgrim areas and then take it to bigger cities. Places like Benaras, Nalanda, Hrishikesh, Haridwar. Aishwarya manages the food and beverage business and Amrita takes care of finance.
What are your thoughts on the international hospitality companies setting up hotels in India?
They want to fleece Indians. They have no love for India. They want to make quick money and get out. They don't want to invest here. They are rich companies, so they should not be stakeholders. They only take the cream.
From Army to textiles to hospitality, are there any unfulfilled dreams?
It is actually from Army to handloom to clothing to environment to then becoming a hotelier.
The unfulfilled desire is to see India as the superpower number one. I am happy and content. God has been good to me. My family has been standing together. My wife is happy and active. Still advises me.
What do you think of the general hospitality trends?
Nobody has assessed the hospitality sector from its true perspective. It is a major employment source for men and women. Not too much education is required. In six months they can all be trained and made useful. I think it is a great sector. I want all the backward class people to be trained in this industry. It will be a wonderful thing, if they are employed in the tourism industry. In Kerala, I am doing that.
Have you given a thought to a heritage hotel? Is that something that excites you as a hotelier?
Heritage is a nice scheme. It should be neat and clean and worthy of making into a nice hotel. I don't want heavy purana buildings. Indraprastha, near the Purana Quila, is one place I would like to have a small hotel. I am dreaming about it. But there are constraints. There is no proposal yet. I would like to get one though. Now that I am in Delhi, I can approach the government and talk to them.