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Newsmaker: Karan Paul

Reluctant newsmaker

Our Bureau  |  New Delhi 

can no longer avoid the limelight. It's a feat he has managed for years, in spite of running a group that owns the popular tea brand Flury's, the Park hotel chain, Apeejay Finance, and hangouts like stores, Tantra and

Even in Kolkata, the hub of the group's activity, the 35-year-old Paul mostly enters the public consciousness as the city's most eligible bachelor.

Paul's self-effacing nature can perhaps be attributed to his formative years which he spent under the shadow of guns, gore, and towering uncles.

In 1990, he lost his father, Surrendra, to an assassin's bullet in Upper Assam. He was on a visit to the group's gardens and had been advised by his managers to ignore the rising threat of the separatist movement. He was shot in his car on a public road.

Karan, after earning a degree in Political Science from Brown University in 1992, started learning the ropes of the group's many businesses from family members and professional managers.

Advice was at hand from uncles and Karan's mother Shireen was the chairman of the group from 1990 to 2004. It was only last year that Karan took over as the chairman.

That, however, did not change things. Despite the fact that the group owned some of the best gardens in Assam and exported some of the most expensive teas from India to stores like Harrod's in the UK, its tea business suffered from a low recall.

Its teas were much better known overseas than in India; most Kolkatans bought them under the Flury's brandname.

Only in recent times has the group's red-and-white square logo with written on it become visible.

But all that may change now. Paul, for all his self-effacing nature, will have a hard time shunning the limelight. The echo of the recent headlines, announcing that has acquired the entire tea business of Premier Foods of the UK for £80 million, is not going to die down soon.

The addition of Premier's tea business "" about Rs 550 crore last year "" will nearly double the tea turnover of Apeejay. By all accounts, the acquisition did make a sound business case.

At the same time, it reveals another facet of Paul's personality. Apparently, the self-effacing man went in for the acquisition partly due to his fascination for high street names.

Of late though, Paul appeared to be sending signals that he was on to higher decibel stuff. Recently, (ie Apeejay Shipping), acquired a 1990-built geared Panamax of 71,037 tonnes DWT and a 2002-built geared Ultra Handymax of 52,454 tonnes DWT, raising the company's capacity 51 per cent to about 0.363 million tonnes and reducing the average age of the fleet to under 16 years.

In August this year, when the deal was done, Paul had said should be one of the largest privately-owned shipping companies in India.

Are we about to see a second coming of Well, the signs are there.

First Published: Sat, October 15 2005. 00:00 IST