The way Khaitan, born in a family of lawyers, had developed his tea empire was rather astonishing.
Brij Mohan Khaitan, fondly known as the “evergreen tea man of India” in global tea circles, who was the founder of Mcleod Russel that became the world’s largest bulk tea producer, died on Saturday morning aged 92.
The veteran businessman and patriarch of Kolkata-based Williamson Magor Group breathed his last at his residence in the city, company sources said. He is survived by his younger son Aditya Khaitan and daughter Divya Jalan.
In March this year, Khaitan had stepped down, citing old age. After a month, he also resigned as chairman of Williamson Magor, the group holding firm, and group flagship Eveready Industries, which is the industry frontrunner in dry battery and flashlight segments. The group also holds McNally Bharat Engineering Company, one of the leading engineering companies in India, and Kilburn Engineering, which is specialised in process design, manufacture and supply of various critically customised process equipment for diverse applications.
The way Khaitan, born in a family of lawyers, had developed his tea empire was rather astonishing. The history of the Williamson Magor Group dates back to 1866. In that year, Captain JH Williamson, who was already involved in the management of tea estates in Assam, met RB Magor, an assistant with the Great Eastern Hotel in Kolkata.
RB Magor’s grandson Richard Magor introduced BM Khaitan to the group. Initially, Khaitan, better known as BMK, supplied tea chests and fertilisers to the company and had become a friend of Pat Williamson, a grandson of JH Williamson. A crisis loomed over the company in 1961 and the Khaitan family provided the necessary money.
After few years Khaitan was invited to join the board of the company and later, despite stiff resistance, went on to become MD of the group. In 1987, Khaitan bought out the tea estates of the group. He established his tea empire in Assam first. Later on, he went on to extend his tea geography to Rwanda, Uganda and Vietnam.
It was his business acumen which had put Khaitan’s business empire at the zenith of tea and batteries businesses. He always believed: “Tea is not a mere commodity for us. It is a heritage based on values and culture full of sentiments and commitments”.
Notably, Eveready, as a brand, was earlier owned by the erstwhile Union Carbide India. Khaitan fought a bitter battle with Nusli Wadia’s Bombay Dyeing to acquire Eveready for Rs 300 crore in early 1990s. Under Khaitan’s leadership Eveready Industries becomes the country’s dry cell battery major.
His grandson Amritanshu, managing director of the company, has led a major diversification in its product portfolio in the recent years for higher turnover growth, facing competition from cheap Chinese imports.
Sadly, the death of BM Khaitan came at a time when Mcleod Russel (MRIL) has gone on a selling spree of its tea gardens to pare its massive debt burden. Also, Eveready Industries has mandated Kotak Mahindra Bank to scout for either a strategic or a financial partner to trim debt.
In its condolence message, Sanjiv Goenka, chairman of RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, said, “BM Khaitan was more than family…he was not only my sister’s father-in-law, he was my father’s best friened…for me personally it is a big loss.” BM Khaitan’s elder son Deepak had married Goenka’s sister Yashodhara.
The Indian Tea Association described BMK as “one of the last stalwarts in the tea industry amongst the old guards”.