The general who prefers
to play soldier
Standard - June 30, 2006
TR K Krishna Kumar often hits newspaper
headlines. Recently, he made news when Tata
Coffee acquired the company that owns the
third largest coffee brand by volume in
the US, Eight O'Clock, which in one shot
has put the Tata Tea subsidiary on the global
The move will make Tata
Coffee a significant global player with
strong and powerful brands in global markets,
including the US, while also helping the
company move up the value chain and become
a leading fully-integrated player in the
global coffee industry.
Krishna Kumar has done
for Tata Coffee, what he did for Tata Tea
in the year 2000 when the company acquired
Tetley for a staggering $431 million. It
was the largest cross-border acquisition
by an Indian company at the time, enough
to make Krishna Kumar a household name,
more or less.
He is no less a legend
among his colleagues. In the words of one,
"He is a general who prefers playing
soldier all the time, rather than sitting
in the bunker and giving directions."
Not for nothing is he
dubbed the "doer". As a colleague
in Kolkata puts it, if Darbari Seth was
the visionary, Krishna Kumar is the doer.
"That's why he is where he is,"
he says. Whether doing and strategising
are mutually exclusive, of course, is a
matter of debate.
One of the benefits of
Tata Tea's global ambitions, or so it seems
now, was the change in the company's focus:
from plantations to beverage brands.
This may explain such
recent acquisitions as Tetley US Holdings'
buyout of FMALI Herb Inc and Good Earth
Corp. Just two months back, Tata Tea (GB),
UK, agreed to acquire the assets of the
Czech Republic's tea market leader, Jemca.
All these were brand-related
moves, and are indicative of the company's
direction. A direction it seems increasingly
dedicated to. "Once he has made up
his mind, he will justify the end,"
says a Tata Tea insider.
One of Ratan Tata's close
aides, Krishna Kumar's association with
the Tata group dates back to 1963, when
he joined Tata Administrative Services (TAS).
He moved to Kolkata as
joint managing director of Tata Tea in 1988,
and became managing director in 1991. Mid-1997,
he moved to Mumbai as managing director
of Indian Hotels, and subsequently assumed
the role of vice-chairman of Tata Tea.
Small wonder that he is
part of the Group Corporate Centre (GCC)
of the Tatas, which is mandated to guide
the future strategy and direction of the
Tata group and work in close coordination
with the other core group, the Group Executive
Even though he moved to
Mumbai, he was always in the thick of things
at Tata Tea. Currently, Krishna Kumar has
an assortment of designations within the
group. Above all, he is a director on Tata
He is also chairman of
Tata Coffee and Asian Coffee, and vice-chairman
of Tata Tea and Indian Hotels. In addition,
he is a director on the boards of several
other enterprises. For all this, Tata group
insiders feel that he still has a long innings
to play in the group.
How many, after
all, can play general and soldier simultaneously?