Tata Group veteran and former Tata Sons director RK Krishnakumar passed away in Mumbai on January 1, 2023. Krishnakumar is known for his involvement in a series of Tata Group acquisitions, including the £271 million purchase of Tetley in 2000. , which elevated Tata Global Beverages to the position of the world’s second largest tea producer.
There are no words to describe the deep sense of loss I feel at the passing away of my friend and colleague Mr. RK Krishnakumar. I will always fondly remember the camaraderie we shared both within the group and personally. He was a true veteran of the Tatas and will be greatly missed by all.
— Ratan N. Tata (@RNTata2000)
January 2, 2023
Who was RK Krishnakumar?
Krishna Kumar was born to Sukumaran and Sarojini on July 18, 1938 in Thalassery, Kerala, South India. He attended Madras Christian College Higher Secondary School in Chennai, where his father was a police commissioner, to complete his education. Before moving to Mumbai, he completed his postgraduate studies from Loyola College in Chennai before pursuing his master’s degree with distinction from Presidency College, University of Madras.
Deeply religious and affectionately known as KK, he was occasionally seen in the Matunga suburb of Mumbai buying flowers in shops near South Indian temples. His wife Ratna and his son Ajith, who serves as COO at Tata Consumer, were frequently by his side.
RK Krishnakumar’s trip at TATA
After starting his career in 1963 at Tata Administrative Service, Krishna Kumar was transferred to Tata Finlay, a partnership between Tata and Finlay of Glasgow that operated as a tea, coffee and spices company. Kumar joined Tata Tea’s board of directors in 1988 and was appointed CEO of the company in 1991.
He then went on to work as managing director of Indian Hotels before becoming vice-chairman of Tata Tea in 1997. From 2002 until his retirement in July 2013, Krishna Kumar served as a director on the board of directors of Tata Sons Ltd, the holding company of the Tata Group.
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Relationship between Ratan Tata and KK
When Ratan Tata had to deal with hostile satraps of the group, such as Ajit Kerkar, who did not like Ratan Tata succeeding JRD Tata, KK, as he was known at Bombay House, the headquarters of the Tata group, strongly supported Ratan Tata.
KK and Ratan Tata were among the first senior executives to reach the Taj Hotel on the first day of the Taj Hotel siege during the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. Later, while RNT acted as a crisis manager, she witnessed the tragedy along with him.
Even after Ratan Tata retired from the company in 2013, Krishna Kumar’s relationship with Ratan Tata persisted. He was one of the select few executives whose services were engaged by the chairman emeritus of the Tata Group. He was one of the five people selected by Tata Sons to be part of the search committee to find Ratan Tata’s replacement after his retirement.
“He would be admired for his humility; He would be admired for his sense of justice, his own personal value system. He lived by what he preached,” Ratan Tata said when KK retired.
“He has been a very reliable and very direct colleague with whom one can trust, seek, advise, a rebound board and I hope that to a certain extent he feels that I have reciprocated his moments of dilemmas,” added Tata.
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Krishna Kumar had a significant impact on the Tata Group. He didn’t make many mistakes. Some of them had to do with acquisitions that he enthusiastically oversaw. As Tata Group’s principal philanthropic trust, Sir Dorabji and Sir Ratan Tata Trust together own a 66% stake in Tata Sons, the main holding company of Tata group companies, and he acted as its life trustee. In 2009, Krishnakumar was awarded the Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour, in recognition of his contributions to commerce and business there.