BM Khaitan (left) receives the lifetime achievement award from Sanjiv Goenka on Tuesday. (Amit Datta)
Gentleman, according to the Oxford dictionary, is a man who is polite and well educated, who has excellent manners and always behaves well. The Calcutta business community’s lexicon goes a step ahead.
The definition changes from general to personal. “I looked up the Internet for the meaning of gentleman. And it says bhadrolok BMK (Brij Mohan Khaitan),” said Rasoi Group chairman Raghu Mody, summing up the mood of top industrialists and professionals who had gathered at a city hotel to felicitate the octogenarian doyen of the Indian tea industry.
B.M. Khaitan — baba to the younger lot and BMK to friends — was conferred the lifetime achievement award by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) for his contribution to industry and humanity.
“Some weeks ago, Sanjiv (Goenka) and other committee members of ICC came to me and proposed it (lifetime award). I was hesitant, doubtful. Am I truly deserving of such an honour? But Sanjiv did get a yes out of me with his charm,” smiled Khaitan, the chairman of the Williamson Magor Group that boasts of the world’s largest bulk tea-producing company besides businesses like dry cell batteries.
Rakhi Sarkar, trustee and honorary general secretary, ICC Calcutta Foundation, read out the citation given to Khaitan and said: “He has set an example to innumerable aspiring entrepreneurs of this country.”
Born in August 1927 to a family of lawyers, Khaitan studied commerce at St. Xavier’s. In 1933, Philip Magor’s father Richard Magor introduced him to the group. Briju Khaitan (as he was popularly referred to) supplied tea chests and fertilisers to the company and soon became a friend of Pat Williamson, grandson of J.H. Williamson, a founding member of Williamson Magor & Company.
In 1961, the firm faced a crisis when an investor acquired nearly 25 per cent stakes in Bishnauth Tea Company, the flagship of Williamson Magor tea estates. The Khaitan family provided the money to buy out the investor’s stakes.
The door that was ajar opened further and a young Khaitan was invited to join the hallowed Williamson Magor board. In 1964, he became the managing director of the group and its chairman on January 18, 1966.
His business acumen kept business growing and, at the same time, he played father figure to many entrepreneurs.
Goenka, chairman of the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group, recollected how Khaitan stood by him through thick and thin. No wonder, the veteran industrialist is a prominent independent director on the board of CESC, the flagship of Goenka’s business.
“He was the best friend of my father (Rama Prasad Goenka). But he took my side when I had a difference of opinion with my dad,” said Goenka, nearly choking while referring to Khaitan as “baba for me”.
Y.C. Deveshwar, chairman of ITC, said Khaitan took the lead when CSR (corporate social responsibility) was yet to become a boardroom buzzword.
Khaitan has donned many caps: a former captain of Royal Calcutta Golf Club, he is the chairman of the board of trustees of Kolkata Museum of Modern Art. He had built Assam Valley School and donated generously to Missionaries of Charity and Ramakrishna Mission among others.
At 86, he goes to his office every day.