Born on 9 February 1923, in Kannur, Kerala, Capt. C. P. Krishnan Nair received his earliest education at a small elementary school in his native village. A born rebel, he fought against the rampant casteism that was prevalent in those days. At the first opportunity, he joined the Freedom Movement at the age of 13. He started the first Students’ Union in Malabar under the guidance of A. K. Gopalan, who, many years later became the leader of the opposition in the Indian Parliament. He was at the forefront of the freedom struggle with the students as his vanguard.
After independence in 1947, Capt. Nair chose to join the Free Indian Army and became an officer in the Maratha Light Infantry. He became an officer Aide de Corps (A.D.C.) to the General Officer Commanding.
Three years later, in 1950, he married Leela, the daughter of a successful handloom owner, A.K. Nair, from Kannur, who remains his inspiration.
In 1951, Capt. Nair resigned his commission from the Indian Army to help develop the Handloom Industry. He helped to set up the All Indian Handloom Board and was instrumental in persuading the Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru to impose a cess tax on mill made fabrics to help modernize the Handloom Industry. The first year saw a whopping collection of Rs. 300 Crores.
Later he set up the All India Handloom Board along with Mrs. Pupul Jaykar in 1959 where the Handloom Industry got a new lease of life in exports for all times to come from 1959 onwards.
He was instrumental in the developing and marketing of the “Bleeding Madras” fabric in the US, which met with legendary success in starting exports to the U.S. in a big way.
He also pioneered the manufacture and export of cotton handloom gauze fabric (crepe) which increased the quantum of exports in the handloom industry, especially from Malabar.
In 1957, Capt. Nair was a member of the first trade delegation which negotiated the first Trade agreement with the Federal Government of Germany.
He stayed in Kempinski Hotels and was exposed to the European Luxury standard of service which inspired him to bring the prestigious brand to India. Kempinski is Europe’s oldest hotel chain, established in 1897.
In 1987, he set up the first Leela Hotel, The Leela Kempinski Mumbai, and signed a marketing alliance with Kempinski. Today, The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts is one of the finest Hotel Groups in India with six luxury properties in Mumbai, Bangalore, Goa , Kovalam, Gurgaon and Udaipur; with more properties in Chennai, New Delhi, Agra, Hyderabad & Pune.
His mission is to delight and satisfy guests through the gracious Indian Hospitality with its legendary service – Atithi Devo Bhava.
The Leela Kempinski Mumbai has been the winner of the National and Regional Tourism Awards from the Government of India for six consecutive years, which was conferred by the then Prime Minister of India.
Capt. Nair created the award winning Leela Palace Kempinski Bangalore by engaging 12 International Architects and the same became the recipient of a Forbes Award in 2001, as one amongst the best eight new leading business hotels in the world. It was conferred the Ultimate Service Award in Asia Pacific by CNN in 2003 and 2004.
In 2007, thirty thousand readers of Conde Nast Traveler voted The Leela Palace Kempinski Bangalore as the World’s No. 1 Favourite Overseas Business Hotel surpassing the Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula. It was also awarded The National Tourism Award for 2008 and 2009 by The Government of India as The Best Eco Friendly Five Star Deluxe Hotel in the country.
The Leela Kempinski Goa has won the World Travel Awards since 2000, for five consecutive years as the Leading Luxury Resort in Asia Pacific, and “Asia’s Leading Resort” award at the World Travel Awards in 2007. It has also been honoured with the “Imperial Mark”, a Royal Warrant - one of the world’s oldest awards for excellence in industry from the UK Government.
A committed environmentalist, he is responsible for converting acres of barren land around the Leela properties surrounding the Mumbai International Airport into verdant green park lands and the same holds true in Goa and Bangalore. He personally supervises the landscaping and plantation of exotic and rare plants in all Leela properties.
Recognized globally as an environmentalist, hotelier and a visionary, he has been the recipient of many prestigious awards, select among which are:
- For his unstinting efforts, he received the Global 500 Laureate Roll of Honour by the United Nations Environment Program in 1999 from Emperor Akihito of Japan.
- He has also received The Green Hotelier Award by the International Hotel and Restaurant Association in Paris.
- By 2000 and 2001, he was the recipient of the prestigious Golden Globe Award for the highest exports in clothing in India from The Ministry of Textiles, Government of India.
- He was awarded the Maharana Mewar Foundation’s Uday Singh Award for “Outstanding Practical Achievements in the Protection and Improvement of the Environment” in 2002 along with Bharat Ratna Abdul Kalam and Bharat Ratna Lata Mangeshkar.
- He was also conferred The Lifetime Achievement Award at the SATTE (South Asian Travel Tourism Expo) Summit in 2007 by Ms. Ambika Soni, Minister of Tourism, Government of India.
- He also received the Kerala Ratna Award by The Global Kerala Initiative Keraleeyam for his infrastructure contribution to the Kerala society at The House of Commons, British Parliament in 2007.
- He received the PATA Award of Merit in recognition of his service and leadership in the travel and tourism industry. He has been a Director on the Board of PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) for the last 15 years. He is the only Indian who was nominated on the Board of the UN World Committee on Tourism Ethics for four consecutive years from 2003 to 2007, which is a matter of national pride and on a personal note, his most fulfilling achievement.
- In September 2008, Business Week, USA listed him amongst the fifty global octogenarians who still ‘rock the corporate world’. With this, he joined the league of K.K. Birla, Keshav Mahindra and K. P. Singh from India and world leaders like Warren Buffet, Rupert Murdoch, Alan Greenspan, Paul Volker, Samo Suzuki and Stanley Ho.
- In appreciation of the unflinching efforts of a lifetime, the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences honoured him with the Lifetime Achievement Five Star Diamond Award 2009 in recognition of him as a visionary environmentalist and hotelier, dedicated to promoting corporate social responsibility.
- On 30 July 2009, The Lifetime Achievement Award was conferred to him by CNBC Travel Awards 2009 to recognize and honour his contribution to the travel and tourism industry.
- Capt. Nair, on 17 September, 2009 was honoured with The Giant International Award for his Excellence in “Business and Industry”. The award recognized and honoured his outstanding contribution to the industry.
- Capt C.P. Krishnan Nair was recently conferred the Hall of Fame Award at The Annual Hotel Investment Forum India (HIFI) on January 12, 2010.
- On January 20, Capt. C.P. Krishnan Nair was honoured with the ‘Hotelier of the Century’ Award in Belgrade, Serbia by International Hotels and Restaurant Association, Geneva. This is only the second time in 140 years that this unique award has been presented to an international hotelier.
- Capt. Nair, has also been conferred the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at Hospitality Valuation Services’ (HVS) Hotel Investment Conference – South Asia (HICSA) on April 7, 2010, for redefining the Indian hospitality landscape by creating new standards of excellence in luxury services.
- He was also honoured by ITB on March 15, 2010 with the golden ITB Pin for his ongoing support to the spirit of ITB Berlin for nearly 25 years with his consistent presence.
- On 31 March 2010, Smt. Pratibha Patil, Hon’ble President of India, decorated Capt. Nair with the prestigious Padma Bhushan, one of the highest civilian honours in the country, for his consistent contribution to the growth of the hospitality sector in India.
- The Environment Cell of Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee, on World Environment Day - 5 June conferred upon Capt. C.P. Krishnan Nair, the prestigious Bharat Ratna Rajiv Gandhi Environment Award, for his exemplary work in the protection of the environment.
Even today, his indomitable spirit and enthusiasm sees him working on elaborate plans for the future – for both, The Leela Group’s expansion, as well as, India’s infrastructure development. He firmly believes that one man can make a difference. One needs to have a vision, and to implement this vision you must have a plan and work hard with perseverance, until you have achieved that vision. Because success comes to those who dare and act.