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He made Tata Coffee a global brand
Pradeep Gooptu | June 30, 2006
R 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 map.
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.
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 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 Office.
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 Sons' board.
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?