The Leela Group has sold its prime hospitality assets to Canadian investment firm Brookfield Asset Management. The group's rise as a luxury hospitality brand was meteoric since the launch of The Leela Hotel in 1987 in the sleepy Sahar village on the outskirts of the city, then known as Bombay. It was the first luxury hospitality property near the Sahar international terminal of the Bombay airport that began operations in 1981. Bombay spread fast to include Sahar in its heart and become Mumbai taking along with it the Leela Group's hotel business to stratospheric levels of success.
The Leela Group would go on to spread wings far and wide with luxury properties in almost all metros and major cities of the country and tie-ups with several major overseas hotel chains. Its founder CP Krishnan Nair, who died on May 17, 2014, aged 92, hailed from a nondescript village in present-day Kerala, was a visionary industrialist with a keen sense of destiny.
Nair was a self-made man from a lower-middle-class family in the Malabar district (presently in Kannur district) of Madras Presidency of British India. Born on February 9, 1922, as one of the eight children to government bill collector father and rice farmer mother, he had his schooling in neighbourhood government elementary school. Nair was noted for his leadership qualities from early days and after dabbling in the independence movement, joined the Indian Army in 1946. He rose to be a captain in the Martha Light Infantry.
Nair married Leela, the daughter of industrialist AK Nair, in 1950, and retired from the Army in 1951. Back in Kerala, Nair was involved in several business ventures, primarily for production and export of handloom fabric and took up assignments with the government for trade promotion in the West.
Nair said in interviews later that the idea of opening a luxury hotel struck him during his travels to the West as part of trade delegations. After the Partition in 1945 and India lost Karachi to the newly formed Pakistan, Bombay airport became the key international hub of South Asia. The growth resulted in the construction of a separate international terminal in Sahar. Nair seized the opportunity to build his first luxury hotel, the Leela Hotel in Sahar and there was no looking back after that. The Leela Group has grown into an industrial and business conglomerate with interests in hospitality, fashion, lifestyle and real estate sectors.
Nair built his business empire in the name of his wife who has survived him along with two sons Vivek and Dinesh, who are respectively the chairman and co-chairman of the group after Nair retired in early 2013. Nair, known to many as Captain Nair, was a 2010 recipient of Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian order in India. He is also a recipient of the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences' (AAHS) Lifetime Achievement Award and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) included him on the Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1999. The Geneva-based International Hotels and Restaurant Association honoured him with the Hotelier of The Century Award in 2009.