Industrialist and doyen of tea industry B M Khaitan passes away at 92

A winner of the ICC Calcutta Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, Khaitan has served as the ICC president during 1973
Veteran industrialist and Williamson Magor Group (WMG) patriarch Brij Mohan Khaitan died on Saturday morning at his residence in Kolkata due to old age. He was 92 years old.

Considered a doyen of the tea industry in independent India, Khaitan is survived by his younger son, Aditya and daughter Divya Jalan.

Fondly called “Evergreen tea man of India” in business circles, Khaitan had recently retired as non-executive chairman from the boards of Eveready Industries and McLeod Russel – both WMG companies – owing to old age. He continued to serve as chairman emeritus in both these firms.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, on a social media platform said, “Saddened at the passing away of noted industrialist BM Khaitan Ji. He was a much respected elder statesman of the business community of Bengal. My condolences to his family, his colleagues and his friends”.

The Indian Tea Association, of which McLeod Russel is a member, said, “Members of the Indian Tea Association deeply condole the passing away of B M Khaitan, chairman emeritus, McLeod Russel, this morning. His demise marks the end of an era and loss of a leader and guide for the Indian tea industry. May his soul rest in peace."

A winner of the ICC Calcutta Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, Khaitan has served as the ICC president in 1973.

“We deeply mourn his sad demise as he was our revered guide and patron. His passing away is a great loss to the family and to the business fraternity as well,” said Rajeev Singh, director general at ICC. 

Although born in a family of lawyers (Khaitan & Co), he made his fortune in the tea business and then went on to acquire the Indian business of Union Carbide - Eveready Industries – in 1993, after outrunning the Wadias of Bombay Dyeing in a $96.5-million deal. It was the largest corporate takeover in those days. 

Initially, Khaitan was a supplier of fertiliser and tea chests to the parent of McLeod Russel. However, in 1961, when a crisis loomed over the company as B Bajoria, an investor, acquired nearly 25 per cent stake in Bishnauth Tea Company, the flagship in the Williamson Magor Tea Estates, the Khaitan family provided the money to buy out Bajoria's stake. 

Eventually, Khaitan was invited to join the board and became managing director of the group. 

In 1987, when the Guthrie family, the largest shareholder in the McLeod Russel Group, wanted to exit India, Khaitan negotiated a deal and finally bought out the estates, thereby making WMG the largest tea producer in the world. Later on, under his leadership, the tea company went on to expand its operations in Africa and Vietnam.

However, at the time of his death, WMG companies – Eveready Industries, McLeod Russel, McNally Bharat Engineering and other unlisted firms – are struggling to reduce debt at the group level.

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