Sasi Nair KP
Seventy-one years ago, when she married an army captain, it would not have occurred to her that her name would one day become a brand that traversed the globe. Scion of a wealthy business family from Malabar, cantonment life was not something she was prepared for. She was destined for a higher calling and she made the transition with the grace of a ballet dancer.
Leela Krishnan Nair kept that flag flying high until her end, at a sprightly age of 90, on Sunday, May 16 – a day before her beloved husband’s seventh death anniversary. In 1951, a year after Captain C. P. Krishnan Nair tied the knot to Leela, the army man gave up his boots at the insistence of his wife and plunged headlong into the textile business.
Nair began by becoming the sole agent for Rajeshwari Mills in Mumbai and Leela ably supported him during those days, justifying the adage – behind every successful man there is a woman. He struck gold by marketing lace; a standalone fabric worn on special occasions. When the import of lace weaving machine from Scotland was hampered, Leela advised Capt. Krishnan Nair to use his friendship with Lord Mountbatten. Following this, he started manufacturing lace in Mumbai and introduced the business in America and Africa as bleeding Madras handloom, which was a trend back then. Leela Lace became a global brand.
His frequent business trips across the world opened the vistas to the hospitality business, noting the heavy demand for business travellers. Capt. Nair decided to foray into the hotel business, determined to build a world-class facility in Mumbai on the lines of Kempinski Hotel in Berlin. The new international airport in Sahar was opened in 1981 and there was no notable hotel in the vicinity, and Nair zeroed in on the area. However, he faced several hurdles, and thanks to Leela’s unstinted support, he managed to surmount those obstacles.
Engineering conglomerate Larsen & Toubro Ltd had paid an advance to buy the land near the airport but later pulled out after government sanctions were not forthcoming. Leela and Krishnan Nair promptly struct a deal and developed the Leela Palace Hotel that was opened in 1986. The couple also built their home behind the hotel. A unique feature of Leela Palace is the greenery, Leela’s brainchild, that welcomes visitors.
Today, Leela is a unique brand that is known across the world for a regal living, with luxury hotels in many cities.
Daughter of a weaving mill owner A.K. Nair, Leela was originally named Sumathi. It was her brother, Raveendran Nair, who changed the name saying he wanted her to stand out in a crowd. Sumathi was too common.
Leela Nair is survived by her sons Vivek Nair and Dinesh Nair. Mr. Vivek Nair is Chairman and Managing Director of HLV Ltd and Mr. Dinesh Nair is Group Co-Chairman and Managing Director HLV Ltd, Laxmi Nair is the Wife of Mr.Vivek Nair, Madhu Nair is the wife of Mr. Dinesh Nair. Vivek and Laxmi Nair have three Children Amruda, Aishwarya, and Aushim Nair while Dinesh and Madhu have one daughter Samyukta.
Vivek and Dinesh are well-versed in running hotel businesses besides having business in infrastructure development. Leela instilled confidence in her children right from a young age which helped them to become strong-willed personalities.
Starting from Leela and ending with Leela the glory of that name never fades.