Deepak Khaitan, Williamson Magor Group vice-chairman, dies at 593 min read . Updated: 10 Mar 2015, 12:36 AM IST
Khaitan, who died on Monday at his Queen’s Park home in Kolkata, left for his successors several unrealized dreams to pursue
Kolkata: If wishes were horses, Deepak Khaitan would by now have lit up every rural household in India with battery-operated lights and thoroughbreds would have charged down Kolkata’s racing turf under floodlights.
Neither is likely to happen in the foreseeable future, but Khaitan, who died on Monday aged 59 at his Queen’s Park home in Kolkata, left for his successors several unrealized dreams to pursue.
A second generation entrepreneur, the vice-chairman of the Williamson Magor Group had inherited his father Brij Mohan Khaitan’s passion for horses. Kolkata’s Royal Calcutta Turf Club used to be Deepak Khaitan’s second home.
Popularly known as DK, he didn’t take kindly to media reports on his interest in horses back in the 1990s—not surprisingly, because it is said that Khaitan senior had to acquire what is now Eveready Industries India Ltd to persuade his elder son DK to take a greater interest in the family businesses.
The apparent gamble paid off.
Paying $96.5 million, or close to ₹ 300 crore at that time, the Khaitans in September 1994 acquired a controlling stake in the erstwhile Union Carbide India Ltd (now known as Eveready) from its US owners, outbidding several keen contenders such as the Wadias of Bombay Dyeing and Manufacturing Co. Ltd.
It was at that time the biggest corporate takeover in India, and a leap of faith for the Khaitans. Led by B.M. Khaitan, who is now 87, the group was on a buying spree, snapping up engineering firms and tea plantations.
Eveready Industries soon became the group flagship as the group merged into it some of its key businesses, including tea. While B.M. Khaitan quietly worked out of 4 Mangoe Lane—the group’s headquarters—DK started to take a keen interest in the new horse in the stable: Eveready.
By the late 1990s, the Khaitans were trying to stabilize the operations of the companies they had taken over amid mounting debt and differences with their partners in the plantation business—the Magors based in tony London suburbs. By 2001, they had separated their business interests. The Khaitans slowly turned the corner, and in June 2005, DK pulled off what was perhaps as big an acquisition as that of Eveready: he managed to persuade the Magors to sell their plantations in India to him.
Quietly, DK had also inherited from his father an ability to negotiate with estranged partners. The acquisition of McLeod Russel India Ltd from the Magors catapulted the group to pole position in tea production globally.
His brother Aditya Khaitan, who now looks after the business, has since added more heft by adding plantations in Africa and South East Asia.
People who have known DK closely, both at the turf club and at Mangoe Lane, say he pursued many dreams. One such was to leverage Eveready’s core household battery business to sell light bulbs where electricity hadn’t penetrated.
At one point, he was of the view that light bulbs could in the long run turn in more profits than batteries. His son Amritanshu Khaitan has long taken over the reins at Eveready, while DK in the past few years worked in a supervisory role, partly because of prolonged illness.
Another of his dreams was to create a new generation sporting property out of racing under floodlights. DK steered the turf club out of financial difficulties by cashing properties that it could dispense with, but the floodlights never arrived because the ministry of defence, which controls Kolkata’s racing grounds, wouldn’t play ball.
Around two decades ago, a business newspaper reported that DK and his brother were to partition their business interests. Till Monday morning, they lived in the same house and ran their businesses together—unlike many illustrious neighbours who parted ways generations ago.