Karan Paul’s Apeejay Surrendra group interests me immensely. The name of the company that this Kolkatta-bred man leads, has a special connect to my childhood. My uncle worked in a tea estate in Assam owned by the Karan Paul’s Apeejay Tea. The company is a subsidiary of Apeejay Surrendra Group, the largest producers of tea in India.
Today Apeejay Surrendra is a huge company with operations in steel and international trade, shipping, tea, hospitality, real estate, finance and technology. Karan Paul, the head of Apeejay Surrendra , is not your usual flashy business tycoon. Schooled in the best institutions, and brought up in Kolkata, India’s cultural city, Karan has remained out of the limelight, while raking in huge profits for the 116-year-old business that his grandfather had set up in pre-independent India.
While Karan was graduating in the United States, two tragedies changed the course of his life. The Political Science undergraduate planned to take up liberal arts for four years, intern for a couple of years outside his father Surrendra Paul’s company, pursue an MBA and get back into the family business fold.
But his younger brother died in 1989, while Karan was still a freshman. While the Paul family was still recovering from the shock, Surrendra Paul fell to the bullet of Ulfa in 1990, a separatist group of Assam. So Karan dumped all plans of extra courses and joined the family business right after his graduation. In a symbolic way, Jit Paul, Karan’s uncle, offered his own seat and inducted the young boy into the Apeejay group.
The death of Surrendra Paul was the toughest thing for the Paul family to deal. Karan, with his sisters Priti and Priya Paul took around eight years when they were finally confident enough to surge ahead with their business.
Unlike some renowned business houses in India, which split after the death of the founder, the Paul family takes pride in calling the Apeejay froup a joint family business. In his own words, Karan is not a believer in setting independent business units. Although it might sound a little old-schooled for a 46-year-old business tycoon, Karan Paul loves to keep it a family affair because the death of his brother and father taught him that in times of need, the family comes first.
At a time when conglomerates vie to call itself the leader in its sector, the Apeejay head is content in calling their wealth a trust. He doesn’t talk about the cut-throat competition, doesn’t mind being the numero uno in any business, but at the same time take pride in ‘solid’ businesses that are rated among the best by credit rating agencies. Such down-to-earth humility is rare for a head of a company that runs a billion-dollar group.
While there are many arms of the Apeejay Surrendra Company, Karan holds shipping close to his heart. Karan Paul is majorly into marine cluster development. The core of Apeejay is around real estate and food and beverage, which includes tea. That is Apeejay’s biggest business in terms of sales and turnover.
Karan, a self-declared traditionalist, digs classic literature and philosophical books. And unlike the tech-savvy man, he prefers the touch and feel of a book and flipping pages manually than tapping on an iPad to turn the pages.