- Killi didn’t believe in micro managing anything
- Even when he was let down by people who he had nurtured along the way, he let them be. His memory was legendary
- Mr. Rajamahendran believed in a strong, independent Sri Lanka that bowed before no other nation in the world
Rajendram Rajamahendran the Chairman of the Capital Maharaja Group passed away on July 25 after a brief illness. ‘Killi’ as he was better known – sometimes erroneously referred to as Killi Maharaja – was best known as the force behind the Maharaja Organisation which he effectively headed.
1983 marked the rebirth of the largest privately held conglomerate. The shameful riots of that year saw the Maharaja Organisation quite literally reduced to ashes. A board meeting held in its immediate aftermath saw a decision to restart and rebuild the Group. Keeping in line with the sign on his desk which exhorted ‘Lead, Follow or Get out of the way’ he made it clear that those who wished to remain for the long battle ahead were welcome, but those who did not could gracefully exit. Killi didn’t want passengers – he wanted leaders.
Born on May 19, 1943, Rajendram Rajamahendran, was an old boy of Royal College Colombo. He joined his father at the Maharaja Organization aged 16 along with his brother, Maha who was later Chairman until his retirement.
Aged 21 when he and his brother took on the reigns of the group the brothers knew little of running the business except for the training they had under the tutorship of their father.
With the dawn of the year 1981, the Maharaja Organisation was already at the time the largest privately held conglomerate in the country. The brothers’ vision and commitment to be fully ingratiated in the commerce of Sri Lanka saw many visionary businesses being initiated by the Maharaja Organisation.
From setting up Sri Lanka’s first BOI Joint-Venture in the 1970s to the construction of Sri Lanka’s largest hydro-electric power infrastructure, to be the leadership behind Sri Lanka receiving ICC Status in cricket, to making mobile telephony available to the average Sri Lankan by founding Dialog GSM, to setting up Sri Lanka’s largest media network that has differentiated itself through innovation, to directly overseeing News 1st, to changing the lives of millions of Sri Lankans through the Gammadda Movement that he founded, he emerged as one of the ‘Big Men’ on the commercial landscape of contemporary Sri Lanka.
He quite simply commanded an all-on-your-own chapter in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history.
It was a responsibility that Killi took seriously. He had long ago realized that to move ahead and to have the courage to be different meant having to stick to principles, inspire leadership and motivate his colleagues. He wanted everyone to be Leaders.
Many were the calls he would receive from desperate men and women who had been discovered by intrepid journalists at News1st in an attempt to keep their misdeeds away from the public. It was a role no one could have envied as along with his commitment to Freedom of Speech Killi had a well-developed flipside: that of humanity.
A very private man
Nevertheless, when it came to eliciting the truth and bringing that to the attention of the public, Killi was non-compromising. News1st fast established itself as a fearless voice of the people. To some it was a curious irony: Killi Rajamahendran was ever the very private man yet he owned easily the most vociferous media stable in the country.
Killi didn’t believe in micro-managing anything. He created a system of management, empowered the right men and women to run those businesses but always under his very watchful eye. Everyone knew Chairman – Boss to almost all – didn’t suffer fools gladly. Kind yes, calling a spade a spade came naturally. But he bore no grudges and vindictiveness was not part of his DNA. The Maharaja Group is littered with people who are excess to commercial requirements, but who were retained in some role more as part of his very own private CSR project rather than a corporate need. Even when he was let down by people who he had nurtured along the way, he let them be. His memory was legendary.
Ever since the decision to rebuild the Maharaja Group from the ashes of the 1983 riots, Mr. Rajamahendran built what is easily one of the largest privately-held corporates in Sri Lanka, diverse, but also an organization with a very active civic consciousness; all along never losing the feel for the peoples’ needs and frustrations.
‘Many leaders, from diverse spheres including business and politics, both current and from the past, owe their careers to this man, who unselfishly supported them when no one else did.’ Many others in Killi’s position would have done a U-turn. This man was not for a U-turn sticking to his principles even in times of the most profound adversity. He made sure that those who remained with him after the riots, were paid, borrowing the monies to ensure continuity.
“He had long ago realised that to move ahead and to have the courage to be different meant having to stick to principles, inspire leadership and motivate his colleagues. He wanted everyone to be Leaders”
His heart for ordinary people, especially the downtrodden poor of Sri Lanka, was what made him an extraordinary leader. He never ceased to be amused at what his Team Maharaja did and continued to so do, with the Gammadda Movement – going to the people.
At times to the lasting dismay of those closest to him, he forsook commercial profitability in exchange for the profits of humanity.
He gave generously without expecting anything in return. And this included opportunities for those who worked for the organization and even those who didn’t. His left hand never knew what his right was doing – he gave generously and without advertisement. That was his style and that was his belief. He had no need to show off believing always that the proof would emerge as his vindication.
A devout Hindu would be shocked at his commitment to contribute to Buddhism. His contribution to Buddhism and other religions was incomparable.
If he was bitter about the treatment, he suffered at unscrupulous politicians responsible for the riots of the 80’s he never showed that. Instead, he turned out to be the champion of reconciliation as he built a Group that welcomed people of all religions, ethnicities, cultures, and creeds to work as one, for the betterment of Sri Lanka.
‘He was a patron of the Arts, being a dedicated collector and supporter of the Great Masters and upcoming artists.
His knowledge and appreciation of music and movies were unparalleled, and this was seen in the innovative concepts that Sirasa and Shakthi gave birth to, over the decades.’
Mr. Rajamahendran refused to compromise on many things, and perhaps most importantly was his integrity. He refused to be involved in unethical business practices and always took hard decisions when it came to national interest and personal profit.
Despite the adversity and the stresses of racial jealousies, he stood tall for what he believed in never ever resorting to racialism or communalism. He never looked back as there was nothing there – his trajectory was forward-focused.
Killi was never for personal glory. He instead, gave the pride of place to his team, so that they would excel in all they did. He made it clear that every story no matter who the lead journalist, was a team effort. It was always Team Maharaja. In recent times he faced the reality that the wheels of justice in Sri Lanka turned very slowly indeed – several exposes by News1st remains legally unresolved to date
‘Mr. Rajamahendran believed in a strong, independent Sri Lanka that bowed before no other nation in the world. He believed in the creation of a nation where our people were prosperous and lived happy lives.
He hoped and prayed for clean political leaders who would always place the interests of the people ahead of their own interests. And he risked everything, for what he believed in.’
As we bid him goodbye we will face the reality that Rajendram Rajamahendran was a the kind son of the soil. He can’t be replaced, but his legacy will go from strength to strength inspiring others who he has left behind to use the springboard he created, the colossus that is The Capital Maharaja Group.
Killi Rajamahendran is survived by his wife Canice and his children. His son Sashi takes on the role of Chairman and Managing Director of the Group as the Maharaja Organisation enters its monumental post-RR years.