There are individuals who appear serendipitously in our lives and then disappear and yet they leave an indelible mark in our memory of a charming experience. S.K. Roy was one such remarkable individual. Chairman of the Peerless group based in Kolkata, he passed away on 8 May 2022 after a spell of prolonged illness. On hearing this very tragic news a pall of sadness descended, leading to reflections on what a splendid bhadralok or gentleman S.K. Roy was. I met Sunil Kanti Roy only once and it was during my wedding and was a guest at one of his Peerless hotels located in the steel city of Durgapur. The night before the wedding one of the members of the organising “crew” of family and friends were struggling and stressing about a particular ritual where the groom is fed some sweet curd and rice during the early hours of dawn. A bespectacled distinguished gentleman dressed in the quintessential Bengali starched dhoti and punjabi was overhearing and then approached us to enquire about all the confusion. On being explained about the complexity of the taS.K. he assured that the hotel would organise the curd and rice for that ritual. He turned towards me and said, “You are the jamai of Peerless”, or in other words, “son-in-law of Peerless”, which reassured my wedding crew. This statement which was spoken with sincerity touched my heart deeply at his affection and generous hospitality. This distinguished gentleman was none other than the Chairman of the Peerless group, S.K. Roy who was visiting the Durgapur property. Over the next couple of days in between the wedding rituals we enjoyed his attention and care including that of a traditional Bengali meal being served in earthenware pots. In our interactions we realized that we had a few shared acquaintances from the Kolkata corporate world.
In the subsequent years, I interacted with some of the Peerless group companies like Bengal Peerless, a successful joint-venture between Peerless group and the West Bengal government. I watched and heard S.K. Roy at events and forums organised by business bodies and Chambers of Commerce. Through my business affairs in Bengal I developed acquaintances with senior managers and directors engaged with the Peerless group and was impressed with the leadership and professional management.
I truly salute his success in managing the affairs of his business group in Bengal as a “Bengali entrepreneur” when that “species” itself is an endangered one. One only reads about the glories of Bengali entrepreneurship in the pages of history. The Peerless group is one of the legacy enterprises of Bengal which still continues to flourish in contemporary times. It’s all the more impressive when one considers that S.K. Roy expanded and diversified in the state of Bengal where most business tycoons have decided to leave for greener pastures.
S.K. Roy or Sunil Kanti Roy was born in the year 1944 to a Bengali business family where his father Radhyashyam Roy had started an insurance enterprise, Peerless Insurance, which later metamorphosed into the Peerless General Finance and Investment Company Limited. S.K. Roy joined the company in 1969, was inducted into the Board of Directors in 1984 and then assumed the mantle of Managing Director in 1996 which he held until his demise this year. In his remarkable career S.K. Roy led the diversification of the financial institution into hotels, hospitals and real-estate. These diversification strategies paid off and today Peerless group boasts of a turnover of Rs 2,500 crores with nearly 3,000 people employed.
Apart from his role as an entrepreneur S.K. Roy was a philanthropist and offered patronage to several social initiatives like that of the Peerless Skill Academy through the B.K. Roy Foundation. S.K. Roy held important positions in industry bodies contributing to the industrial policy making of Bengal like that of being the President of Bengal National Chamber of Commerce and board member of WBIDC.
S.K. Roy was awarded the Padma Shri in 2009. A lifelong devotee of Ramakrishna Mission, he was a disciple of Swami Bireswarananda Maharaj.
Here is my humble tribute to S.K. Roy who was the very embodiment of Bengali bhadralok entrepreneur as a ‘jamai’ of Peerless group. Om Shanti.