Life lessons learned from my mentor

Chacko Thomas

Seven years and seven months back to this day I lost my greatest teachers and mentor I have ever had.  Mr. T. V Alexander or Alex as he was known passed away when he was 59 years old of which I feel blessed that I spent 16 years working with him. In these 16 years no day went past which did not test my resolve or didn’t teach me something new. Each day as I now fondly recall brought me challenges, learnings and most importantly steeled me for many battles that I fought thereafter and will do for many more years.

Who was T. V. Alexander and why did he have such an inordinate effect on not just me but the lives of people that he touched. Let me try and dissect his personality albeit with as much dispassion that I can muster which as you read further is a struggle. Other than being physically tall and handsome person, I can think of no other visible habits that he possessed that normally should endear a leader to his followers. He had an extremely short temper that would make you quake in your boots, an acidic tongue and an intellect that would make you feel grossly inadequate. I was newly married when I first started working with him and I can safely say that I am eternally grateful that my wife didn’t divorce me on the grounds of abandonment! I have no qualms in admitting that the only time I have been close to tears in my working life has been with him. Admittedly the picture that I have tried to paint to the reader would be that of an authoritarian alpha leader and I also wouldn’t be surprised if the reader would be tempted to think that people who worked with him did not like him because of the reasons I mentioned above. Fortunately, that’s where the narrative changes. Alex who was far ahead of his times was universally admired and respected by everyone who interacted with him. That he overcame severe medical challenges with a heart problem which would have incapacitated many a mere mortal and in the short time that he was with us went on to creating and leading a company that blazed a trail and continues to be a torch bearer in the tea industry aptly describes the larger than life image that he had.

I feel its apt for me that on this teacher’s day I salute the man who gave me a reason to believe that hard work pays eventually and that the most important thing in life is to be able to look oneself in the mirror and agree that one did ones best that day. Alex was unabashedly demanding from his subordinates but never asked more than what he demanded from himself. Always one to call out right from wrong he was one who never backed down and especially if he felt that there was injustice being meted out. His run ins with his bosses and even with a highly biased state government at that time is stuff of legends. From early on in his career as a manager who had a near death experience in a tea estate in Assam after being assaulted by a murderous mob due to transgressions by totally un related people and being left to bleed to death or being gheraoed for many hours and not being allowed to take his diabetes medication by another set of workers, he never let these incidents affect him. In fact, if anything it made his resolve stronger and made him even more dogged in his approach. Other than his family I can safely say that I was one person who spent maximum time with him and specially in the years leading into his untimely demise. Not on one day knowing very well that all was not well with him physically did he step off the gas. The man was driven by his single-minded focus on wanting to do good for the company he had created and was extremely clear that the institution should stand because of its strong fundamentals and business insights and not because of individuals. For me my life’s learnings of the values of looking at opportunities without losing focus of the existing business, understanding that one needs perseverance to succeed, being prepared for the un foreseen were all in some way gleaned from him. Even for someone like me who knew him intimately having been at the receiving end of his temper more often than anyone else, his love for the underdog, the down and out people were strikingly motivating. I have personally seen examples of how he resuscitated careers and lives of people who were less fortunate. Very few people knew of his habit of donating heavily to the needy. I personally met a destitute whom he had been taking care of till the time he passed away. I do not think many of his close family knew about this.   When he passed away in February of 2012, we witnessed possibly the biggest outpouring of grief that the region had seen ever. It was one of the darkest days of my life and yet a day that made me realize how blessed I was to have had that opportunity to work and grow with him in those 16 years. Would I relive those 16 years if I had the opportunity again? The answer to that is a resounding yes!

 In life and in death I truly believe he inspires me and will continue to make me want to do things he would be truly proud of! He has been the greatest teacher I have ever had.


  1. Sapna James

    That is a very emotional description of Mr TV Alexander. I have never met the gentleman but have seen the transformation of a near impossible dream for a Company . I have seen first hand on how he guided you and
    possibly changed you . To leave a mark in this world possibly was never his intention but he sure has left an indelible mark .

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