Mr RNT’s character and strength of purpose can be judged from his own words:
“If you hold a gun to my head, you have two choices, you either move the gun away or pull the trigger, because I will not move my head.”
A look at his actions will prove that in a vast majority of cases, the gun was pulled away, because he has stood firm on his convictions.
Now Mr RNT lays down the reins of the Tata empire exactly on the date he had set for himself more than a decade ago, on his turning 75. Not for him the argument that he is “irreplaceable” (in many ways he is), and to make sure that he is not looked upon as the “Ghost Upstairs” in Bombay House, he is physically moving out. It is his way to ensure that Cyrus, his successor, does not have to live under his shadow.
I well remember RNT’s desire, conveyed to us two decades ago, that we should always carry two names in our pocket. One, of “a person who can take over if you are knocked down by a bus later in the day”, and the other of “a person who would be groomed to take over from you 3-5 years down the road”.
He is retiring at the peak of his achievements; but I am sure he is proud of the fact that his group has achieved a turnover of over $100 billion, Tata now has a footprint across the globe and has made several big-ticket global acquisitions.
But most of all it is a coherent, well-knit group of companies bound by the ideals of Tata House – integrity, trust and the desire to give back to the community.
He has made ‘Tata’ into a globally recognised brand. I recall a visit to Europe in the early 1990s where five senior Tata Group executives were present. Wherever we went, we presented five differently-designed calling cards. He was disturbed by the lack of uniformity in the group; a branding exercise was put into motion. Within a year, the new Tata logo was born. In fact, with the benefit of hindsight, we did not need an external agency, as most of the design work was done by RNT himself! All Tata companies have now proudly adopted that logo.
It was not always so. In the early days after JRD anointed him as his successor, he had a difficult time. Even before that, in the 1970s, RNT had tough nuts to crack, the Empress and other textile mills and NELCO to name but two. But those assignments also gave him the experience on what to “keep and nurture” and what to “drop” in the years ahead.
Also JRD had left behind a ‘federation’ of individual satraps who guarded their fiefdoms and were not disposed to help each other. A ‘group’ concept was not popular. Also JRD ran the companies on the strength of his personal charisma. The right to manage through ownership was not possible when the public sector was supreme, and in many companies, the Tata shareholding was minimal. RNT recognised that the ‘right to manage’ came from ownership, and from the start, Tatas have raised their holdings in companies.
RNT also encouraged ‘across the group’ activities, which brought a feeling of ‘togetherness’ and encouraged executives to move from one Tata company to another. Group executives now come together on common theme programmes and build on their experiences.
RNT’s style is not to ‘thump the table’, but to ‘softly mandate’ on what he feels should be the path to follow – and others do follow.
He is a workaholic, and stands by his commitments even under physical pain. He once travelled from Mumbai to Europe, flat on his back and under medication (and against medical advice) to keep a commitment for a motor show.
Just like JRD’s first love was aviation, Ratan’s first love is automobiles. This, I guess makes Tata Motors his first charge. I had always hoped that Tata Steel (where he did a stint in the 1960s) could be his second love!
As he rides out of Bombay House, he will simultaneously ride into Tata trusts, where he will devote himself to the philantrophic activities of the Tatas. Let us wish him a successful and long stint in his chosen field.
JJ Irani is former MD, Tata Steel
Ratan Tata is too great a person for me to comment on. However, I have a lot of personal regard for Tata, a man who has given his life to the organisation. Armed with humility and empathy, Tata is always willing to look at problems. From the moment you tell him your problem, it becomes his own. I have not worked with him much, since by the time he became TCS boss, I had retired. But I had contact with him when I was looking after Tata Elxsi.
People don’t realise that Tata went through the grind before he took over. It is sometimes easy to think that if you are a member of the family, you don’t have to go through the grind. When I joined, JRD Tata and Ratan Tata’s father, Naval Tata, were there. Ratan Tata was an architect. He did his education in architecture in Cornell University. I think his first job was with Tisco in Jamshedpur.
TCS started in 1969. In the initial days, apart from licence raj, the government was dead against computers. This was a socialist/communist view. The same is true about today’s clamour over FDI in multibrand retail.
Tata understands all the dimensions of the business and his biggest contribution was in turning around Jaguar and Land Rover. That makes me think of Air India, of which JRD was the first chairman.
JRD and Ratan Tata were two people with different styles. But were always willing to experiment. Let’s not forget TCS came in JRD’s time. I was shifted from Tata Power. PM Agarwala, who was my boss, died after a stroke, so I got stuck. Tata took it forward with Tata Communications and Tata Elxsi.
It was necessary for them to give a free hand to their executives who ran companies. They did what a parent would do. The parent doesn’t interfere with the child, but if the child has a problem, he comes and helps. That’s a very different relationship. They were not the ring masters.
I should say that JRD and Ratan Tata were sensitive to the companies they set up. Those were the days when you set up a computer company, but you couldn’t import a computer. But their commitment to the country is total. You don’t run away from the country.
n Faqir Chand Kohli, regarded as the father of the Indian software industry, joined Tata Consultancy Services in 1969 and charted its future over the next two decades. He was appointed deputy chairman of TCS in 1994