Who is Ratan Tata?
Ratan Naval Tata (born 28 December 1937) is an Indian industrialist, philanthropist, and a former chairman of Tata Sons. He was also chairman of Tata Group, from 1990 to 2012, and again, as interim chairman, from October 2016 through February 2017, and continues to head its charitable trusts. He is the recipient of two of the highest civilian awards of India, the Padma Vibhushan (2008) and Padma Bhushan (2000).
Born in 1937, he is a scion of the Tata family, and son of Naval Tata who was later adopted son of Ratanji Tata, the founder of Tata Group. He is an alumnus of the Cornell University College of Architecture and Harvard Business School through the Advanced Management Program that he completed in 1975.
Ratan Tata was born in Bombay, now Mumbai, on 28 December 1937, to Naval and Sonoo Tata. Naval Tata was the adopted son of Jamsetji Tata’s younger son Ratanji Tata. His parents separated when Ratan was just 10. He has a half-brother, Noel Tata, both of whom were raised by their grandmother, Navajbai Tata.
He studied at the Campion School, Mumbai till the 8th standard, followed by Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai and at Bishop Cotton School in Shimla. In 1955, he graduated from Riverdale Country School in New York City. And after four years, he received a degree in Architecture from Cornell University, and in 1975, attended the seven-week Advanced Management Program of Harvard Business School — an institution which he has since endowed.
It is very shocking that in 1962, he started his career as a mine worker in his own company. He shoveled stones and worked with the furnaces along with the other blue-collar employees. It was a very physically demanding job but it helped him gain a better understanding and respect for his family business. Promoted to management during the 1970s, Ratan achieved initial success by turning Group company National Radio and Electronics (NELCO) around, only to see it collapse during an economic slowdown. In 1991, J.R.D. Tata stepped down as chairman of Tata Sons, naming Ratan his successor. He had to face stiff resistance from heads of many companies, who rose to become very powerful and influential due to the freedom to operate under JRD Tata. However, he gradually overcame it. Under his leadership, innovation was given much priority and the younger generation was given most of the responsibilities.
During the 21 years of his ‘reign’ Tata Group flourished the most with revenue growing by 40 percent and profit growing by 50 percent. His bold decisions of acquiring large MNCs like Tetley, Jaguar & Land Rover and Corus Steel, etc made a huge impact in the Indian industrial sector as well as the industrial sector in general. All this turned Tata from a largely India-centric group into a global business. He also became a member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry. He served on the advisory board of the RAND’s center for Asia Pacific Policy and is also an active participant in India’s AIDS initiative program. He also holds the membership of the international advisory board of the Mitsubishi Cooperation, the American International Group, JP Morgan Chase and Booze Allen Hamilton.
Ratan Tata resigned his executive powers in the Tata group upon turning 75, and appointed Cyrus Mistry as his successor, son of Pallonji Mistry of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, the largest individual shareholder of the group and related by marriage. Soon Cyrus Mistry was removed as the chairman of Tata Sons and Ratan Tata was made interim chairman. The decision went through intense media scrutiny that made many scrutinize the root causes of the sudden removal, and the resultant crisis. A selection committee was formed to find a successor. The selection committee consisted of Mr. Tata, TVS Group head Venu Srinivasan, Amit Chandra of Bain Capital, former diplomat Ronen Sen and Lord Kumar Bhattacharya. On 12 January 2017, Natarajan Chandrasekaran was named as the chairman of Tata Sons, a role he assumed in February 2017.
Other than being a great businessman, Tata is also very active towards social problems. He is a supporter of education, medicine and rural development, and considered a leading philanthropist in India. Tata supported University of New South Wales Faculty of Engineering to develop capacitive deionization to provide improved water for challenged areas.
- Tata Education and Development Trust, a philanthropic affiliate of Tata Group, endowed a $28 million Tata Scholarship Fund that will allow Cornell University to provide financial aid to undergraduate students from India.
- In 2010, Tata Group companies and Tata charities donated $50 million for the construction of an executive center at Harvard Business School (HBS). The executive center has been named Tata Hall, after Ratan Tata.
- Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has given the largest ever donation by a company to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for a facility to research in cognitive systems and autonomous vehicles. TCS donated $35 million for this grand 48,000 square-foot building that is called TCS Hall.
- In 2014, Tata Group endowed the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and formed the Tata Center for Technology and Design (TCTD) to develop design and engineering principles suited to the needs of people and communities with limited resources. They gave ₹950 million to the institute which was the largest ever donation received in its history.
- Tata Trusts under the Chairmanship of Ratan Tata provided a grant of ₹750 million to the Centre for Neuroscience, Indian Institute of Science to study mechanisms underlying the cause of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Tata Group, under the leadership of Ratan Tata formed the MIT Tata Center of Technology and Design at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a mission to address the challenges of resource-constrained communities, with an initial focus on India.
Lessons we get from his life
He teaches us not to be bound by limits. Ratan Tata encouraged overseas trade, even after facing much resistance. Today half of Tata’s revenues come from overseas. Under his leadership, Tata acquired brands like Tetley, Jaguar Land Rover, and Taj Boston. This was not just a corporate deal, but it was a statement to the whole world that an Indian company can acquire large foreign companies if it wants.
He is known for his humility, and there are countless examples. He started out working as a blue-collar employee for Tata Steel. He personally visited the families of the 80 employees who were affected because of the 26/11 attacks. He remembers almost everyone by their first names and is not dismissive.
He is a decision-maker. A famous quote of his is “I don’t believe in making the right decisions. I take decisions and then make them right.”
He is a risk-taker. He has made big moves like launching the Tata Nano and acquiring the second-largest steel-maker in Europe.
“A life without excitement, ups and downs are too boring and dull. You need to be a storyteller to your grandchildren, why don’t prepare for that from now? We get this life only once, experience every aspect of it. No one ever have grown without falling once, fail as many times as you can, then only you can succeed. So quit complaining and start exploring.”