Ratan Tata, in full Ratan Naval Tata, (born December 28, 1937, Bombay [now Mumbai], India), Indian businessman who became chairman (1991–2012 and 2016–17) of the Tata Group, a Mumbai-based conglomerate.
A member of a prominent family of Indian industrialists and philanthropists (seeTata family), he was educated at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, where he earned a B.S. (1962) in architecture before returning to work in India. He gained experience in a number of Tata Group businesses and was named director in charge (1971) of one of them, the National Radio and Electronics Co. He became chairman of Tata Industries a decade later and in 1991 succeeded his uncle, J.R.D. Tata, as chairman of the Tata Group.
Upon assuming leadership of the conglomerate, Tata aggressively sought to expand it, and increasingly he focused on globalizing its businesses. In 2000 the group acquired London-based Tetley Tea for $431.3 million, and in 2004 it purchased the truck-manufacturing operations of South Korea’s Daewoo Motors for $102 million. In 2007 Tata Steel completed the biggest corporate takeover by an Indian company when it acquired the giant Anglo-Dutch steel manufacturer Corus Group for $11.3 billion.
In 2008 Tata oversaw Tata Motors’ purchase of the elite British car brands Jaguar and Land Rover from the Ford Motor Company. The $2.3 billion deal marked the largest-ever acquisition by an Indian automotive firm. The following year the company launched the Tata Nano, a tiny rear-engined, pod-shaped vehicle with a starting price of approximately 100,000 Indian rupees, or about $2,000. Although only slightly more than 10 feet (3 metres) long and about 5 feet (1.5 metres) wide, the highly touted “People’s Car” could seat up to five adults and, in Tata’s words, would provide a “safe, affordable, all-weather form of transport” to millions of middle- and lower-income consumers both in India and abroad. In December 2012 Tata retired as chairman of the Tata Group. He briefly served as interim chairman beginning in October 2016 following the ouster of his successor, Cyrus Mistry. Tata returned to retirement in January 2017 when Natarajan Chandrasekaran was appointed chairman of the Tata Group.
Among many other honours accorded him during his career, Tata received the Padma Bhushan, one of India’s most distinguished civilian awards, in 2000.
The biography of Ratan Tata is in the making and is expected to hit the stands by mid-March by when the new chairman for Tata Sons is also likely to be in. Peter Casey, who earlier wrote ‘Tata – The World’s Greatest Company’ in 2014, is currently giving the final shape to the book. In this interview to Ashish Rukhaiyar, the author discusses about the various chapters in the biography.
The Tata Group is a well-diversified conglomerate with a market capitalisation of more than $125 billion and many listed entities. Do you think a single chairman for the holding company (Tata Sons) and all its listed companies makes sense? (The Companies Act caps the number of directorship at 10 companies)
Tata Sons is unique in as much as the vision of the founder, Jamsetji was to create an organisation that would truly give back to the people of India. I have no doubt that if he were alive today, with the globalisation of the world, he would be equally concerned about the very poor in other parts of the world. He passed this vision onto his sons, Dorab and Ratan Tata. As a result, a holding company was established to ensure that the values and beliefs would be passed onto future generations. The Chairman of Tata Sons does not have any day to day operational control of the separate companies. This means that each Chairman of each company is responsible for the performance of that company. It is my personal belief, that it is only possible to be an effective Chairman of no more than two publicly traded companies. It worked under Mr. Ratan Tata’s style of management as he was very hands off and gave the individual company CEO's a lot of autonomy, additionally he had fifty years of experience in either acquiring or building up the various businesses. This is why it did not work under Cyrus Mistry due to his penchant for micromanagement and lack of in-depth knowledge of the multiple industries which were under his remit.
Independent directors of the company, like Nusli Wadia, have also been caught in the crossfire. There's also a view that these people are not truly independent having spent decades in the same company.
Reading some of Mr. Wadia’s recent comments I am not convinced that he is really “independent” and would appear to be very aligned with mr. Mistry. Personally I believe that ten years is too long a period, five should be the maximum which would will allow the company to bring in fresh blood.
There is also a buzz that after clearing the mess at Tata Sons and the Group companies, Mr. Ratan Tata would also work towards appointing heads/chairman for the Tata Trusts as well that control Tata Sons.
When Mr. Tata stood down, he genuinely stepped down and gave Mr. Mistry a free hand to run the businesses. Indeed, Mr. Mistry rarely contacted Mr. Tata. The very last thing that Mr. Tata wanted to do was to have to take the recent actions that he felt passionately had to be taken.
You must remember that Mr. Mistry took his father Pallonji’s seat on the board. They would clearly have had many discussions over dinner about the Tata business. Cyrus was on the board for six years before being appointed Chairman for four years and now claims that he was a “lame duck” Chairman and had no influence or knowledge whatsoever of the decisions that were made whilst a director and then later as Chairman. I find this to be somewhat disingenuous. There is an argument to be made that he should refund the stipends that were paid whilst being a director if he was so uninvolved in the management of the company.
On a similar vein, I truly believe that Mr. Tata has absolutely no desire to die in the saddle. I believe that once the selection committee has completed its task, he will turn his attention to finding a person to manage the Trusts in a way envisaged by Jamsetji.
Can you tell us briefly about Mr. Tata's biography that you are working on?
The book will start with Cyrus being removed as chairman, then flip back to Mr. Tata’s very early life, his relationships with his many family members and then move onto his business career. It will be going into how he developed TATA, from writing the strategic blueprint for expansion of the company and growing it from 5B to 100B during his Chairmanship. It will discuss his business philosophies, what he looks for in a leader, his successes and his failures and lessons he learned along the way. It will be about 300 pages
Would it be right to say that the biography will be a tell-all first of its kind book on Mr Ratan Tata?
I believe so.
When is the book expected to hit the stands?
Probably around St Patrick’s Day (March 17, 2017) after the new Chairman has been announced.
Mr. Tata is in the news owing to the ongoing Tata-Mistry feud. Will the book touch upon this issue and can the reader expect a hitherto unknown element to the tussle being revealed in the book?
It will examine the many factors that finally lead Mr. Tata to make the very hard decision that he ultimately felt he had to make in order to preserve the TATA legacy.
It will discuss Jamsetji Tata’s approach on how to make capitalism work for the benefit of the masses. In one chapter there is a hypothetical dinner where Karl Marx and Jamsetji Tata are having a discussion on the growth of capitalism and the industrial revolution and how they had such differing approaches as to the best way to deal with the challenges.
How much content of the book would be devoted to the TataVsMistry issue?
Perhaps 10% to 15% and only because it’s an issue that affects what is at the core of what TATA is all about - truly doing the right thing. But really the book is about Mr. Tata.
Will the book also have Mr. Mistry's side of the story?
I have asked for a meeting with Cyrus but to date I have not heard back I would be delighted to meet with him, so he can give his explanation as to why he took the actions he took. As a journalist, I always strive to be accurate and balanced. I asked Mr. Tata was there anyone I could not speak to and said, “not at all”. I would be more than happy to have a frank, one Irishman to another discussion with Cyrus!
At this moment in time my advice to Cyrus, if he agreed to meet, would be to focus on what he wants the Mistry family to be remembered for. He is doing short term damage to the company he professed to love and long term damage to his own and his family’s reputation. I believe he should be working collaboratively with TATA on a way for the Mistry Family to monetise their holdings in TATA and seek a win-win solution.
Have you decided on the title of the book?
No, not yet.
More In BusinessIndustry