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Last Updated Wednesday October 21 2020 04:05 AM IST

Tata Group: Decoding a legacy embedded in Indian psyche

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ratan-tata Ratan Tata

The Tata group's business horizon is spread across more than 100 countries in six continents.

The seeds of what would mature and become today's Tata Group were laid by Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata or simply J.N. Tata, who was born on June 3, 1839 to a Parsi Zoroastrian family in Navsari, then part of the princely state of Baroda. His father Jijibhai Jamsetji Nussarwanji Tata too was a well-known businessman.

About 147 years ago, J.N. Tata, who played a significant role in the industrialization phase of the country, established a cotton mill in Nagpur, laying the foundation of the Tata Group.

Hotel, steel business forays

J.N. Tata is also widely recognized as the pioneer of the Indian hospitality industry. The Tata-owned Taj group has built a solid reputation in the industry by establishing a chain of iconic hotels in major cities across the country.

The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai has fascinating history that involves an urban legend. Once J.N. Tata took two British clients with him to the Mumbai’s Majestic Hotel, a top-notch hotel in the British India, but was denied entry since it was open for whites only. Stung by this insult, he decided to set up a luxury hotel with better facilities than that of hotels established by westerners, and more importantly, where Indians can enter with a sense of pride.

This led to the foundation of the world’s finest hotel, the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, the flagship hotel of the Taj Group, which opened in 1903.

Also, it was J.N. Tata who conceived the idea of building India’s first iron-steel plant.

His offspring transformed that grand vision into reality by establishing the Tata Iron and Steel Company (now Tata Steel) and set up India's first iron and steel plant in Jamshedpur.

The plant started production in 1907 and grew by leaps and bounds over the years, as he turned the tables on the naysayers who believed local firms would not be able to manufacture high-quality steel products.

The Tatas were pooh-poohed by the English when the company went ahead with the production of iron for use in rail track.

As the company made a proposal to export steel rails to Britain, an Englishman called Sir Frederick Upcourt said: “Do you mean to say that Tatas propose to make steel rails to British specifications? I will undertake to eat every pound of rail that they make, if they do that.”

Upcourt did not eat steel, but he had to eat humble pie after the Tatas proved him wrong by exporting steel rails to Britain in 1914. In World War II, British tanks were called Tatanagars because the steel was made in Tatanagar in Jamshedpur.

A visionary called JRD Tata

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, better known as J.R.D Tata, was one of the most enterprising Indian entrepreneurs, who led the Tata Group to new heights of success.

JRD Tata was the longest-serving chairman of Tata and Sons as he held the reins for 53 years between 1938 and 1991. His father, R.D. Tata, was a cousin and partner of founder Jamsetji Tata. Born in France to an Indian father and a French mother, Suzzane, he took over the Tata empire at the age of 34.

The first firm added to the fleet of the Tata Group of companies under his supervision was Tata Chemicals, now the largest producer of soda ash in the country.

In 1945, he established the Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company Ltd or Telco (renamed Tata Motors in 2003) to manufacture locomotive and engineering products. Today, it is India's largest automobile company.

Stressing the need to improve India's scientific temper and strengthen the nation's science infrastructure, JRD Tata took initiatives to establish state-of-the-art research institutions across the country. Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, which began operations on June 1, 1945, still remains one of the premier research institutes in India.

It was also under his leadership that the Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital, India's best-known Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, was opened in 1941.

He also instigated a program to enhance the employees’ association with the management in order to give workers a stronger voice in the affairs of the company.

It JRD Tata who founded India's first commercial airline, Tata Airlines in 1932, which became Air India International in 1946 after the government acquired 49 per cent stake. It became a flagship carrier of India in 1952 following the nationalization of the aviation industry.

In 1981, Ratan Tata, nephew of JRD Tata, was appointed as the chairman of the Tata Steel Industries.

When JRD Tata stepped down as chairman of Tata Sons in 1991, he named Ratan as his successor.

During Ratan Tata’s tenure as chairman, Tata Group’s revenues grew manifold and it went on to become one of the largest business conglomerates in the world. He retired from the post in 2012 at the age of 75 and handed over the mantle to Cyrus Mistry, whom he handpicked.

Global presence, wide range of products

The Tata group’s global footprint spans more than 100 countries with a presence virtually in almost all business sectors. It comprises over a 100 operating companies spread across six continents.

It is a major manufacturer of trucks and cars in India. Asia's largest software maker, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS); Tata Communications, a leading global provider of telecommunications solutions; Tata Power, an electric utility company originally established to supply power to Mumbai; Indian Hotels, a leading luxury hotel chain; and educational institutions like Tata Management Training Centre in Pune, Indian Institute of Sciences in Bengaluru, Tata Institute of Sciences in Mumbai, are some of the prestigious entities owned by the Tata Group.

The company produces a variety of brands that Indians use in their daily life. Kannan Devan tea, Titan watches, Voltas air-conditioner, and Tata Indica car are some of them. From iron rod and spade to bus, lorries and electricity, the Tata Group of companies manufacture a wide range of products that touches almost every aspect of Indian life.

The launch pads of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Howrah Bridge in Kolkata are constructed by the steel supplied by the Tata Steel.

Tata Sons is the promoter of the major operating Tata companies and holds significant shareholdings in these companies. The Group has investments in several sectors including education, healthcare, research etc.

The group’s combined market capitalization is about $1.20 billion (roughly Rs 7,900 crore).   

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