Ratan Tata was born to Soonoo & Naval Hormusji Tata on December 28, 1937. He was brought up their grandmother Lady Navajbai after his mother moved out following a troubled marriage. He studied at the Campion School in Mumbai.
At the age of 15, he moved to the United States for further studies. He completed his graduation from Cornell University with a degree in Architecture and Structural Engineering. He has also completed a Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School.
Despite his wealth, Tata always kept a low profile. During his stint in the US, Tata had no qualms in doing odd jobs, he even washed dishes!
He joined the Tata Group in December 1962. In 1991, after more than 50 years at the helm, JRD Tata stepped down as the chairman of the Tata Group. Taking over from him was Ratan Tata, his nephew.
In 1998, Ratan Tata launched the Indica, which is India’s first indigenously designed, developed and manufactured car. Pooh-poohed for getting into the passenger car segment, Ratan Tata turned the tables on the naysayers within a few years. Tata Motors’ Indica and Indigo is two of the hottest selling cars in India.
Today, Tata is an indispensable part of the Tata group, striving for more glory year after year. If 2007 would be remembered for his acquisition of Corus, the biggest acquisition in the history of India Inc. He has also bid for Ford’s marquee brands: Jaguar and Land Rover.
His pet project — the Rs 1 lakh People’s Car — likely to be launched in mid-2008 is also certain to shake up the Indian car industry.
Ratan Tata has also initiated the restructuring of the vast Tata empire to reduce hierarchy, focus on profitable operations, and increase efficiency. The group is managed through holding company Tata Sons, which controls the Tata brand.
The Tata Group comprises 98 operating companies in seven business sectors: information systems and communications; engineering; materials; services; energy; consumer products; and chemicals.
Bombay House: Tata headquarters
Over 100 years ago, a merchant set up a mill in Mumbai to manufacture cotton goods and flagged off what was to become the $11 billion Tata Group.
The group observed the death centenary of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, the founder of the group, on May 19, 2004. J N Tata was a great visionary, nationalist and a person who with his determined played an important role in the industrialisation phase of the country.
The group’s other best known ‘Tata,’ Jehangir Rattanji Dadabhoy Tata or ‘JRD,’ also has his birth centenary in 2004.
Bombay House, situated in the heart of Mumbai city, is the headquarters of the group.
The building itself is a fascinating piece of history. In the early 1900s, a plot of ground was put up by the Bombay Municipality for sale in Bombay and purchased by the Tatas.
George Wittet, who once a consulting architect to the government and who later joined the Tatas as the head of the then Tata Engineering Company Limited, constructed a building that was completed in July 1924. That became the ‘Bombay House’, the headquarters of the Tata Group.
J N Tata: Boy who would be a giant
In 1868, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata — who was then just 29 — started a private trading firm with a capital of Rs 21,000. His travels in the Far East and Europe inspired in him the desire to manufacture cotton goods and so in 1877, he launched the Empress Mills in Nagpur. The mill laid the foundation of the industrial power house that was to become the Tata Group.
In 1886, J N Tata instituted a pension fund and in 1895, he began to pay accident compensation.
At 47, he launched the Swadeshi Mills to mark the beginning of the Swadeshi movement, whose aim was to reject foreign made goods.
The first hotel started by the Tatas, the Taj Mahal, Mumbai, was also a rejection of the British. J N Tata took two British clients with him to the Majestic Hotel but was denied entry because he was Indian. Stung by this insult, he decided to set up the world’s finest hotel, and this led to the foundation of the prestigious Taj group of hotels in 1902.
Jamsetji’s vision lives on
A nationalist and a true visionary, Jamsetji believed that India should have factories in key sectors.
A report on the rich iron ore deposits in India motivated Jamsetji to travel to Europe and the US for technical advice and then start a steel plant.
Jamsetji had passed away in 1904, but The Tata Iron and Steel Company was formed in 1907, and the Steel City, Jamshedpur, was built in Bihar.
His dream of setting up a hydroelectric scheme with an objective to supply cheap and clean electric power for the growing needs of Bombay was also fulfilled in 1910 when the Tata Hydro Electric Power Supply Company was established. An institute for premium Technical Education and Research that he had visualized was realised with the setting up of the prestigious Indian Institute of Science in 1911.
JRD, the visionary
Jamsetji’s son, Dorabji Tata, carried J N Tata’s legacy forward. Under his leadership the Tata group added the steel plant, three hydroelectric power companies, a large edible oil and soap company, and two cement companies.
The aviation unit, however, was JRD Tata’s legacy. Tata Airlines, was started as a division of Tata Sons in 1932. This was nationalised in 1953 and made into two separate units Indian Airlines and Air-India.
In 1952, Jawaharlal Nehru requested the Tatas to launch a cosmetics brand in India. Nehru wanted to ban foreign cosmetics in India but not without offering an alternative to the Indian woman. His request to the Tatas led to the birth of the Lakme brand of Cosmetics.
JRD was awarded the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 1992. On his death in 1993, the Parliament, in an unusual gesture for a private citizen, was adjourned in his memory and the state of Maharashtra declared three days of mourning.
The fab four
A rare picture from the Tata archives captures the four original partners of the Tata Group.
In the picture are J N Tata (sitting right to left), the founder of the Tata Group; Sir Dorabji Tata, (standing right to left); the elder son of J N Tata, Sir Ratan Tata, his younger brother and R D Tata, father of JRD Tata.
The Tata empire today is one that has touched almost every aspect of Indian life.
It is the nation’s largest industrial conglomerate and runs about 80 companies in seven main sectors: chemicals, communications and IT, consumer products, energy, engineering, materials, and services. Two of its largest operations are steel making, through Tata Steel (Tisco), and vehicle manufacturing, through Tata Motors.
Credit to all of that goes to the four in the picture who had the courage to dream and make it come true.