A seed grows from underneath steadily into a plant and subsequently into a gigantic tree. The big tree builds an ecosystem from its own existence, offering a profound meaning to the lives of thousands of living organisms and the environment. Similarly, there are phenomenal individuals who, through their rich and holistic vision, have built a solid foundation for facilitating the learning, progress, and growth of people all over the world. One visionary sage of the modern era is Ratan Naval Tata.
From taking the reins of the Tata Group, Ratan Tata has been a very dynamic and passionate entrepreneur with a deep insight into the development of people. He was a different kind of business leader who looked at the growth from bottom to top and not the typical top to bottom. Believing in the core human values, Ratan began with a vision of growing together. Identifying that the organization is made of, run by, and powered by its core pillar of the people. He always believed in standing up for a noble cause in various fields of education, medical services, employment, and nature conservation.
Seeding the Massive Foundation
The journey of a thousand steps begins with one in the right direction. Echoing the same, Ratan Tata, too, made a humble beginning. Born in Bombay, today’s Mumbai, during the pre-independence era, on December 28th, 1937, and is the son of Naval Tata. At the young age of ten in 1948, his parents, Sonoo and Naval Tata separated; he was formally adopted by his grandmother Navajbai Tata and raised with his half-brother, Noel Tata.
Ratan studied till 8th standard in the Campion School and Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai, and Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. He graduated from the prestigious Riverdale Country School in New York and earned his architecture degree in 1959 from Cornell University.
Ratan Tata returned to join the business with a focused mindset. He was promoted to management during the 1970s. He was successful in turning the Tata Group company National Radio and Electronics (NELCO) around through his important management decisions. In 1991, J. R. D. Tata named Ratan as his successor as he stepped down as chairman of Tata Sons. The beginning was not a red-carpet welcome for him as he faced stiff resistance from many company heads, some of whom had spent decades in their respective companies and rose to develop very powerful and influential due to the decision-making freedom given by JRD Tata.
Ratan was determined to bring in a change in the organization. Hence he began replacing them by setting a retirement age. He made individual companies report operationally to the group head office and made each contribute some volume of their profit to build and use the Tata group brand. Innovation was given primacy, and younger talent was infused and given responsibilities. Under his stewardship, all the indirect autonomous operations in group companies were streamlined into a centralized system, which saw the Tata group exiting unrelated businesses to leap forward in globalization.
Ratan Tata, through his disciplined leadership in his lustrous tenure spanning more than two decades, boosted the Tata Group revenues by over 40 times and profits by 50 times, respectively. The earlier scenario was the group’s revenue coming from the commodities when he took over changed to major sales pouring in from the wide brand basket he created when he stepped down. “Ups and downs in life are very important to keep us going because a straight line even in an ECG means we are not alive,” One of the most influential leaders, Ratan Tata quoted on being an effective and productive professional.
He was a futuristic entrepreneur who cleverly implemented his management skills by sparking the remarkable acquisitions of Corus by Tata Steel, Jaguar Land Rover acquired by Tata Motors, and Tetley Tea took over by Tata Tea, respectively.
Shifting the focus of the business to a broader perspective, Ratan Tata turned Tata Group from a largely India-centric group into a flourishing international business that contributed more than 65% of revenues from operations and sales from over 100 countries. With his innovative approach, Ratan Tata conceptualized the Tata Nano car, known as the world’s cheapest car or the one-lakh-price car. He elaborated in an interview for the Harvard Business School’s Creating Emerging Markets project the development of the Tata Nano was phenomenal because it helped put cars at a price point within reach of the average Indian consumer.
Awards and Recognitions
Ratan Tata was honored with Padma Bhushan in 2000, Maharashtra Bhushan in 2006, Padma Vibhushan by President Pratibha Patil in 2008, and Assam Baibhav in 2021. He has been awarded 41 different honors that, include several honorary doctorates from international and domestic universities and governments of Uruguay, Italy, France, Japan, and Singapore. Prestigious honorary Knight commander of the order of the British Empire and Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II. Ratan Tata has quoted, “No one can destroy iron. But its own rust can! Likewise, no one can destroy a person, but his own mindset can.” He always harped on having a positive and goal-oriented mindset with an innovative approach. With a profound business acumen and a dynamic foresight, the inspirational quotes of Ratan Tata are inspiring the generations worldwide.
Socially Responsible Philanthropist
Having been the prominent catalyst of change, Ratan Tata encouraged education and medical facilities and was an initiator of rural development.
He contributed to the University of New South Wales Faculty of Engineering for the development of capacitive deionization that provided improved water for challenged areas.
The University of California, San Diego’s Tata Hall, which was inaugurated in November 2018, houses the Tata Institute for Genetics and Society and has contemporary research facilities for the biological and physical sciences. A bi-national organization called the Tata Institute for Genetics and Society coordinates research projects between UC San Diego and research facilities in India to help build infrastructure and support societal growth in the fight against vector-borne diseases. Tata Hall was given its name in honor of the generous $70 million gift from the Tata Trusts.
A $28 million Tata Scholarship Fund has been endowed by the Tata Education and Development Trust, a charitable organization of the Tata Group, enabling Cornell University to offer financial aid to undergraduate Indian students. No matter their financial situation, the top Indian students will be able to attend Cornell thanks to the scholarship fund, which will support 20 scholars at a time.
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 is a grand 48000 sq. ft., has been named Tata Hall, after Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons. A $100 million construction budget has been estimated. Tata Hall, located in the northeastern portion of the Harvard Business School campus, is home to the school’s mid-career Executive Education program. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has made Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) the largest-ever donation of $35 million for a facility to study cognitive systems and autonomous vehicles.
In order to create design and engineering principles that are appropriate for the needs of people and communities with limited resources, the Tata Group established the Tata Center for Technology and Design (TCTD) in 2014 and endowed the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay with 950 million rupees (the largest donation ever received in history). The Centre for Neuroscience at the Indian Institute of Science received a 750 million grant from the Tata Trusts, which is headed by Ratan Tata, to study the mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease and develop early detection and treatment techniques. Starting in 2014, this grant was to be dispersed over five years.
In 2011, Ratan Tata stated, “I came close to getting married four times, and each time I backed off in fear or for one reason or another.”
Mega Icons (2018-2020), an Indian documentary television series on National Geographic about prominent Indian personalities, dedicated an episode to Ratan Tata’s contributions.
Ratan Tata made important contributions to national development by working closely with various state governments for the all-around developments in the region. He has been an important source of inspiration for his employees, numerous professionals, and a large following of students. Ratan Tata quoted, “Take the stones people to throw at you and use them to build a monument.”
- Kedar Borgaonkar