Biography of JRD Tata

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Indian Businessman JRD Tata Biography

One of the most enterprising Indian entrepreneurs JRD Tata, as an aviator and pioneer flier brought commercial aviation.

A pioneer aviator and the builder of one of the largest industrial houses of India are the complements of JRD Tata.

According to him leadership meant motivating others. In his own words it is “As chairman, my main responsibility is to inspire respect”.

For that JRD adopted a management by consensus style “When a number of persons are involved I am definitely a consensus man, but that does not mean that I do not disagree or that I do not express my views. Basically it is a question of having to deal with individual men heading different enterprises.

You have to adapt yourself to their ways and deal accordingly and draw out the best in each man. If I have any merit it is getting on with individuals according to their ways and characteristics. In fifty years I have dealt with a hundred top directors and I have got on with all of them.

At times it involves suppressing yourself. It is painful but necessary. To be a leader you have got to lead human beings with affection.”

Tata’s role model in management was the British civil service. How was it, he wondered that a young Briton straight from college, could come to a foreign country and administer various departments with such distinction? This attitude contrasted sharply with the prevailing management styles of other Indian business leaders too.

Large Indian companies tend to fall into three categories : public sector ones run by the government, multinational affiliates, and those promoted by family dynasties. While the Tata Group firmly remained a family concern – to date, four out of its five chairman have been Tatas JRD’s professionalism stood out from the crowd.
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It has been noticed that in most of the family firms, the top management tended to belong to the same community as the promoter family. With the Tatas, it was different as only merit counted here. JRD Tata was born on 29th July, 1904 in Paris.

The second child was born to Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and his french wife Suzanne Briere. His friends popularly knew him as Jeh. J.R.D Tata was educated in France, Japan and England before being drafted into the French army for a mandatory one – year period.

JRD wanted to extend his service in the forces. But destiny had something else in store for him. By leaving the French army JRD’s life was saved because shortly thereafter, the regiment in which he served was totally wiped out during an expedition in Morocco. JRD Tata died in Geneva, Switzerland on November 29, 1993 at the age of 89.

In 1925, JRD Tata joined Tata & Sons as an unpaid apprentice. As J.R.D Tata has great interest in flying on February 10, 1929, JRD pass the pilot’s examination and became the first Indian pilot. With this distinctive honor of being India’s first pilot, he played an instrumental role in giving wings to India by building Tata Airlines, which ultimately became Air India. His passion for flying was fulfilled with the formation of the Tata Aviation Service in 1932.

In 1938, at the age of 34, JRD was elected fourth Chairman of Tata & Sons. The Tata Group, established in 1859, was already became India’s biggest business conglomerate. J.R.D Tata started with 14 enterprises under his leadership with sales of ₹ 280 crore and half a century later on July 26, 1988, when he left, Tata & Sons was a conglomerate of 95 enterprises which they either started or in which they had controlling interest. The year of his death 1993, sales were ₹ 15,000 crore.

Until 1947, under British colonial rule, India was strait – jacketed by a foreign exchange crunch for almost forty years after independence, which gravely limited industrial entrepreneurship. Thus the achievement of Tata group under the leadership of JRD have to be seen through the lens of India’s economic and political history.

The period from 1964 to 1991 severe government controls on big businesses again curbed the growth of the Tata Group. Analysing his own performance, JRD Tata insisted that his only real contribution to the group of companies was Air – India.

For the rest, J.R.D Tata generously gave credit to his executives. Any report of the Tata Group’s growth therefore has to take the contribution of these larger than life men into account. JRD’s story is, in many ways, as much theirs as his own. Yet, it would be a mistake to under – assess JRD’s role.

As one of the senior Tata executives, Darbari Seth, once said, ‘Mr Tata was able to harness a team of individualistic executives, capitalizing upon their strengths, downplaying their differences and deficiencies; all by the sheer weight of his leadership.’

Tata Group companies are run by professionals who firmly believe in the trusteeship concept laid down by J.R.D Tata as also by Mahatma Gandhi while most business groups have disintegrated or drifted apart because of family ownership and management, with rival family members wanting to go their own way.

JRD’s respect for his managers bound the group. ‘I am a firm believer that the disintegration of the Tata Group is impossible,’ J.R.D Tata once declared. One of the inherent drawbacks of modern industry with its large and concentrated labour forces was that each man felt ‘that instead of being a valued member of a friendly and human organisation, he was a mere cog in a soulless machine.’

To Tata’s, in making workers feel “wanted”, is the essence of any successful labour policy. With this crux Tata Steel became one of the earliest companies in India to have a dedicated human resources department.

Expressing surprise that the company had functioned for so long without one, Tata commented : ‘If our operations required the employment of, say, 30,000 machine tools, we would undoubtedly have a special staff or department to look after them, to keep them in repair, replace them when necessary, maintain their efficiency, protect them from damage, etc.’

In 1956, JRD Tata initiated a program of closer “employee association with management” to give workers a stronger voice in the affairs of the company. J.R.D Tata firmly believed in employee welfare and espoused the principles of an eight – hour working day, free medical aid, workers’ provident scheme, and workmen’s accident compensation schemes, which were later, adopted as statutory requirements in India.

J.R.D Tata cared greatly for his workers. In 1979, Tata Steel instituted a new practice; a worker is deemed to be “at work” from the moment he leaves home for work till he returns home from work. The company is financially liable to the worker if any mishap takes place on the way to and from work.

Tata Steel Township was also selected as a UN Global Compact City because of the quality of life, conditions of sanitation, roads and welfare that were offered by Tata Steel.

The achievements of the Tata Group would not have been possible without the support of its workforce. The labour situation at key Tata plants was frequently tense despite the fact that management had poured millions into subsidised housing for workers, offered free medical and hospital treatment, as well as free education and was miles ahead of government legislation in terms of labour practices before JRD took over.

According to him, quality had to match innovation. J.R.D Tata intensely disliked the laid – back Indian attitude, and much of his fabled short temper was triggered by the carelessness of others. J.R.D Tata stressed : ‘If you want excellence, you must aim at perfection. I know that aiming at perfection has its drawbacks. It makes you go into detail that you can avoid. It takes a lot of energy out of you but that’s the only way you finally actually achieve excellence. So in that sense, being finicky is essential. A company, which uses the name Tata, shares a tradition. The symbol ‘T’ has to be a symbol of quality.’

A university dropout, JRD was something of a self – taught technocrat. Yet, almost every senior Tata director from the 1930s onwards held a degree from a foreign university. Tata willingly financed bright young boys who wanted to go abroad for further education.

J.R.D Tata has also been a vital bridge between the scientific establishment and the government through his founding of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and as the longest serving member of the Atomic Energy Commission.
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Tata’s personal interest in technology, spurred several group companies, particularly Tata Steel and Tata Chemicals, to innovate in their fields. At Tata Steel, a Research and Control Laboratory had been opened in 1937, and its researchers developed an extensive variety of special steels for applications as varied as parachute harnesses and razor blades.

The lab also developed a high – tensile alloy steel – Tiscrom – which made it possible for the Howrah Bridge in Calcutta to be built entirely from Indian materials. Another corrosion resistant, low – alloy high – yield strength steel – Tiscor – was used for the manufacture of all – metal steel coaches on the Indian railways.

JRD strengthened existing businesses such as steel, power and hotels. At the same time, the group lost interest in some of its older core businesses. During the last half of the twentieth century Tata entered several new businesses, many of them unconventional, and produced a vast range of products – from airlines to hotels, trucks to locomotives, soda ash and other heavy chemicals to pharmaceuticals and financial services, tea and air conditioning to lipsticks and cologne.

The group seemed to make everything and do everything. One of Tata’s earliest achievements was to cajole ten rival cement companies to merge and form the Associated Cement Companies, run by the Tatas. As an industrialist, J.R.D Tata is credited with placing the Tata Group on the international map.

A number of award recipient JRD Tata received the “Padma Vibhushan” in 1957 on the eve of silver jubilee of Air India. J.R.D Tata also received the Guggenheim Medal for aviation in 1988. In 1992, because of his selfless humanitarian endeavors, JRD Tata was awarded India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna – one of the rarest instances in which this award was granted during a person’s lifetime.

In the same year, JRD Tata was also bestowed with the United Nations Population Award for his crusading endeavors towards initiating and successfully implementing the family planning movement in India, much before it became an official government policy.

On his death, the Indian Parliament was adjourned in his memory – an honor not usually given to persons who are not Members of Parliament.

Few addressed him using his full name, with which J.R.D Tata was born; he was simply ‘JRD’ to the world, and ‘Jeh’ to his friends. J.R.D Tata was India’s most well known industrialist, widely respected for his enormous contribution to the development of Indian industry and aviation in particular.

Tata headed India’s largest industrial conglomerate with uncommon success. But this was only one aspect of his life. J.R.D Tata was also a man of great sensitivity and was pained by the poverty he saw around him and sought vigorously to alleviate it.

J.R.D Tata also was a philanthropist who wanted India to be a happy country and did all he could to make it so as a patron of the sciences and the arts and a man with a passion for literature, fast cars, skiing, and flying.

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