In 1948, when Independent India was just one year old and the country was celebrating the fresh air of freedom, a ten year old Ratan sat beside Navajbai Tata, his grandmother. For him it was the year when his parents got separated.
It would have been a turbulent time for any child of his age. However, Navajbai held her grandchild close to her heart and raised him with affluent love. She told him stories of valorous heroes who fought hard in battles, sent him to best schools and sowed the seeds of courage in him.
Years later, her grandchild, Ratan changed the phase of Tata, his ancestral business, and spearheaded its manifold growth. His journey from the grandma’s dear child to the great Indian tycoon is nothing short of a heroic tale.
Ratan Tata was born on 28 December 1937 in Maharashtra. His father, Naval Tata, was a businessman who was then leading Tata’s business across India.
After his parents got separated, Ratan and his younger brother, Jimmy, lived with their grandmother. Even though their parents were not with them, Ratan and his brother were given proper education at top schools.
Ratan attended Cathedral and John Connon School in Mumbai before joining Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. He was pretty much interested in studies and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cornell University in 1962 and completed an Advanced Management Program from Harvard Business School.
Soon after his education, Ratan decided to join Tata. He started his career in 1961. However, things weren’t easy for him.
He was appointed at Tata Steel and had to shovel limestone and handle the blast furnace in the factory. He worked with blue-collared employees as like he were one among them.
Ratan was entrusted with the charge to lead , NELCO and Empress Mill, two subsidiaries of Tata in 1970s. However, his stint at these companies didn’t turn out well.
Chairman at Tata
In 1991, JRD Tata stepped down as the chairman of Tata Sons. The discussions about his successor were active among the board members. Many names were in the air, allowing the press to make a lot of speculations.
After hours of anticipation, JRD Tata named Ratan as his successor to lead Tata Sons. The move was indeed a surprise for many senior executives of the company.
As the new Chairman, Ratan Tata had to face many roadblocks at the beginning. The top executives who worked under former chairman JRD Tata were reluctant to embrace the business strategies of Ratan.
Some of the company heads were very powerful as they had grown beyond control. So Ratan found it very hard to convince them.
Finally he introduced an effective strategy to control the influence of senior most executives on the company. He set a retirement age for them and started to replace them with a new team. Ratan also made top-level reforms at management to increase productivity.
As an entrepreneur, he wanted to transform Tata Sons to a global brand. So he decided to use the profit of subsidiary companies to develop and expand the company. He infused many fresh talents and focused on innovations.
His idea was to grow along with the nation. Ratan’s definition for business was different. It wasn’t solely profit-driven. He strongly believed in bringing positive changes to the society.
A Great Entrepreneur
Ratan Tata believed that a business sustains when it comes with right innovations at the right time. He wanted the products of Tata, even if it’s a tea powder or a car, to reach the ordinary customers.
Tata made a revolutionary step in automotive industry by launching world’s cheapest car, Tata Nano, in 2009. The car was conceptualized by Ratan Tata.
His objective was to give a car for motorcycle riders in India at an affordable price range. The initial price of the car upon its launch was just ₹1 lakh.
Ratan Tata always played his card sensibly. When things didn’t turn out as he expected, he adopted different strategies.
One such remarkable story in his entrepreneurial journey is when he approached Ford to sell Tata’s passenger car business in 1999.
The hatchback Tata Indica didn’t perform well in Indian market. The lukewarm response to the much hyped car forced Rata Tata to seek out a good buyer for the car business.
He approached Ford to discuss a deal. Instead of closing the deal, Ratan Tata faced humiliation from Ford’s representatives. He became a butt of ridicule before them.
However, nine years later when Ford was on the verge bankruptcy, Ratan Tata emerged as the messiah! He bought Ford’s premium marquee brands, Jaguar and Land Rover, and saved the American automaker from sinking.
It was Ratan’s sweet revenge for the humiliation he faced from Ford. Once Tata took over the business, Jaguar and Land Rover became a profitable automotive business.
As an entrepreneur, he is also backing many Indian startups. He made investments in some popular startups such as SnapDeal, Teabox and Ola Cabs.
He also has stakes in Chinese electronic brand Xiaomi. Recently he invested in Alibaba-backed chinese firm Ant Financial Services
Ratan Tata believes in giving back to the country and people. He has spent over 60% of his wealth for various causes including education, infrastructure and healthcare.
He was also at the helm of various philanthropic activities carried out by Tata Trust that primarily benefited NGOs in the country.
Ratan Tata relinquished all his powers in Tata Sons in 2012 to pave way for fresh talents in the company. He has since been guiding the new team with his valuable entrepreneurial insights. Now he serves as the board member of many national and international organisations.
Awards and Recognitions
With Over 50 years of experience in business, Ratan Tata has been given many awards and recognitions for his contributions to the country. He was awarded Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in India, in 2008.
He also has honorary doctoral degrees from many top institutions including University of Cambridge and IIT. Ratan Tata is widely popular as a businessman who does not compromise his ethics for profit motives.
He has an impeccable track record of doing business without getting his hands dirty, a feat which is rare among Indian businessmen!
The Powerful Words
Ratan Tata shares his insights on business and life through these profound words. Get inspired!
- “I don’t believe in taking right decisions. I take decisions and then make them right.”
- “None can destroy iron, but its own rust can! Likewise none can destroy a person, but its own mindset can!”
- “I admire people who are very successful. But if that success has been achieved through too much ruthlessness, then I may admire that person, but I can’t respect him”.
You cannot learn the tactics of business right away when you plunge into entrepreneurship. You will learn as you progress. The inspiring journey of Ratan Tata from shoveling limestone in his factory to one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the world is a proof of his dedication and perseverance.
So don’t be dissuaded when your plans didn’t work out. Just keep your spirit intact. Opportunities will come to you!