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Respected Ladies and Gentlemen,

Some of you might be twiddling your fingers these days, trying to figure out exactly what is happening, why things have come to such a pass, and if there is some way you could pitch in to resolve the Tata-Mistry issue.

I do believe there is a way you can make a difference. You can do so by taking a stand which would make you look back at your decision in the future with a feeling of glowing satisfaction and contentment.

Allow me to share some of my own thoughts on the subject. I write with all humility at my command. I write this as a lesser mortal who is not privy to the power conflicts at the top levels of the Tata group. I write this as a common man, and also as an ex-employee of one of the companies of the group, namely Tata International.

Ratan Tata

Forced separation only under grave provocation

The rather uncharacteristic manner in which Cyrus Mistry has been shown the door by Tatas some time back only goes on to establish a truth – that you all support an elephant which has not only learnt to dance but also knows how to be nimble-footed when the situation so demands. Step on the wrong toes and the message is loud and clear. Core values are not negotiable. Cross that invisible line at your own risk and peril. Provoke the elephant in a wrong way and face the music.

Way back in 1993, Russi Mody also underwent the experience of a forced separation.

There are many other instances which one can go on quoting, but the moot point remains that those entertain individual ambitions and start nudging the group against its core values invariably get ejected from the pilot’s cockpit.

Even at lower levels, the old perception that Tatas work like a massive bureaucracy and a job with them is for one’s life time is altogether wrong. I have myself been a witness to some such cases, where managers who had either performed very poorly, or offered speed money, or otherwise acted in bad faith, were clearly told to look for greener pastures elsewhere.

In Tata we trust

You are well aware that the brand equity that the group enjoys is as much about product quality as it is about trust and faith which stakeholders of all hues, sizes and shapes repose in its operations.

Tatas happen to support trusts which are some of the oldest charitable institutions in India. The group has pioneered modern ideas of secular, social services-oriented philanthropy.

It is not easy to name another business empire which has invested in the social sectors even when no law ever mandated it. Or, one which has invested in areas totally unrelated to the core business activities of the group. Iconic institutions like the Indian Institute of Science, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the National Center for Performing Arts are but some of the examples which spring to one’s mind.

A habit of going beyond the mandate

tata-crest

It may also not be possible for us to locate another business house which has gone out of its way to incur a liability out of a sheer sense of decency even when not having a formal agreement to that effect.
In one of his scintillating articles, Arun Maira, ex-member of the Indian Planning Commission and an ex-Tata senior, recounts a 1946 meeting between the KraussMaffei board and J R D Tata and Sumant Moolgaokar on the platform of the bombed out Munich station. In those times, Indian companies had no way of entering into any agreement with German companies. The Germans requested Tatas to take their best technicians and their families to India, who were starving without work in Germany. So, Tatas learnt metal-working from the best of the best.

He says that many years later, when India had become independent, the German company’s headquarters received a letter from Tatas, asking how much to pay for the technology they had provided to Tatas. That letter showed the true spirit of the group – one honours one’s debt, even when it is not legally binding, and even when it is not demanded of one.

You may also recall the Tata Finance fiasco in 2001, when a letter alleging some wrongdoings at the company reached the desks of several Tata seniors. Tata Sons could have well adhered to admitting its limited legal liabilities, but Ratan Tata took a courageous and humane view to publicly declare that interests of every small investor shall be protected.

In his brilliant book, Six Lenses, R Gopalakrishnan, cites several examples from the Tata history to sketch out the kind of culture the group has.

You are well aware that much of the goodwill enjoyed by the group is because of the perception that, as a business house, it has always tried to put into practice the Zoroastrianism principles of Humata (Good Thoughts), Hukhta (Good Words) and Hvarshta (Good Deeds).

A unique vision and the spirit of enterprise

jamsetji-tata

Elsewhere, R M Lala speaks of the spirit of enterprise by quoting the instance when Sir Jamsetji N. Tata traveled all the way to Pittsburgh in USA to realize his dream of building a steel plant in India. In 1901, he met Julian Kennedy, the foremost steel expert, who warned him that even the preliminary investigation could cost a fortune and there was no guarantee of any returns. He suggested that survey of the raw materials be made by Charles Page Perin, the best geologist in America.

In New York, Jamsetji went to Perin’s office who was impressed by the passion and the sincerity of the aging entrepreneur. In April 1903, his partner, C. W. Weld, came over to India to kick-start the process of setting up a steel foundry. Even though Jamsetji passed away in 1904, his vision was brought to fruition and the first ingot of steel rolled out of the Sakchi plant during 1912. World War I broke out soon after and Britain found that the only source of steel for the war effort East of Suez was in India.

Within two months of the War ending, the Viceroy came to the Steel Works at Sakchi, and rechristened it Jamshedpur.

Many of you may believe that the Tatas can grow faster by being more aggressive in existing as well as in green field verticals. But you can not miss the point that tremendous progress has been made already, and never by compromising on the core ethics and values the group companies adhere to. Running the same businesses without this core would be like having living organisms sans their souls.

Succession and moments of mental aberration

Succession in a complex organization which is 148 years old is often a delicate issue.

jrd-tata

JRD is reported to have often joked that the Tata Sons board made him chairman in a moment of mental aberration. While he was anointed thus in 1938, his ascendance was never a cake walk. He took over the baton of the group from his second cousin Nowroji Saklatwala.

To quote Jehangir Pocha:

Inwardly, he was none too pleased with Shapoorji’s “intrusion” into Tatas. He is said to have got even more infuriated when Shapoorji proceeded to buy further stakes in Tata Sons from his siblings, Sylla and Darab Tata. This event has now come back to haunt the group.

JRD himself never spoke publicly about Shapoorji, Darab or Sylla, as was the norm in the days when grace mattered and linen was never washed in public. But he did say in his later years that Shapoorji took advantage of people who were “weak-willed and credulous”.

He surrounded himself with exceptional managers and threw the somnolent group into expansion mode. Tata Chemicals was incorporated in 1939 and became India’s first soda-ash supplier under Darbari Seth. Tata Motors was established in 1945 and nurtured by Sumant Moolgaokar. Tata Steel grew under Homi, and then, Russi Mody. JRD himself was the steward of Air India’s growth, even after its nationalisation in 1953. Naval Tata led the Tata electric companies, and the group’s textile and oil mills.

Fast-forward to 1991, when Ratan Tata took over the reins of the house of Tatas. He then faced the challenge of managing the then existing power structure within the group to be able to assert himself.ratan_tata

Of de-globalization and corporate governance

On the global stage, these are challenging times for many of the group’s business verticals. Brexit and the recent US elections are events which need great attention. Post-2008, the world appears to have entered into a phase of de-globalization. Protectionist barriers are likely to get higher. Right-wing enthusiasts world over are basking in the perceived glory of their resurgence on the global stage. The Mistry fiasco is a distraction the group can surely do without.

The current feud does throw up several serious challenges. One is that of achieving managerial excellence within the framework of ownership by a particular family – something that Tatas have always managed to do so very well. Another is that of articulating the invisible authority lines between owners and professionals. Both these factors need strategic thought from persons of such eminence as your goodselves.

Yet another issue pertains to managing the employees and the business ecosystems as long as the turbulence persists.

Support a business with its soul intact

Tata logo

Allow yours truly to urge upon all of you to think deeply on the issues that the group faces at this time. Go back to your conscience and check if you view your relationship with any of the Tata companies purely through a materialistic lens, or through a lens which also incorporates the kind of values the group stands for.

You are well aware that in many areas of management, Tatas have set the bar very high. Giving back to society. Business strategy. Employee welfare. Women empowerment. Avoiding the bribe traps. Avoiding, but never evading, taxes. Going beyond the mandate.

One would hope that persons of your eminence would choose not to wash dirty linen in public and resolve your differences in a spirit of mutual accommodation. That you shall respect your custodianship role and live it. That you shall conduct yourself in a manner which would justify the trust and faith reposed in you not only by the group but also by the shareholders of the company you happen to be associated with.

That you shall subdue your ego and care for the long term bigger picture. That if your value systems happen to be out of sync with those of the Tata group, you shall quietly withdraw from the eminent position you enjoy on the board of any of the group companies. That, hopefully, you shall support Ratan Tata and his team to protect their turf.

If the differences between you continue to fester, the brand equity of the group might take a short-term hit. However, one has no doubt that, given your support, it shall scale greater heights in the years to come.

One wishes Ratan Tata the best of deliberations to find a perfect professional to steer the group in the coming decades.

(Further reading:
Article by Mr Arun Maira
http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/GOx9Ym0MSLSGwbHb6WSvsO/The-Tatas-and-a-matter-of-trust.html
Article by Mr R M Lala
http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/in-the-company-of-men-of-steel/article1649373.ece
Book by Mr R Gopalakrishnan (www.themindworks.me)
Six Lenses, ISBN 978-81-291-3587-2)

(Related Posts:

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/bidding-an-adieu-to-mr-ratan-tata

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/super-leaders-the-near-perfect-ceos

https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/getting-a-moral-compass-would-be-a-sound-business-strategy-for-india-inc)

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Surviving in the Corporate Jungle
BookFrontCover

This is in continuation of an earlier post, providing a short introduction to a book by yours truly. The Portugese version of the book is getting launched in Portugal shortly.
The launch event  in Porto is planned on the 2nd of March, along with a talk on “Work Life Harmony” at the  Catolica Porto Business School  of  Universidade Catolica do Porto.
The launch event in Lisbon is planned at Universidade Europeia on the 3rd of March, 2016, as part of an event titled ‘Passport to India.’

Why the reference to a jungle?

One, it is fashionable these days to talk about environment and sustainability. Two, in many ways, the type of organizations we work in and the kind of people we meet there, many parallels can be drawn.

I believe there are three kinds of organizations: the Circus kind, the Zoo kind and the Jungle kind.

Whatever the kind you work for, you get to see Lion King bosses who are the lords and masters of all they survey. Mentors who keep an eye on the quality of work that you do, much like a giraffe would.

Colleagues who are like enchanting deers, always willing to support you. Subordinates who are snakes in the grass, waiting for an opportunity to back-stab you. Customers who are as prickly as a porcupine. Suppliers who are as cunning as a fox.

Fed up with a company? Change over to another one. You would still find people there with similar traits. Only the names and the faces would change. In other words, there is no escaping the jungle!

Some bouquets

Those who deserve bouquets for what they have unwittingly contributed towards the conception as well as the delivery of this book:

My friends, philosophers and guides: They continued to egg me on to write a book of this kind – late Prof. S. P. Singh, Ashok Kalra, S. P. Krishnamurthy, Vipin Dewan, C. S. Dwivedi, Prof. R. P. Raya, and a few others.
Thought leaders, like Peter F. Drucker, Philip Kotler, J. R. D. Tata, C. Northcote Parkinson, Laurence J. Peter, Ratan Tata, Sharu Rangnekar, Stephen R. Covey and many others.
Hapless souls who have undergone the trauma of going through and commenting upon the rough portions of this book: Miguel Dias, Founder, CEO World, Jose Antonio de Sousa, President & CEO, Liberty Seguros, Jack Jacoby, Executive Chairman, Jacoby Consulting Group Pty Ltd, and a few others.

Those who have worked so very hard on the illustrations – thereby making the book a wee bit livelier.

Vida Economica, the publishers, who showed the courage to pick up a whacky manuscript from an unknown first-time author.

Quite a few others who have burnt the midnight oil, acted as proficient midwives and taken me through the labour pains of the editing and publishing process, ensuring that the baby got delivered.

The souls which play the role of my immediate family members in this life, without whose support this book would not have seen the light of the day.

Special thanks are due to my soul-mate and the very young ones, without whose support the book could have been finished in half the time it actually took to write.

Few brickbats

If any brickbats are to be hurled, those have to be unerringly directed at the author of the book. However, before flexing your muscles, please be so kind as to check if he is covered for such exigencies by any insurance policy issued by Liberty Seguros.

You can buy the book here.

(Related Post:
https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/the-book-como-sobreviver-na-selva-empresarial-guia-pratico)

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Even though quite a few business houses from India had joined the World Economic Forum’s Initiative against Corruption in November 2012, not a single Indian company has so far become a signatory to the UN Convention against Corruption. This is deeply regrettable and projects the image of a corrupt business environment in India. It discourages foreign investments and erodes the brand value of Indian companies. In the absence of a level playing field, businesses shy away from potential opportunities. Mr. Ratan Tata’s lament on not having able to enter the field of aviation quite some time back is still fresh in our minds.

Companies can never be faulted for hiring Vice Presidents who are highly virtuous, law abiding and disciplined souls. Understandably, only those who follow high ethical standards and are in sync with the core values of the company would make the grade. However, in quite a few organizations, such qualities are merely necessary but not sufficient. When it comes to handling external agencies, incumbents who can either bend a few rules or interpret the fine print of law creatively to add to the bottom line of the company alone would be rated high and viewed with awe and reverence.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Scenario

In other words, VPs should not only be ‘Virtue’ Presidents, but should also possess the flexibility of doubling up as ‘Vice’ Presidents while dealing with liaison matters. This stems from the core belief that businesses cannot be run successfully without back-stage dealing and wheeling, obviously with the aid of what many would euphemistically refer to as ‘appeasement initiatives’.

Appeasement of any kind is invariably geared towards either tweaking government policy to suit the ends of business, as also for specific time bound gains in the forms of large contracts, largesse, concessions and indirect favors. Organizations believe that advance knowledge of government plans, policies and rules is a great tool to deliver results to shareholders who not only look for long-term capital gains but also for better results quarter after quarter.

Sleeping with the enemy

If a professional gets stuck with an assignment which involves corrupt practices which do not match his or her personal core values, one option would be to escalate the issue. This would ensure that the matter is reviewed at a higher level in the organization.

If this option turns out to be impractical for some reasons – whether professional or personal – another one would be to start actively searching for career options with companies which value ethical practices in business!

A much better option, however, could be to work for a change from within the organization. This could be done either by presenting alternative business plans to management or by recommending an approach whereby the company could sidestep the issue by projecting its innate strengths in an aggressive manner. Let us consider some of the tactics in a professional’s arsenal which could be used to combat corruption in business deals.

Tackling Business Competition in the Market Place

The best strategy for a business to have is one which is based on avoiding government doles and concessions. By focusing on core competence and by fighting out the competition in the market place, the business can reduce its dependence on a wide section of the government policies. Surely this calls for rare qualities of leadership, statesmanship and openness. Inviting the government to play favorites and to resolve competitive business issues that are better dealt with in the market place could be a boon as well as a bane. However, this may not be possible in industries which are highly regulated.

Operating in an Unethical Environment

If one has absolutely no other option but to operate in an unethical business environment, the following steps might help to avoid corrupt practices.

  1. Building trust: An honest and humble approach, backed by a long relationship built on explaining the contribution of business can and does work. Investments made, employment opportunities offered and revenue generated are a few of the things that can be leveraged to secure favorable decisions without indulging in corruption.
  2. Reputation travels ahead: The fact that a business house does not stoop down to corrupt practice is generally well-known. It is a strategic advantage to have a squeaky clean image which ensures that a request from such an outfit is treated with the respect it deserves.
  3. Investing in underground cables: It never pays to flaunt one’s relationships. By keeping them underground, one not only wards off competition but also ensures that in case of a change of regime, the damage is minimal.
  4. Diversifying one’s liaison ‘assets’: One learns to be friendly with political opponents. In TN, one needs to be friendly with both the Dravidian parties. In WB, it is tough even if both CPM and TMC are one’s friends. In Maharashtra, Congress, NCP and both the variants of Sena must all like one for one’s business to make some headway.                                                                           Business history teaches us the same lesson. In the pre-independence era, Tatas were funding Gokhale and engaging with the nationalist elements while British officers retired from ICS were being employed by the group. JRD had excellent personal rapport with Nehru. G D Birla had been corresponding with Winston Churchill for a long time. Churchill’s dislike for Mahatma Gandhi was well-known; even though he was being supported by Birlas. They gave a job to one of his sons. It is a fact that he was assassinated while staying as a guest at Birla House in Delhi.
  5. Be courteous, humble but firm: Most government officers take a dim view of business executives. Firstly, they are not viewed as being dependable. Secondly, they are thought to be paid exorbitantly high and generate a feeling of awe as well as jealousy in a public servant. Now, if one walks in with one’s latest cell phone and/or tablet in his office and starts showing off the latest Rolex watch, one would be surely shown the door promptly.

Setting the Moral Compass Right

The UN Convention against Corruption is a laudable initiative and deserves to be given a serious thought by our present day business leaders. It binds an organization to (a) reducing corruption risk in procurement and contracts, (b) engaging in competitive and transparent procurement processes and (c) disclosing all payments made in procurement deals. The global panel already has names such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Siemens and Accenture.

It is not that India does not have shining examples of groups which have demonstrated the strategic advantage of pursuing business goals while staying the ethical course. The Tata group has been at it for the past 120 years or so. Liberalization of the economy appears to have thrown up quite a few scams, but companies like Infosys keep our hopes alive. As per Elaine Dezenski, senior director at WEF and the head of PACI, Infosys, Godrej Industries, Bajaj Auto, Genpact, Wipro and M&M are already signatories to the initiative.

As argued in an earlier blog (Getting a Moral Compass Would be a Sound Business Strategy for India Inc, published on December 9, 2012), companies in India would do well to seize the opportunity to clean up their business deals. A beginning can be made by persuading major political parties to make their funding transparent. Those in real estate business can come out with a time bound plan to rationalize stamp duties all across India, thereby making their deals more transparent.

Hopefully, progressive companies in India would see the strategic benefits of committing themselves to such initiatives soon enough!

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Leadership is a much discussed virtue in management literature. However, like Peter Drucker says, there is no ideal type of leader. “Leadership personality’, ‘leadership style’ and ‘leadership traits’ don’t exist”, he writes in The Leader of the Future. The emergence of a leader is the result of a complex interplay of two factors – personality traits of the leader and what needs to be done at a given point in time. The moment the two become congruent, a new leader could emerge on the scene and deliver the goodies!LEADERS

There is no doubt that the leaders of tomorrow would need personality traits which would be qualitatively different from those of today. Here is my take on what business environment circa 2025 would be like, and how our future business leaders would be tackling it.

2025 – A Likely Business Scenario

What would be the business environment like in 2025? Several CEOs I spoke to said that business leaders in 2025 shall be working against the backdrop of a world which would, in all likelihood, be a multi-polar one, with Asia, particularly China, exerting more influence on global events. It would be a world which would be more inter-connected, commercially and otherwise. Thanks to new communication means, the individual empowerment levels would have risen significantly. Also, it would be a more urbanized world. Thanks to the rise of a new global middle-class, society in general would have reached a higher level of aspiration, resulting into a much higher demand for energy, food and water. On the flip side, income disparities would have risen substantially. Changes arising out of our climatic patterns would also pose a formidable challenge to the leaders of those times.

We could still be in for surprises, though. Disruptive changes are quite likely to overwhelm us. These changes could come in the form of impact of new technologies in the field of robotics, biotechnology, space sciences and communication. Increasingly, governments world over may start becoming enablers of entrepreneurship, faced as they will be with direct and intensive pressure from those they govern. We shall surely be seeing more entrepreneurs amongst our midst – whether in the commercial sector or in the societal sector.

A Business Leader in 2025

Decision Making Under Higher Uncertainty

Since the level of entropy in the system would have gone up further by then, a business leader of circa 2025 would have to be adept at making decisions under a higher level of uncertainty. The abnormal today would be the new normal, and many a leader would be feeling more like experts at river rafting in our economic and statutory rapids, often being called upon to go against the current.

I am not an expert in Econometrics, but could venture to guess that for those who are quantitatively inclined, advanced statistical tools would come in even more handy. I say so because there will be an overdose of data as well as information available to a business leader then. However, ultimately, his/her intuitive abilities – based on personal experiences in their formative years – would prove to be more valuable.

Sir Colin Marshall, the ex-Chairman of British Airways, transformed his organization into one of the premier customer service kinds in the days of yore. The uncertainty he faced in the period of his association with BA was monumental and serves as an example to be followed by CEOs of future.

Jeff Bezos of Amazon came up with the concept of ‘predictive analytics’, paving the way for all of us to enjoy the convenience of shopping on-line.

Higher Trust in Instincts

A logical corollary of the above would be the need for a leader to be ahead of the curve. Those who have counter-intuitive responses and place a higher trust in their natural instincts would surely fare better. In turn, there would be a strong need for a much higher degree of inner resilience, because this alone would enable them to keep their stress levels under control even in trying circumstances. Dynamism will be yet another critical input. It would ensure that they are able to steer their businesses through the dense economic fog enveloping the business highways.

The World Economic Forum had proposed a theme centered on the twin traits of resilience and dynamism for 2013. Given that there are no risk free growth models available to leaders and CEOs of the future, one could not agree more with this proposition.

A good example of facing flak and not losing sight of one’s goals is that of Larry Page of Google. He continues to trust his instincts and doing what he thinks is best for his business.

A Global Mindset

Given a much more inter-connected world, a business leader in the future would need to possess a vast knowledge of commercial, behavioral and societal norms followed in different parts of the world. A primary task would obviously be to ensure that his/her organization has world-class management processes. Only those institutionalizing best practices in strategic planning, marketing and human relations would be able to make their organization a successful one.  The fact that a leader would, in all likelihood, be leading a multicultural team of followers would pose a challenge – irrespective of whether the situation demands a leadership which is ‘transactional’ or ‘transformational’.

When one considers the example of Compaq’s Eckard Pfeiffer, who was a leader in a race against himself, it becomes clear as to how organizational renewal can be brought about. “No matter what industry a company competes in”, he said, “it must live with one foot in the present and the other in the future….there is simply no other way to build world leadership”.

A Democratic Style

The profile of the followers would also be different. Hierarchical authority is already proving difficult to manage change; there is no reason to believe this would not be even more so in the future. The followers would demand a higher degree of participation in the decision-making processes. Leaders who recognize this need of their followers and create a working environment which enables the same would achieve higher levels of efficiency and effectiveness in their business processes.

Creating a non-coercive environment in which employees and other stakeholders are clear about the corporate identity and the mission would be far more important than it is today. Reverse mentoring would be more a norm than an exception in the days to come.

Monsanto’s CEO, Robert Shapiro, had the ability to go against traditional hierarchy. He initiated strategy sessions with cross-sections of employees of different ranks, specialties and geographical perspectives and reaped rich dividends for his company.

The Moral Compass

Leaders who believe in sustainable businesses would not only use their commercial compass while determining the direction to take. Using a moral compass would be a valuable trait amongst the future leaders. A strong inner core, embedded with a value system which recognizes the needs of the society at large, would be a great quality to have. A pre-condition for employing key managers would be their endorsement and support of the core values of the business.

When the likes of Siemens and Wal-Mart come clean on their misdemeanors, they set an excellent example of probity in the business world. When Mr. Ratan Tata, the Chairman Emeritus of India’s salt to software conglomerate rues his inability to enter some fields of business because of the absence of a level playing field in India, his focus is on one of the core values of his business.

Indra Nooyi is charting a unique course for PepsiCo globally, shedding traditional markets and going in for healthier food products instead.

 Preparing Leaders for 2025

Captains of industry today can set a personal example by getting cross-functional teams in their organizations to come up with suggestions to face the challenges of future effectively. They can also emulate some of the traits, thereby leading to a trickle-down effect across the entire organization.

HR honchos can re-design their appraisal processes and re-assess training needs of key managers to address this issue.

Those in senior management positions can consciously plan to hone their skills in areas they find themselves deficient.

Management institutes can tweak their course content to ensure that those leaving their hallowed portals possess these traits, so as to improve their contribution towards the organizations they decide to either float or serve.

And our time to start preparing the leaders of tomorrow starts now!

 

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14As Mr. Ratan Tata demits office as a Chairman of Tata Sons and as a head of the $84 billion conglomerate of over 100 companies in the world-famous Tata group on the 28th of December, 2012, permit me to salute the group as well as its illustrious leaders who have led it to great heights in the field of business, as also in philanthropy and in socially relevant initiatives.

I am just one amongst millions of the group’s ex-employees who have had a stint with the Tata group.  The connection of my family with the group spans three generations. Way back in 1945, my father was associated with Tata Airlines. In 1976, I started my career with the Leather Complex of Tata Exports (now known as Tata International). Due to compelling personal reasons, I had to finally leave the group in 1993. In 2003, my son started his career innings with Tata Motors.

What is it that goes on to make the Tata group different from its competitors and contemporaries in the business world? With all humility that I can muster, here is my take.

Succession Planning

Mr. Jamsetji N. Tata was the founder of the group. In 1904, he handed over the baton to Sir Dorab Tata, who was at the helm of affairs till 1932, followed by Sir Nowroji Saklatvala who was there till 1938.

The group was then steered by Mr. J. R. D. Tata till 1991, when the charge passed on to Mr. Ratan Tata. It was on March 23, 1991, that Mr. Ratan Tata was told by his uncle that he intended to handover the baton of the group to him. Coinciding with the economic reforms unleashed by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the group has had a remarkable journey since then!

Mr. Ratan Tata took over the reins of the group at a time when it was an empire made up of several independent fiefdoms, run by stalwarts like Mr. Darbari Seth, Mr. Russi Mody, Mr. Ajit Kerkar and Mr. Nani Palkhivala.

Much like the King Bharata in Mahabharata who chose a successor based on merit alone, the group has invariably followed the principle of meritocracy when choosing a successor. What Cyrus Mistry takes over from him today is a much more well-knit and cohesive group, united by a shared philosophy, vision and identity.

A Conservative Outlook on Diversification

Tatas have often been criticised for not being enterprising enough to diversify into new fields. Mr. J. R. D. Tata himself attributed this in 1991 to two factors – an unwillingness to compromise on certain principles in the licence and permit raj prevalent then, and a long-held belief that the group’s principal role was to develop basic industries.

From textiles, hotels and a premier institute of learning, the group took a leap of faith to set up the first steel plant in India at the beginning of the last century. Then it ventured into hydro-electric power, soaps and detergents, cement, tin, soda ash, housing and commercial vehicles. Post 1947, when India gained independence, the group went in for cosmetics, steel tubes, refrigeration, fisheries, refractories and pharmaceuticals. Tea, watches, bearings and several others followed.

During Mr. Ratan Tata’s tenure, the group improved its focus on the business horizon. In tune with the changing times, TOMCO, Lakme, Merind, ACC, Nerolac Paints and others got hived off. Businesses like IT, telecom and financial services got added to the group’s portfolio. TCS became a flagship company, leading India’s march into the knowledge economy.

In 2000, Tata Tea took over UK brand Tetley. During 2007, Tata Steel acquired Anglo-Dutch rival Corus. The buyout of JLR in 2008 supplemented the core competency of the group company now referred to as Tata Motors. This move further established the global aspirations of the group – a segment which today contributes 60% of its revenues. Leveraging its strengths in the automobile sector, the group entered the territory of passenger cars, overcoming such hurdles as the Singur controversy. Nano is an innovation which has been taken note of globally.

Mr. Ratan Tata did not have it easy. Due to a negative business environment, the entry of Tatas in the field of airlines got aborted. It moved in time to save Tata Financial Services when the top management there committed fraud. In the telecom field, it had to grapple with a nascent industry which is still plagued by policy uncertainty. The controversy surrounding the infamous Radia tapes went on to show that what would have been considered a minor transgression by any other business house proved to be a demoralizing factor, somewhat sullying the group’s pristine white image.

Referring to the airline fiasco, he claimed in a press interview that he was rather proud of the fact that he could not handle political manipulations.

Concern for Environment and CSR

Industrialists complaining about environmental regulations and land acquisition issues today could surely learn a few lessons from Mr. J. N. Tata when he went about setting up India’s first steel plant during the early 1900s in what was then a predominantly forest area, inhabited by tribals.

In a letter written to his son in 1902, five years before the site of the steel plant was finally located, Mr. J. N. Tata laid down broad guidelines covering the design of the industrial complex which was to come up at Jamshedpur: “Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches”.

When TELCO Pune was planned, thousands of trees got planted first. Since trees needed water, an artificial lake was created with a circumference of four kilometres. The factory buildings came up much later.

At the Leather Complex at Dewas (MP) that I was associated with, other than a massive plantation of trees of all kinds, a deer park was also set up. Our Accounts Department was often twiddling its thumbs to figure out if the cost incurred on the animals’ upkeep was reasonable!

Focus on People

The average Tata manager is sober, knowledgeable, mature, restrained, dignified, humane and downright ethical.  It does not boast of, but is quietly aware of, being part of a group which has always conducted its affairs in a transparent and ethical manner. There is an in-born self-belief that the values Tatas follow are not a mere statement of pious intentions; rather, these form a blueprint which guides and permeates all the activities the group.

Tata Steel has several firsts to its credit in the realm of labour welfare. An eight-hour working day was introduced in 1912 itself, whereas the law mandated it only in 1948. Likewise, free medical aid, establishment of a Welfare Department, formation of a Works Committee for handling employee grievances and leave with pay, provident fund, etc. were introduced much before the relevant laws came into being.

The social welfare measures across various Tata companies may vary, but the standards set by them somewhat exceed the legal requirements. Tax planning, yes; tax evasion, never. The group’s foray into education, fine arts and other socially relevant projects was planned and executed at a time when CSR norms were not even heard of.

How closely the value of compassion is cherished became very clear in the aftermath of the 26/11 terrorist attack on The Taj Mahal Hotel. The conduct of the employees during the attack and the subsequent support they received from the management is a case study in organizational behaviour and employee motivation.

I had a first-hand experience of this value of compassion in 1991 when I and a colleague of mine were mercilessly beaten up by a gang of misinformed workers of one of the small ancillary units of the Tata Exports. Prompt medical attention, legal support, counselling for the self and the family and a compulsory vacation followed automatically. A month later, Mr. Syamal Gupta, the then MD, nine rungs above us in the rigid Tata hierarchy, called for a personal meeting and instilled in us a sense of pride and fulfilment for having stood up to the rowdy elements in the work force.

The fact that I write this piece almost twenty years after I parted company with the group goes on to show the sense of belongingness I still – and shall continue to – carry with me!

Ethics and Values – A High Moral Quotient

When I look back at my association with the group, which lasted over ten years split over two phases, I am amazed at the rich learning I had. Job rotation, technical training and job knowledge apart, the exposure to the nuts and bolts of business ethics left an everlasting impression on my psyche.

A bribe was a simply not payable, whatever the commercial cost of keeping an entire manufacturing facility idle for three weeks. A senior manager who made the error of judgement of offering a bribe to a government servant for securing a permission was publically rebuked and persuaded to leave the company. Instead, I, a junior office then, was sent to accomplish the task without any speed money being paid. Luckily, I could manage this feat, though the company ended up incurring a cost of five times the bribe amount on my trip alone!

Aiming for Perfection

As per Mr. J. R. D. Tata, “One of the weaknesses of our country is that we are satisfied with the second or third best in everything. The basic attitude of chalega, ayega, dekhega. Therefore almost everything we do, we do it poorly”. He always maintained that “You can’t achieve high standards by aiming at those standards. You can only achieve a standard by aiming at something more. If you want excellence, you must aim at perfection”.

This implies painstaking attention to detail, a trait which permeates all spheres of the group’s activities. When a new factory block came up in the company, I asked my boss as to why a black stone slab was made a part of the flooring at the entrance to the shop floor. He was quick to point out: “That is the only way to ensure that we have minimum dirt and dust entering the floor; black colour will show any deviations without fail!”

“Humata”, “Hukhta”, “Hvarshta”

These words form a part of the Tata crest, designed by the founder Mr. Jamsetji Tata. In the ancient Avesta language, these mean “Good Thoughts”, “Good Words” and “Good Deeds”. The premium that the Tata brand enjoys in the market is the culmination of more than a century of efforts of the group, based on these principles and values preached as well as practised by the group.

As Mr. Ratan Tata henceforth channelizes his dynamism towards philanthropic activities and development projects, I have no doubt that he would come up with more innovations in the field of social entrepreneurship, so as to transform and upgrade the lives of millions in India at the bottom of the pyramid.

I once had the privilege of meeting him fleetingly at a Pragati Maidan Expo held in New Delhi in 1993. From what little I know of him, he is not the retiring kind. To him one cannot express the usual wishes of a peaceful and quiet retirement, howsoever well deserved it is. One may instead wish him long life, health, contentment and all the fun and excitement he can find in any activity he may choose to indulge in hereafter.

Likewise, one wishes Mr. Cyrus Mistry a great cruise ahead in these times of exciting business possibilities for the group! To quote a song from “The Sound of Music” – one of the greatest musical movies ever produced:

“Climb every mountain, ford every stream; Follow every rainbow, till you find your dream….!”

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