It’s a surname synonymous with business in India. Almost everywhere you look, you can see the name that has become one of the country’s biggest conglomerate companies. From its humble beginnings in 1868, the Tata company has been responsible for India’s first steel plant, first luxury hotel and first domestic airline. Since then, it’s continued to pioneer different markets and made a name for itself around the world.
The man currently at the helm of this sprawling business empire with 67 billion dollars in revenue last year is Ratan Tata. The great-grandson of the company’s founder, he’s further globalised operations and secured some big-name international acquisitions including Jaguar, Land Rover and Tetley Tea. But unlike many other Indian business powerhouses, the Tata Group is steered but not majority owned by its chairman.
Ratan Tata holds just one percent of the company while more than 66 percent is controlled by trusts charitable organisations that support a wide range of educational and cultural institutions across India. The media-shy, never married business baron opens up about succession, the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and shares some very surprising stories about his private life.
About the company and his family…
You and your family have a fascinating history, what is it about the Tata family that has brought so much success in a country of more than a million people?
Well I guess success is to be judged by others, but I think the one thing the family has done is it created a lot of industries in the early days prior to independence, which were national industries, infrastructure in the form of power, steel, etc. And then, gave most of it away in philanthropic grants. And that’s been something that has been carried on by their successors through the years.
And you’re one of the successors.
And I’m one of the successors, but I’ve done very little compared to what they did.
You really believe that? You’ve grown the Tata conglomerate twelvefold.
Yeah but, they did much more sort of earth breaking and visionary things. Days are different now, it’s more difficult to do something that is really out in time, but I’ve tried to do whatever I could, and I think more importantly, I think I have tried to uphold the values and the ethics that they set.
I’ve been in India for just three years so I’m a newbie, but if you ask the average Indian about corruption they will complain to you that it touches their lives everyday. Do you think in order to do business here that you have to play this game of kickbacks, bribes?
No, we have succeeded in growing in the manner we have without in fact partaking in this. We have also been I would say that we could have grown faster and could have prospered more as a group but we have never, we have never in fact partaken in this kind of activity.
When it comes to corruption, do you think the government has been doing the right thing? Have they done what needs to be done?
I think what’s happening now in terms of things being before the courts, I hope will put things in the right perspective. I hope that it doesn’t become a nation of scandals and allegations as they are. I think more importantly the media has to be more circumspect and be careful they don’t malign or allege or convict people before they’ve had a fair trial.
Is it hard to be an honest businessman in India?
I think there are many honest businessmen, I think there are many that bend. I’m happy that I have not bent, not that I am dishonest, that I have not bent.
On his legacy…
What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?
I think what I would like to do is to leave behind a sustainable entity of a set of companies that operate in an exemplary manner in terms of ethics, values and continue what our ancestors left behind. Not my legacy alone but a continuation of the legacy that extends over the last over a hundred years. I hope my successor will be as committed to that as I have tried to be. My only regret is that I am not 20 years younger because I think India is going through a very exciting period in its history.
Ok, this is a difficult question, this is one of the ones that my mother would be a little worried about me asking. Have you ever been in love?
How many times?
Seriously, four times.