This is the first of a three-part series on Ratan Tata, who on 28th December 2012, stepped down from his position as fifth Chief Managing Director (CMD) of the 144-year old Tata Group. This article focuses on the surprising humility of Ratan Tata, one of India’s most eminent business personalities, a man who in his tenure of over 20 years as CMD (from 1991-2012) led the Tata Group to international prominence.
Based on a translation of an article by Girish Kuber in the Sunday edition of Loksatta dated 23 Dec 2012
The employees at Bombay House, Tata Group’s corporate headquarters at Mumbai, will tell you that when Ratan Tata, head of India’s largest industrial conglomerate, enters the building to begin the day’s work… nothing extraordinary occurs!
There is no flurry of activity, no hushed tones. There is nothing to indicate that “the boss is on the way.” The only excitement is among a band of happy dogs who crowd around Ratan Tata’s car as soon as it enters the gate. This is not surprising because, when he steps down from the car, Ratan Tata habitually pets a few of the dogs, and indulges them a bit. The Tata’s have a long history of being dog lovers, so he gives no thought to ‘what will people say’ about this nor, will you ever find him making statements about “These Indian dogs…” etc.. And then, just like an ordinary employee, he joins the queue to enter the lift. There is no separate ‘reserved’ entrance for Ratan Tata.
This man doesn’t carry even a hint of pretension to indicate his position. He’s never seen revelling at the kind of parties published on page three and he also keeps himself aloof from the usual ‘snakepit’ that surrounds an industrialist of his stature. It would have been very easy for the Tata’s to build for themselves a palatial skyscraper, but he is aware that in a city where 65% of the population is homeless, it’s not befitting to live in a 25-storey tower all by yourself. That’s why he lives in a flat – like any other employee. His one small indulgence is that on Saturdays, he takes his two German Shepherd dogs, to Alibaug by (a small) motorboat.
The 26/11 Mumbai terror attack targeted the Taj Mahal Hotel, diadem of the Tata Group, which is situated near the Gateway of India, Mumbai. In this attack, entire families of hotel management staff were wiped out. Not only did Tata extend a helping hand to the family members of the deceased staff, but he also personally visited each and every staff family affected by the terror attack and helped them come to terms with the ordeal. There was no need for him to do this, and had he not done it, no one would have held it against him. But he did it.
His consideration for every member of the Tata family is a quintessential Tata trait. His predecessor JRD, upon spotting anybody from his office standing in line for a B.E.S.T bus, would often stop and give them a lift to work. If someone expressed hesitation about riding alongside him in his car, he would exclaim “Well, it’s not really my car; it’s the company’s, so why shouldn’t I give a ride to a fellow worker?”
From JRD’s point of view, or Ratan Tata’s for that matter, there is nothing extraordinary about such things. If anything is wrong, it’s with our psyche. In our country, simple living is considered abnormal for the elite and breaking the law or a traffic rule is deemed to be one’s right, especially for the rich and famous. In such a country industrialists like Tata are in a minority. Outstanding among them, Ratan Tata sets a refreshing and praiseworthy example.