In this interview with Christabelle Noronha, the 64-year-old chairman talks about matters off the beaten business track: the people who have influenced him, what puts him off, the Tata legacy for future generations, and the difference between the good old days and now.
Tell us something about the people who have shaped your thinking.
Then there are men such as Professor Amar Bose*, a person with high ideals and a strong value system. I have known him closely for many years, have shared many things with him and have great regard for him. He has had a profound impact on my thinking. Another name that comes to mind is that of Jean Riboud, the former chairman of Schlumberger**, with whom I had a close personal relationship.
There's a common thread these people share - strong values. They have integrity of a high order and a very forceful social consciousness in terms of what their corporations do. In addition, they are warm, thoughtful and caring human beings.
What quality in an individual do you admire most?
How have you put these qualities into use in business?
What has to go through your mind at the time of every decision, or most decisions is: does this stand the test of public scrutiny in terms of what I said earlier? As you think the decision through, you have to automatically feel that this is wrong, incorrect, or unfair. You have to think of the advantages or disadvantages to the segments involved, be it employees or stakeholders.
What puts you off?
You don't expect a clerk to exercise foresight. But if you move up the corporate ladder you expect people, particularly those near the top, to have thought through situations in terms of all implications, to have ascribed the value system I described earlier, and undertaken or implemented what is necessary in totality. I appreciate a person who does a little bit of overkill, even though it is not necessary. I get very, very frustrated and upset if someone does things in a sloppy manner.
What would you like the younger generation to learn from the Tatas?
Can companies be role models?
It gets a bit dangerous when the CEO has no system and his personality drives the organisation, which he runs like his personal fiefdom. In these circumstances, it is actually the CEO who is the role model and not the company.
Which companies do you think can act as role models?
One cannot adopt a single role model, as it has to embody all that you want to do. Different companies may be role models for different reasons. Overall, you may consider General Electric a role model for its tremendous growth. GE had a strong CEO who drove and transformed it. But, however much you respect a Jack Welch, you may not be able to transform GE into another company.
Are there any companies in the Tata Group that fit the bill?
Why does the Tata Group not have women in senior positions?
One often tends to turn to company policy when it comes to the topic of women in senior positions. Apart from policy, this is an issue of the environment, even at the peer level. If a company has to be conducive to having women in senior posts, there should be peer acceptance. No matter what the company policy is, in India, peer acceptance is still a problem. It is something our country has to get over. The solution is to get more women involved.
It must be exciting for a person like yourself, having been with the Tatas for so long, to see the world change and to be involved in making your businesses change? Were the good old days better?
Overall, the demands on you were more related to intrinsic things, to gut feel rather than detailed study. I enjoy being in the age we are. And I do believe we have a tougher job to do today.
What are your most distinguishing characteristics?
* Professor Amar Bose is the founder of Bose Corporation, the world-famous manufacturer of audio equipment
** Schlumberger is a global technology services company with a presence in nearly 100 countries.