Our times are distinctly different from what they were during the days of Jamsetji Tata and JRD. It's a much more competitive milieu and there are far fewer barriers between India and the rest of the world. The ferocity of competition, both clean and dirty, is much higher and the demands for sophistication, quality and customer satisfaction are a world away from what obtained in earlier years.
Jamsetji Tata created the foundations of Indian enterprise; JRD furthered that enterprise. They played significantly different roles in the evolution of this group. Jamsetji Tata was a nation builder, industrialising India and making it self-sufficient in basic areas. Much of this was an expression of pride that the country could do something, that it could make textiles, manufacture steel, and generate power.
Jamsetji Tata was remarkable in that he adopted international standards in those days. He went to the best consultants and was always looking to provide India with world-class enterprises. He had the ability to identify people, Indians and expatriates, whom he intuitively believed could execute and lead his projects. He was a true internationalist in that sense and, yet, a committed nationalist.
JRD, who became the chairman of the group in the last decade of colonial India, was involved in the development of an independent nation, a country that was on its own. Apart from leading the group through those early days of independence, he participated in and moulded the industrialisation of a sovereign India.
JRD was also a committed nationalist. He was proud of India and tremendously passionate about building a vibrant nation with an open economy and a free-enterprise structure. He shaped the Tata group and directed it through an exceptionally difficult period. I think that if India had gone another way in the business sense, not taken the socialist path but a real free-market way, the Tatas would have been far, far bigger than they are now.
JRD's outstanding contribution, the greatest among the many he made, was to expand the group on the basis of principles and values and ethics. He worked in a world of onerous regulations. He had the courage to object to them publicly, but he never broke the law. JRD imparted the discipline that he expected his people to follow. Never, not once, did he cut corners or find a loophole. Nor did he ask anyone to do so.
JRD kept the group together. He held it together through a kind of patriarchal leadership. He did not have the legal backing to call it a group, yet he managed to expand our existing businesses, enter new businesses and pick talented people to lead the various Tata enterprises. What's truly extraordinary is that he achieved all this while staying true to the ideals of the group's founders.
Business was but one facet of the JRD mosaic. He played the part of statesman in India and abroad. He espoused causes like family planning and, in his later years, became a staunch supporter of women's rights, and had deep concern for the plight of the girl child.
It's easier for me to talk about JRD than about Naval Tata. It's rather complicated to say what kind of memories you have of your own father. We were close and we were not. I left India when I was 15 and was away for a decade. I would have to say that, as often happens between a father and son, there were many instances of misunderstanding, and perhaps a divergence of views.
My father also made a great contribution to the group and to India, but he did so in a different way. He hated confrontations. He was very good at negotiating settlements, and I don't mean this in a formal way. Whether it was a fight between two brothers or any kind of crisis, at home or in the world outside, he would find a settlement and he would work towards that. Frequently, that settlement would involve a compromise, and he was all for 'give and take'. As a person, he gave in a great deal and, sometimes, as younger and less mature people, we would fight with him for conceding ground in the quest for a solution, for peace or whatever. I think he probably hurt himself by not being firm in some situations.
My father had great standing. He was accepted by all manner of people, poor and rich, by those in the government and all communities. He was exceedingly humble, very warm, very emotive and very emotional. With him, everything was built on emotions. If you chose to exploit that trait, you could do so easily. He was driven much more by emotions than logic.
My father loved people; he could never be alone. In fact, he would be miserable when alone. He would call up people to join him, to be with him. He always wanted to be in the company of people.
He would forever be entertaining those around him with stories and jokes. He had this gift of making people laugh, so he was much sought after. But there was a serious side to him, and this too related to people. Much of what he did in the International Labour Organisation, through many years, related to giving workers their due, resolving industrial relations and raising the quality of life of employees. He spearheaded several far-reaching labour policies at the ILO, and his leadership at this forum won him great recognition in the international labour scene.
The future of the Tata group
Coming back to the Tata group, I think it's a tougher environment from what it was about 15 years ago. The demands are far greater, many of the sectors are moving faster, and technology change is quicker. The luxury of having time to make decisions no longer exists. Decisions need to be taken faster and, unlike in the past, they have to be based more on information and less on intuition. The impact of wrong decisions is greater today. Furthermore, people today are, if I might say so, more opportunistic, materialistic and rebellious. So you are managing a different type of environment: less protected, less feudal, and more demanding in terms of speed, in terms of technology.
One hundred years from now, I expect the Tatas to be much bigger, of course, than it is now. More importantly, I hope the group comes to be regarded as being the best in India -- best in the manner in which we operate, best in the products we deliver, and best in our value systems and ethics. Having said that, I hope that a hundred years from now we will spread our wings far beyond India, that we become a global group, operating in many countries, an Indian business conglomerate that is at home in the world, carrying the same sense of trust that we do today.