April 2015 | Cynthia Rodrigues

From dependable to adaptable

Tata Power has grown spectacularly in scale and spread thanks to its ability to reinvent itself, says Adi Engineer

The most striking aspect of Tata Power has been its ability to reinvent itself over the course of a century. Companies that endure over a long period of time need to have the tenacity and the adaptability to withstand and accept change.

The stability of the organisation is also rooted in the nature of the electricity business. It is an essential service, unlike other products or services. One can do without a new car but not without power supply.

I am fortunate to have enjoyed such a close association with this amazing enterprise over the past 30 years. I joined Tata Power in 1984; it was called the Tata Electric Companies (TEC) then and Naval Tata was its chairman.

The name TEC described a combination of three companies, Tata Hydro Company, Andhra Valley Power Supply Company and Tata Power Company. This was the legacy of the phase-wise development of the three hydro stations in the Western Ghats and the subsequent thermal plant at Trombay. The arrangement made it cumbersome for the common leadership team to manage the operations of the three separate companies. It also deprived them of the advantage of being one large company.

Those were the days of the ‘licence-permit raj’. Tata Power was Mumbai centric, with its business restricted to its licensed area. The commercial scenario was placid, the business being based on a cost-plus model. There was no competition apart from the state electricity board.

The company’s share earned the sobriquet of ‘widow’s share’ for the dependable but modest returns that it delivered. However, TEC distinguished itself by being a leader in technology and a pioneer in the field of power engineering. It was the first to build a 500MW thermal plant (at Trombay) and it had a string of firsts to its credit in generation, transmission and distribution.

In later years, TEC executed contracts for projects in more than 10 countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Malaysia and Uzbekistan. During this period Tata Electric also fostered the creation and growth of Tata Consulting Engineers and Tata Projects.

The period between the late 1980s and the mid-1990s brought in tumultuous changes as India prepared for electricity reforms and competition. Under the chairmanship of Dr Homi Sethna, the pace of work increased. We undertook a complete renovation of our hydroelectric generation systems and explored several opportunities to go beyond our traditional licensee business area.

In the mid-1990s, the impact of liberalisation opened up new opportunities for the business. The three companies were merged to form Tata Power and the new entity spread its activities across India under the stewardship of Ratan Tata, who was then chairman. Tata Power got into several new ventures, including power generation at Jamshedpur, the transmission business with Power Grid Corporation of India and power distribution in Delhi. Although we scouted for opportunities abroad and did some spadework, our efforts fructified only later.

Over the years Tata Power’s business has grown many times over; it now encompasses hydro and thermal generation besides wind and solar, as also transmission, retail distribution and power trading. It has also delved into coal mining and operates works in several geographies abroad.  

Being associated with the transformation of Tata Power over the decades has been a challenging and rewarding experience for me. As the company completes its first century and faces the future, its vast experience and the excellent reputation earned by adherence to Tata values augers well for it.

Adi Engineer was with the company from 1984 to 2002. He was part of the management team before becoming its managing director and, following that, a non-executive director.

Know more about Tata Power's fascinating journey:
Overview: 100 years of high-wattage performance
A century ago, Tata Power ran a single hydroelectric project in India. Today it has grown to a $5.6-billion global enterprise, with coal mines in Indonesia, wind farms in South Africa, energy projects in Turkey and Zambia and technology partnerships in Australia. It is India's largest integrated private power producer, spanning power generation, transmission, distribution and trading
'We will continue to bring new technologies to India'
The path that Tata Power has chosen for itself is global and clean, as the company’s chief executive, Anil  Sardana, explains in this interview
'The consumer will reign'
Tata Power’s chief operating officer, Ashok Sethi, who has clocked 39 years with the company, shares his views on the organisation’s evolution
'We have to slog our assets'
There are challenges as well as opportunities on the path that Tata Power has chosen to take, says chief financial officer Ramesh Subramanyam
'A climate of respect is vital'
Chief culture officer and head of business excellence and transformation, Vivek Talwar, on what makes Tata Power a sustainable organisation
'People policies are linked to the company's strategy'
Employee engagement is critical to improve staff morale and the sense of belonging in the company, says human resources head Chetan Tolia
The going is green
A presence across hydro, wind, solar and geothermal makes it easier for Tata Power to target a cleaner energy portfolio
Chain of excellence
From renewable power to consumer friendliness, Tata Power’s associate entities have set the standard for the industry
For country and community, in the spirit of giving back
The corporate social responsibility initiatives of Tata Power have made a tremendous difference, in a wide variety of ways, to the lives of the countless people they have touched
'We were getting marginalised'
Tata Power had to think beyond Mumbai to stay relevant in a rapidly changing industry, and that’s what it did, writes Prasad Menon
When 'farmers' became 'hunters'
Where once reliability and continuity were prized, Tata Power has moved on to find its balance and to flourish in a business arena rendered volatile, writes Firdose Vandrevala
'It was easier to run back then'
KM Gherda remembers the days of Tata Electric Companies, of ‘reasonable returns’ and a business where the big complexity was accounting for three rather than one
A pioneer all the way through
FC Kohli on the company where he made his mark as an information technology whiz, at a time when government permission was needed to get computers installed