January 31, 2004 | Business Standard

Ratan Tata is BS CEO of the year

Tata group chairman Ratan N Tata is Business Standard's CEO of the Year. The award goes to him for scripting a turnaround at several group majors, including Tata Motors and Tata Steel. Three years ago, Tata Motors incurred a net loss of Rs 500 crore. Last year, it reported a net profit of Rs 300 crore. Today, the Indica is the highest selling car in the B segment. Similarly, Tata Steel's net profit zoomed five-fold to Rs 1,012 crore last year and it produced more than 2 million tonnes of saleable steel.

The group, under Tata's leadership, has exited unviable businesses and entered new ones like infotech and telecommunications, shifting track from a commodity-driven old economy house to a brand-focused group. The group has also embarked upon a globalisation drive to insulate its fortunes against economic downturns. Some years ago, Tata Tea acquired Tetley to occupy the global number two position and Tata Motors will soon acquire Daewoo Commercial Vehicle Company of South Korea.

The list of previous winners of the BS CEO of the Year award includes Reliance group chairman Mukesh Ambani, Hero group chairman Brij Mohan Lall Munjal and Infosys chairman and chief mentor N R Narayana Murthy. In an exclusive interview (the detailed interview appears in BS 1000, a study of India's corporate giants, being distributed on Thursday) at his office in Bombay House, Tata modestly stated that his strategies for group companies were not wrong but much of the turnaround at several Tata companies was due to the upturn in the economy.

"I think that the strategies haven't been wrong. I don't think that everything that has happened is due to the strategy. The economy has made a major contribution to what has happened to the Tatas," he said. But the Tata group chairman made it clear that the group would seek a presence in overseas markets to hedge against future economic downturns. Tata Motors, Indian Hotels and TCS all have active plans for establishing some thing or the other abroad. It could be an acquisition or a joint venture or a new enterprise, he said.

Besides, Tata Steel is looking at various options in different countries in steel and in minerals associated with steel. Other than TCS, most of the Tata companies are not looking at the US as a market.

"We are looking at the African continent or southeast Asia," Tata pointed out. Tata also confirmed the Tata Group's interest in establishing a bank. Responding to a question on whether Tata Finance would be the vehicle for floating a bank, he said: "It's unlikely that we would have the same plans for Tata Finance which we had before all this happened. We are still in a mode of cleaning up Tata Finance and not coming back from the ashes as an aggressive player. But it still does not mean that we will not look at a bank," Tata said.

Tata declined to be drawn on when the Tata Consultancy Services initial public offering was on or off. Pressed further, he said carefully: "Let me answer you the following way. If we feel that the market is right for an IPO, we will do it. If we feel if it isn't, we won't." He also said that once the group completely owned Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (the government now holds a 26 per cent stake in the company), it would merge the group's telecom companies.

"If we can get the structure in place where we own the entity (VSNL), our intention would be to integrate all our companies and provide end to end services." Asked whether the process of appointing more executive directors for Tata Sons had ended with the recent two appointments (of Alan Rosling and Arun Gandhi), Tata said: "It's a continuous process... the two are also part of the group executive office (GEO). You may have people come in from Tata Sons to the group executive office. We may have people who go out of that into line management and new people coming into the group executive office."

On what the group would be like in two years, Tata said that the weightage of the group's communications and infotech companies would increase. "There will be much greater contribution from this business to the group than what we have today."