There's nothing quite like it in the Indian corporate environment, but uniqueness is not the only attribute that sets TAS apart. This is a management training programme tailored to achieve, among other things, two critical goals: meet the Tata Group's need for bright young managerial talent and provide grand avenues for this talent to realise its potential.
Established in the 1950s TAS was a kind of corporate equivalent of the civil services of yore. Called the Tata Administrative Service then, the programme has today matured into one of the Tata Group's calling cards in the battle for top-notch manager material. "TAS is a great programme, possibly the best to train and develop as a manager," says Rajesh Dahiya, head, TAS and Sourcing, Group HR.
A recent accolade that has come TAS's way reinforces Dahiya's view. The programme was ranked third in the ACNielsen Campus Track Survey 2007 of the 10 most preferred recruiters at the country's premier business schools. It was the only Indian entity in the list.
So what makes TAS such an attractive employment choice for India's finest B-School graduates? "Companies are rated on seven parameters in what is called the Campus Recruitment Index (CRI)," explains Dahiya. "These include salary, flexibility in terms of choosing a job and an industry, career management, and the opportunity to work overseas." TAS has, over the years, improved its rating on the CRI parameters to build its brand in the minds of students, pushing its score up from 205 in 2006 to 209 in 2007.
The programme has many stand-out features. Above all, it has the Tata tag to enhance its credentials. It offers diverse and cross-functional opportunities in a variety of business segments. Additionally, the option of mobility that TAS managers have, make the programme tremendously attractive to today's restless generation of executives.
In their first year of training TAS managers, who are selected after a rigorous process, go through what is known as the group orientation and learning (GOAL) programme. This gives them diverse experiences and helps them develop cross-functional skills. Three assignments are with Tata companies in different functions. The fourth is a rural stint in corporate sustainability, which opens a window to the Tata commitment to community development. In the last six years, TAS has recruited 119 students from campuses, of which 36 have been women.
After the training programme TAS managers are assigned to a particular company for three years. What is interesting here is that if the manager, after spending a year or so at the company, expresses a desire to move to another Tata company, the case is considered on its merits. "This would not be possible in a single-business company," says Dahiya. "The person would have to leave and move to another organisation."
Adding further value to the experience of TAS managers is their interactions with senior Tata people. Former TAS managers like Jamshed Daboo of Indian Hotels and R Mukundan of Tata Chemicals are closely involved with the selection process, as are Tata CEOs such as Tata Steel's B Muthuraman, Ravi Kant of Tata Motors, Kishor Chaukar of Tata Industries and VSNL's* N Srinath.
Senior management executives at Tata companies often take time out to mentor the new recruits and interact with them, discussing not just business solutions but also opportunities for career growth. "What is unique to TAS is the comprehensive, cross-sector training it gives you," says RK Krishna Kumar, a director with Tata Sons and a member of the Group Corporate Centre. "Trainees work with several Tata companies and get an opportunity to develop a wide-angle view of business."
A critical factor that has helped the programme scale up the rankings is its investment in building the TAS brand. Creating brand recall for products is relatively easier, simply because they are tangible things. The challenge for Dahiya's team lay in promoting the intangible, a service.
Campus presentations by key Tata figures - among them Tata Sons executive directors R Gopalakrishnan and Alan Rosling - have greatly helped create awareness and generate interest about TAS among students. "Initiatives like the Tata Business Leadership Awards have enabled us to further establish a strong brand value," says Dahiya.
TAS has a single communication strategy across campuses, rather than multiple messages for different geographical regions. "We have maintained the pace and the consistency of our communications with students on all campuses in India," says Dahiya. TAS also ensures that it connects with potential candidates constantly through the years they spend at their institutions.
Another philosophy that has stood TAS in good stead is the belief that students should know more about the Tata Group. This is done by distributing the books authored by RM Lala on the Tatas, and other similar works. Dahiya feels this creates a lasting impression of the Tata culture and ethos among many of the students.
Over the last two-three years, the programme's communication strategy has also involved getting young TAS managers to speak to their juniors at the campuses and share their experience of working with the Tata Group. "It works because experiences don't lie," says Dahiya. "When students hear from their seniors about what a good experience they've had working with the Group, rather than just about monetary benefits, it gives us bonus points."
Far from resting on its laurels, TAS is planning to raise the bar and forge ahead with ambitious plans. One idea gaining currency is to increase the number of TAS recruits from the in-house selection process. Currently only two-three candidates are selected from approximately 500 applications from within Tata Group companies. "There are many bright people within the Group and my aim is to get an equal number of TAS managers from the in-house process as from campus recruitment this year," says Dahiya.
Other ideas under the scanner are to have an in-house 21-week MBA programme and to focus on recruiting more women. Meanwhile, TAS is keeping pace with the Tata Group's global thrust by building its brand in Ivy League colleges such as Harvard and Wharton. "Brand India is strong right now and Group Chairman Mr Tata is a strong connect among American students," says Dahiya. Singapore is another country TAS is looking at to build its brand.
TAS is certainly gearing up to take itself to a higher level, and go places while at it.
*In February 2008, VSNL was integrated with Tata Communications