May 23, 2020
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Ratan Naval Tata, Tata sons

A bachelor known for his low-profile lifestyle, Ratan Tata’s coup against his successor last year showed he’s still the boss.

Ratan Naval Tata, Tata sons
Photograph by Getty Images
Ratan Naval Tata, Tata sons
  • Under him, the Tata Group’s revenues had grown to cross $100 billion (Rs 4.8 lakh crore)


Fresh as he is from a triumphant duel with a combatant three decades younger, it doesn’t take much to establish that Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons and still leonine at 79, is as active in retirement as he was at the helm of affairs. Those were 21 fairly epoch-making years steering one of India’s largest and most diversified conglomerates, with interests spanning from tea to steel, automobile and airlines. Born to Sonoo and Naval Tata, the adopted son of Tata Group founder Jamsetji Tata’s younger son Ratanji Tata, Ratan Tata earned his spurs the hard way, starting work on the factory floor in 1962 after completing B.S. in architecture with structural engineering from Cornell University in the US. In between, in 1975, slip in an advanced management program from the Harvard. His arrival at the Tata Group’s helm coincided with India’s own perestroika in 1991, and the conglomerate’s trajectory thereafter mirrors that of the country itself: a stunning growth and, with the acquisition of Tetley, Jaguar Land Rover and Corus, a bold sally beyond Indian shores, the new multinational status being quite the inversion of the old protectionist tale. “It was quite striking how he raised the bar,” Raman Mahadevan, business historian. In 2008, Tata caught the global eye with his $2,200 Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest auto—its troubled birth saw the base of operations shift from Bengal to Gujarat, a move that presaged a tectonic shift in Indian politics.

In an interview in 2007 to Christabelle Noronha, Ratan Tata had stated, “I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to transform the Tatas from a patriarchal concern to an institutional enterprise. It would, therefore, be a mark of failure on my part if it were perceived that Ratan Tata epitomises the group’s success.” So far, however, the company continues to be identified with Ratan Tata, who was chairman till December 28, 2012, when he turned 75. By then, the Tata Group’s revenues had grown manifold to cross $100 billion.

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