Think Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research or National Centre for Performing Arts, the Tatas have been integral not only to Mumbai but the development of India too. Business commentator Peter Casey argues why they are also integral to the world in the book, The Greatest Company in the World? the guide shares select excerpts
One of JRD’s most memorable traits was a love of flying, a consuming passion that contributed to his corporate legacy. After taking an aerial joyride at the age of fifteen, JRD was hooked for life.
A crescent moon lights up the night sky as the dome of the Taj Mahal Hotel built by Jamsetji Tata, looks resplendent in its regalia. Pic/AFP
He avidly followed the career of his friend and neighbour Louis Bleriot, the great French aviator who, in 1909, was the first to fly across the English channel. As soon as he could, JRD began taking flying lessons and soloed after only three and a half hours in the air with an instructor.
A general view of an illuminated Tata Steel plant in Jamshedpur. Pic/AFP
>> In 1929, he became India’s very first recipient of a pilot’s license. Just three years later, in 1932, he founded the nation’s first commercial airline, Tata Airlines, with an investment of 2,00,000 rupees (about $45,000 in today’s times) from Tata Sons, which was sufficient to purchase two second-hand planes.
Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata (1904-1993)
>> The pilot of the first commercial flight ever made in India was none other than JRD, who personally flew a cargo of mail from Karachi to Bombay.
Extracted from The Greatest Company in the World? The Story of Tata by Portfolio (Penguin Books India).
Dorab’s passion for sport led him to advocate India’s participation in the Olympics as early as 1919, much before the nation had established its own Olympic committee.
Sir Dorabji Tata (1859-1932)
>> With hope in his heart, Dorab decided to send three of the runners, at his own expense, to the Antwerp Games of 1920. ‘I hoped that with proper training and food under English trainers and coaches they might do credit to India. This proposal fired the ambition of the nationalist element in that city to try and send a complete Olympic team,’ he later explained in a letter to the International Olympic Committee president, Count Baillet Latour, in 1929.
>> Dorab became president of the fledgling Indian Olympic Council and personally financed the Indian team’s participation in the 1924 Games in Paris — where it is reported that his wife, Meherbai Tata, took part in the tennis mixed doubles fixtures. Meherbai was a top tennis player and had won many national level tournaments in the early 1920s.
>> Dorab regularly scouted for sporting talent and established training clubs and facilities to develop it. The Willingdon Sports Club, the Parsi Gymkhana, the High Schools Athletic Association and the Bombay Presidency Olympic Games Association were all initiated by Dorab. Thanks to his involvement, India won the gold medal in hockey at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam.
Around 1880, while he was visiting Manchester, in the heart of industrial England, researching new machinery for Empress Mills, Jamsetji attended a lecture by the celebrated philosopher, essayist and social critic Thomas Carlyle.
Jamsetji Tata (1839-1904)
‘Those who control the iron and steel well in time come to control the gold as well,’ Carlyle remarked to his Manchester audience. And Jamsetji had an epiphany...It inspired in him a vision of an iron and steel company...and making the growth of truly metropolitan cities possible.
The Greatest Company in the World? The Story of Tata, Peter Casey, Portfolio (Penguin India), `599. Available at leading bookstores.
>> Jamsetji sought encouragement from the chief commissioner of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, only to be rebuffed. The chief swore to ‘eat every pound of steel rail the Tatas succeed in making’.
>> Even before ground was broken, Jamsetji was thinking in ways quite foreign to the builders of the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution. English mill towns like Liverpool and Manchester offered workers filthy slums. Jamsetji resolved not to make the same mistakes. He began by taking the costly and unconventional step of hiring a town planner. In addition to installing a water-filtration system to avoid water pollution, he built dedicated outhouses and a grain depot — both unknown in the English mill towns.
>> At this point in the Industrial Revolution, managers thought of exploiting their employees. Jamsetji felt that it was his duty not just to make living conditions tolerable, but to actually improve his workers’ lives. His companies offered shorter working hours; provided more comfortable working conditions, with special attention to adequate ventilation (perceived as a ‘luxury’ at the beginning of the twentieth century); and created both a pension fund at Empress Mills (1866 Provident Fund) and an accident fund (1895 Accident Compensation Fund) at a time when these were rare in the West and almost unheard of in the East.
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