Ratan's style: soft mandate, not table-thumping power
RNT lays down the reigns of the Tata empire exactly on the date he had set for himself more than a decade ago, on his turning 75.business Updated: Dec 27, 2012 22:40 IST
RNT lays down the reigns of the Tata empire exactly on the date he had set for himself more than a decade ago, on his turning 75. Not for him the argument that he is "irreplaceable" (in many ways he is), and to make sure that he is not looked upon as the "Ghost Upstairs" in Bombay House, he is physically moving out. It is his way to ensure that Cyrus, his successor, does not have to live under his shadow.
I well remember RNT's desire, conveyed to us two decades ago that we should always carry two names in our pocket. One, of "a person who can take over if you are knocked down by a bus later in the day", and the other of "a person who would be groomed to take over from you 3-5 years down the road."
He is retiring at the peak of his achievements, which are too numerous to mention; but I am sure he is proud of the fact that his group has achieved a turnover of over $100 billion. The group has a footprint all across the globe and has made several big-ticket acquisitions.
But most of all it is a coherent, well-knit group of companies, bound by the ideals of the Tata House - integrity, trust and the desire to give back to the community whatever it has earned from it.
It was not always so. In the early days of his reign, after the patriarch JRD anointed him as his successor, he had a difficult time for some years. Even before that, in the 1970's, RNT had tough nuts to crack, the Empress and other textile mills, NELCO to name a few.
But those assignments gave him the experience on what to "keep and nurture" and what to "drop" in the years ahead.
JRD had left behind a "federation" of individual satraps who zealously guarded their fiefdoms, and were not disposed to help each other in periods of stress. A "group" concept was not popular. Also JRD ran the companies on the strength of his personal charisma. The right to manage through ownership was not possible in the days when the public sector was supreme, and in many of the group companies Tatas' shareholding was minimal. RNT recognised that the "right to manage" came from ownership and from the start of his era the Tatas have substantially built up their holdings in group companies (eg Tatas holding in Tata Steel was around 5% in the early 1970s compared to over 30% now).
RNT also encouraged "across the group" activities such as programmes for quality, improving the environment, climate change and the like. Such activities brought about a feeling of "togetherness" in the entire group and also encouraged executives to move from one Tata company to another.
Group executives now come together on such common theme programmes and build on their experiences to the benefit of other companies in the group.
RNT's style is not to "thump the table" but to "softly mandate" on what he feels should be the path to follow - and others do follow!
He is a workaholic and very often stands by his commitments even under great physical pain. He once travelled from Mumbai to Europe, flat on his back and under medication (and against medical advice) to keep a commitment he had made at a motor show.
Just like JRD's first love was aviation (and Air India), Ratan's first love is for automobiles, which, I guess makes Tata Motors his first charge, and I had always hoped that Tata Steel (where he did a stint in the 1960s) could be his second love!
As he rides out of the Bombay House, the hub of the group's business and industry activity on Friday, he will simultaneously ride into the Tata Trusts, where he will devote himself to the philantrophic activities of the group. Let us wish him a successful and long stint in his chosen field.
(The author is former MD, Tata Steel)