Ratan Tata, the soft-spoken man of steel
The Corus deal makes Tata Steel's centenary celebrations more sweet, report Arun Kumar and Gaurav Choudhury.Updated: Feb 01, 2007, 04:18 IST
Ratan Tata showed in the wee hours of Wednesday that grace, composure and nerves of steel can sit easy on the same personality, as he marked an audacious milestone in his career as Tata group chairman by winning over Anglo-Dutch steel maker Corus Group with a bid worth $12.1 billion.
In venturing into new areas, fighting corruption in his own industrial empire and in going ahead with his car plant in West Bengal despite protests over land acquisition, the 69-year-old has shown he does not budge an inch once he has made up his mind.
After he took over the mantle of Tata Sons, the group’s holding company, from legendary patriarch JRD Tata, everyone — from close lieutenants to outsiders and experts — was skeptical of his ability to manage such a large and diversified empire with around 85 companies in a salt-to-software range.
His grit and determination are best epitomised in what he said in an interview. “I am unfortunately a person, who has often said: You put a gun to my head and pull the trigger or take the gun away, I won’t move my head.” That is a rare insight into a man who protects his privacy, integrity and patriotism in equal measures.
The acquisition of Corus comes in the 100th year of Tata Steel. That should make the centenary celebrations more sweet. The Corus deal is a “defining moment for Tata Steel,” Tata had said in October last year after launching a recommended bid for Corus.
Much before corporate governance became a buzzword in India Inc, Ratan Tata did not hesitate to file a criminal case against one of his perceived lieutenants and other top executives of the group for allegedly defrauding one of his companies. Throughout his career, which began as a management trainee in Tata Steel, he has displayed enormous courage in taking assignments that critics had written off even before they had taken off. The Indica Car project is a case in point.
When Indica was unveiled in 1998 in Delhi, the then Industry Minister Murasoli Maran termed it the “modern Kohinoor of India”. From there, after a series of build-outs and acquisitions, Corus could well be a logical jewel in Tata's crown.
Several observers had nearly written off the Indica project, some had even said the project could mark the beginning of the end of Tata Motors. It did not. Nobody now is questioning whether Tata Motors can live up to the promise of producing a “people’s car” in the price bracket of Rs 1 lakh.
Tata is fiercely patriotic. In 1998, he stepped in immediately to douse a nationwide rumour that there was a salt shortage. Tata issued full-page advertisements, in national interest, stating that there was no supply crisis of salt and citizens need not hoard kilos of salt in their homes.