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Sunday, Jan 19, 2020

Patriarch of the Tata group

Jehangir RatanJi Dadabhoy Tata: JRD, as he was popularly known, was a pioneering aviator and colossus of industry who expanded the Tata Group, which is one of India’s biggest and most successful conglomerates

inspiring-lives Updated: Jul 29, 2019 10:24 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
JRD Tata
JRD Tata(illustration: Mohit Suneja)

Born in a wealthy family to an Indian father and French mother in Paris on July 29, 1904, JRD had three siblings.

As he spent a large part of his childhood in France, French was his first language. He studied in France, Japan, and England and also served in the French army for a year. He then wanted to study at Cambridge University, but his father urged him to join the Tata family business. The Tata Group, which was established in 1868, was one of India’s largest industrial houses. In 1925, he became an apprentice at Tata & Sons.

In 1930, JRD Tata married Thelma Vicaji.

As a young man, he had met aviation pioneer Louis Blériot, the first man to fly across the English Channel, who developed in him a lifelong love for aviation. Tata acquired Indian citizenship in 1929 and became the first person in India to be issued a pilot’s licence.

He was elected the chairman of Tata & Sons at the age of 34 and led the group for almost half a century. Under his leadership, the group expanded and diversified to become one of India’s most trusted brands.

In 1932, he formed an aviation department in Tata & Sons called the Tata Airlines, which later became Air India, the country’s flagship airline.

He was a trustee of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust. He also set up the Tata Memorial Centre for Cancer Research and Treatment.

In 1945, he founded Tata Motors as a joint venture with the German carmaker Daimler-Benz. When Air India was nationalised, the Union government appointed him chairman of Air India and director on the board of Indian Airlines in 1953. He served in these positions for 25 years.

Under his mentorship, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Tata Memorial Hospital, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the National Institute of Advanced Sciences and the National Centre for the Performing Arts were set up.

He launched Tata Tea Ltd in 1964, Tata Consultancy Services in 1968 and Titan industries in 1987.

He took keen interest in the welfare of employees. The company provided good working conditions and free medical facilities.

He was an advocate of family planning and won the United Nations Population Award in 1992.

He also won several international awards for aviation such as The Tony Jannus Award in 1979 and Edward Warner Award of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Canada in 1986.

JRD was honoured with the Bharat Ratna in 1992,

The man who launched many of India’s iconic corporate giants died in Geneva, Switzerland, due to kidney ailment on November 29, 1993 at the age of 89.


1. The first flight in the history of Indian aviation took off from Drigh Road in Karachi with JRD at the controls of a Puss Moth. He nourished and nurtured his airline till 1953, when the government led by Jawaharlal Nehru nationalised Air India.

2. JRD Tata was a founding member of the first governing body of the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi. It was set up in 1956 and was India’s first independent economic policy institute.

3.In his honour, the Maharashtra government named its first double-decker bridge the Bharatratna JRD Tata Overbridge at Kasarwadi Phata, Pune.

4. Under his chairmanship, the assets of the Tata Group grew from $100 million to over $5 billion. He started with 14 enterprises and half a century later when he left in 1988, Tata Sons had grown up to be a conglomerate of 95 enterprises.

5. He cared greatly for workers and launched a programme in 1956 to give them greater say in affairs. He advocated an 8-hour working day, free medical aid, workers’ provident scheme and accident compensation scheme.

Sources: Wikipedia,,