Ratan Tata turns 75 today. He might have liked a quiet birthday, but it will not be. All of Bombay House — the stone-coloured building near Flora Fountain in Mumbai that has served as Tata Sons headquarters for over eight decades — will be hoping that the boss turns up for work as usual.
At the end of the day, after an eventful 21 years at the helm, Tata will hand over the mantle of Chairman of the diversified conglomerate, Tata Sons, to Cyrus Mistry, nearly 30 years his junior.
In the initial years, he had to take on established and powerful chieftains in the various Tata group companies, but Ratan Tata very soon let everyone know who the boss was. Stepping into J.R.D. Tata’s shoes must have been daunting enough; having to deal with the likes of Russi Mody, Darbari Sheth, Nani Palkhivala and Ajit Kerkar, even more so. Ratan Tata went about his business with clinical precision, creating his own road map for the Tata group.
Trusted lieutenants like R.K. Krishna Kumar will be around to guide Mistry, who belongs to the Pallonji Mistry family, the largest individual shareholder in Tata Sons.
Tata took over at a time when economic reforms were being unleashed by Finance Minister Manmohan Singh in Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s Government.
Tata grabbed the opportunities that came up and turned the group’s footprint global. In fact, more than half the group’s revenues come from overseas.
Ratan Tata has several milestones to his credit, among them transforming Tata Motors (or Tata Engineering and Locomotive Co. Ltd, as it was then known) from being only a truck-maker to a leading passenger car manufacturer. Other Tata companies have bought outfits overseas several times their size.
Mistry’s challenge will be to oversee the successful turnaround of some of these companies, particularly Tata Steel Europe (or Corus, a multi-billion dollar acquisition) and rev up sales of the Nano, Ratan Tata’s pet low-cost car.
Over the next few pages, Business Line pays tribute to Ratan Tata, recalling seminal moments in the tenure of this corporate icon.