When the news broke, some months ago, that Ratan Tata was visiting Coimbatore for an unpublicised visit along with his successor Cyrus Mistry, it piqued media curiosity. It later transpired that he was visiting Jayem Automotives Ltd (JAL), a company headed by former racing champion J. Anand, who is its Managing Director.
The December 19 visit of Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry showed how valued the relationship was because Ratan Tata was visiting JAL days before he was due to hang up his boots.
The normally reticent Anand, opening up to Business Line, was keen to steer clear of what he was doing for Tata Motors and more eager to focus on Ratan Tata as a person. He said his company was involved in product development in association with automobile manufacturers, mainly in small-volume products.
It was a common friend Hormazd Sorabjee, Editor of ‘Autocar' magazine, who introduced him to Ratan Tata at the launch of Tata Indigo that led to a deeper relationship, though even before that he was working for some Tata Motors models, albeit in a small way.
The relationship between his company and Tata Motors gained strength after he was able to establish JAL’s ‘credibility’ and Ratan Tata recognised his company’s competence. Now he says, JAL works with Tata Motors ‘as an extended arm’ or as a ‘joint venture company’. In the past two years, Ratan Tata has given his firm an opportunity to work in ‘larger areas’ as the relationship between the companies grew stronger.
‘A feel for cars’
Anand said, “he (Ratan Tata) is extremely knowledgeable in the automotive field” and is aware of the latest developments technically. He is also a good driver and has a “feel for cars”. This has enabled him to offer “very good feedback to engineers”.
The most important part of his personality is that he is so simple during his interactions with engineers. Anand says he has never seen anyone like Ratan Tata, who puts everyone at ease. When Ratan Tata gives time (for a meeting), he gives it his 100 per cent concentration. While attending auto shows abroad, the outgoing Tata Group head honcho keeps a low profile and likes to remain largely anonymous.
But this does not always work, even when he visits the stalls of other auto companies alone to know what is new that the competitors are offering.
Quite often, Anand said, he had seen at these expos people incredulously asking whether that was indeed Ratan Tata, the ‘man who made the Nano’.
This happened irrespective of whether the auto show was held in Frankfurt, Geneva, Paris or Brazil as he has tremendous respect anywhere globally and CEOs of global auto giants ‘would leave everything and come’ to receive him at their pavilions, though Tata would urge them to continue with their own work.
The JAL MD said because Ratan Tata is so well-informed on the auto industry, one has to go thoroughly prepared while meeting him. Since he is sensitive about the feel of a car he can immediately detect the difference if any change is made. This is perhaps because Ratan Tata is also a pilot.
Attention to detail
He pointed out that for a man of his stature, Tata need not come to Coimbatore to see what JAL was doing for Tata products. The cars could be taken to Mumbai to be shown to him but Tata is so passionate about his personal involvement.
In fact, on December 25 last year, when he took some cars to be shown to Tata in Mumbai, Ratan Tata himself did a test drive on the roads of Mumbai to get a feel of the vehicle and came up with his feedback!
It is technology that fascinates Ratan Tata and it is overall performance, not mere engine performance, in which he is interested. Quite a lot of inputs provided by Tata to improve the products tested at JAL have subsequently found their way into the vehicles.
Ratan Tata is unique in his ability to devote attention to the smallest detail. Anand said he did not know any other owner of a company of the size of the Tatas showing so much interest, so much passion in his work.
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