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A show of steely resolve and confidence

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Tata defends deal price, terms criticism harsh and short-term

A LANDMARK MOMENT: Mr Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Steel, with Mr B. Muthuraman, Managing Director, and Mr Koushik Chatterjee, Senior Vice- President Finance, Tata Sons Ltd, at a press conference to announce the acquisition of Corus in Mumbai on Wednesday. Paul Noronha
A LANDMARK MOMENT: Mr Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Steel, with Mr B. Muthuraman, Managing Director, and Mr Koushik Chatterjee, Senior Vice- President Finance, Tata Sons Ltd, at a press conference to announce the acquisition of Corus in Mumbai on Wednesday. Paul Noronha

Tariq Engineer

MumbaiJan. 31The news broke with the dawn on Wednesday: Tata Steel had clinched Corus. India Inc's finest hour was finally here.

By 10.30 a.m. about 150 people had gathered at the Taj Ballroom. TV camera crews and photographers jostled for vantage points while the print media took their seats. All were anxiously waiting for Mr Ratan Naval Tata and his team to make their triumphal entry.

The buzz during the lead-in to the auction had Brazil's CSN as the frontrunner but Tata Steel ultimately proved to be the worthier opponent. Tata Group executives, from Mr R.K. Krishnakumar to Mr Ishaat Hussain and Mr Ravi Kant, filled the front row. Cameras flashed as they laughed and hugged each other, flush with the thrill of success.

A few minutes later Mr Tata arrived with Mr B. Muthuraman, Mr N.A. Soonawala and Mr Koushik Chatterjee in tow. Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie, Mr Tata looked weary but buoyant after a sleepless night spent trading numbers with CSN. Flashbulbs popped, eager to capture the man of the moment, who was in no mood to downplay the significance of Tata Steel's latest accomplishment.

"I believe over the next few years we will all come to think that this was a very visionary move that has long-term repercussions that are very, very positive for India and for Tata Steel," Mr Tata said.

Once Mr Tata and Mr Muthuraman had finished their addresses, the questions flew thick and fast. Mr Tata reacted sharply to those who questioned the wisdom of the deal at the price - 608 pence per share - at which it was concluded. He said such a view was short-term and harsh, and failed to understand that the life of a corporation extends beyond a year or two. On this day, in this moment, Mr Tata was not ready to hear anything negative.

An hour later the show came to an end. Mr Tata and his team descended from the podium, only to be mobbed by the media. A few interviews later, Mr Tata finally made his way out of the ballroom with the media still trailing, wanting one final word. Although some doubts remain about the price Tata Steel paid for Corus, the symbolism of the moment could not be mistaken: India Inc cannot be ignored on the world stage any longer.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 1, 2007)
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