At 34, JRD took over the reigns of the Tata Group and led the industrial conglomerate for 53 years with exceptional achievements
JRD took over the reigns of the Tata Group in 1938, when he was just 34 and led the industrial conglomerate for 53 years with exceptional achievements. Under his leadership the group expanded its existing businesses and forayed successfully into new ones. Tata Group assets soared from Rs620 million in 1939 to over Rs100,000 million in 1990.
He began his innings with the Tata Group as an unpaid apprentice in December 1925. At 22, soon after his father, RD Tata, passed away, JRD became a member on the board of Tata Sons, the group's flagship company. In 1929, he embraced the country whole-heartedly with an Indian citizenship and remained a patriot par excellence.
As chairman, he was known to be exacting and, yet, full of humility and kindness. He disliked A laid-back attitude and carelessness. He wanted excellence and aimed at perfection. He was very tolerant and was always ready to accept a genuine mistake. He is also known to have been an excellent time manager, finding sufficient time for each of his responsibilities in the vast Tata empire. He always kept his appointments and never kept anyone waiting. Interestingly, he was also a cleanliness and tidiness fanatic.
JRD believed in employee welfare and adopted it at Tata Steel Jamshedpur - eight-hour working day, free medical aid, provident fund scheme and workmen's accident compensation even before the government of India did!
He was actively involved in the development of an independent nation and was instrumental in shaping the industrialisation of sovereign India. He strengthened existing businesses such as steel, power and hotels and pioneered the Group's initiatives in the airline business, chemicals, commercial vehicles, computers and software services.
The first of the initiatives was Tata Chemicals, an inorganic chemical plant for India. What began in 1939 as a small inorganic fertiliser plant is today India's leading manufacturer of inorganic chemicals, fertilisers and food additives.
JRD also formed and nurtured Tata Airlines that later blossomed into Air India. In 1945, he commissioned Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company (Telco) with the objective of making locomotives for the Indian Railways. Known as Tata Motors now, it is among the world's top 10 producers of commercial vehicles.
He is also credited for spearheading India's modernisation in science and technology, setting up the Tata Administrative Service and the Tata Management Training Centre at Pune. JRD also brought to fruition the Tata Memorial Hospital and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
JRD had diverse interests. He funded Homi Bhabha's nuclear age ambition to realise Bhabha Atomic Research Centre. JRD also supported the revival and preservation of India's ancient heritage in the performing arts through the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai.
The industrialist in JRD evidently believed in 'beyond business'. In 1969 he said, "I believe that the social responsibilities of our industrial enterprises should now extend, even beyond serving people, to the environment." Today, JRD Tata Ecotechnology Centre in Pondicherry is part of the Group's wider concern for the environment.
However, a greater achievement for him was not the expansion of the group, but an expansion on the ideals and ethics of the principles of the group's founders. As he once said, "The wealth gathered by Jamsetji Tata and his sons in half a century of industrial pioneering formed but a minute fraction of the amount by which they enriched the nation. The whole of that wealth is held in trust for the people and used exclusively for their benefit. The cycle is thus complete; what came from the people has gone back to the people many times over."