Of genteelness and gentlemanliness: Ratan Tata

They don’t make men like Ratan Tata any more. The reason is because in today’s time, you are defined by your wealth and not by your worth as a human being. They don’t make men who believe in values and are willing to sacrifice pecuniary gains for remaining steadfast on their values. They don’t make men who take a stand and see it through.

Article by Suhel Seth | Mumbai Mirror

RatanTataTherodinhoodsMrMarwariHaveyouMetMrtata_thumb.jpgThey don’t make men who believe in giving back to society in such measure as Ratan Tata has and will continue to do as long as he steers the Tata Trusts. I first met Mr Tata several years ago and in fact I wrote an article in protest when the fracas over Russi Mody erupted: for me it was an emotional outburst; for Mr Tata, it was keeping the sovereignty of the Group intact. He was the man who, when he took over the mantle from the iconic JRD Tata brought the group together: from fiefdoms created one composite whole. Many years later, I visited Jamshedpur and then wrote an article saying what India needed was more Jamshedpurs and the thrust of the article was once again compassion above commerce. I then received a hand-written letter from Mr Tata thanking me for my kind words. But those weren’t kind words, they were a genuine reflection of the work that the House of Tata was then doing.

Many years later, Mr Krishna Kumar who was then Mr Tata’s deputy and confidant, asked me if I would be keen on working for the House of Tata and thus my working relationship began with the House of Tata and in many ways with Mr Tata. Not once did he ever make anyone feel he was the Chairman and that the others were employees. Not once did he shy away from taking a bold and public stance and Singur is one amongst many examples. Many people talk about rolling their sleeves: Mr Tata led from the front and exuded passion with perfection. I still recall him debating the stitching on the seats of the Land Rover. He was the man who inspired the forays of the House of Tata into consumer-facing businesses, be it retail; Starbucks, Croma and so on. So for those who believe he was not fond of consumer businesses need to think again. He was the one who made the House of Tata traverse the globe: be it Tetley or Glaceau or JLR or for that matter Corus. There has been enough recent debate on whether the Corus acquisition was indeed the right one. At that time it was. And those who were on the board then agreed with him. In hindsight, it is easy to highlight faults but these were the people who agreed and with vigour.

Planted articles don’t and will not take away from Mr Tata’s immeasurable contribution, both to India and to the House of Tata. Which is why last Saturday was special. I popped over to his spartan home to gift him a copy of my book: the Mantras for Success: India’s Greatest CEOs Tell You How To Win. His essay is the first in the book. I arrived early evening and there was no fanfare; no scurrying staff and instead the home was as simple as its occupant. We talked like we never have. My working relationship with the House of Tata ended with Mr Tata’s retirement because in my heart I knew I had to respect the man. We talked about the Tata Trusts, which even now disburse Rs 700 crores annually; he talked about his enormous faith in the youth of this country and which is why he had re-invented himself as a believer in Startup India and was investing in a lot of start-ups. He talked about global alliances, which the Trusts were entering into in order to alleviate the plight of the poor and those who were denied opportunities.

Ratan Tata had retired from the House of Tata but not from the responsibilities of being a humanist and someone who deeply cared about India and its unique place in the comity of nations.

There is gentleness and a genteelness, which he will always have, and something that will always inspire generations. That is what I came away with when I left his home. Seen off by him and not some staff member.