JRD Tata was born in the distinguished and industrious Tata family, as Jehangir on July 29th 1904 to Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and his French wife Suzanne in Paris. He spent a major portion of his childhood in France. JRD was educated in France, London, Japan and India. His mother died at the young age of 43. After her death, his father sent him to England for higher studies. Meanwhile, a law was passed in France that all French boys aged 20 had to enlist in the army for at least a year. He was in the French army for a year after which his father asked him to return to India.
JRD joined Tata Sons in 1925 as an unpaid apprentice. In 1929, he gave up his French citizenship and became an Indian citizen. From a young age, JRD was adventurous and had been spellbound by aeroplanes, inspired by the pioneer Louis Bleriot. He pursued his passion of flying and obtained India’s first pilot licence in 1929. He was a stickler for perfection and excellence in all walks of life. He married Thelma Vicaji in 1930. The couple had no children. JRD was known for his out-of-the-box thinking and his sharp business strategy. He demonstrated his keen entrepreneurial spirit by plunging into the fledgling aviation industry in India. He established India’s first commercial airline – Tata Airlines (which later became Air India) in 1932. He pioneered civil aviation in India by piloting the inaugural flight from Karachi to Bombay in 1932. JRD again performed his solo Karachi-Bombay flight to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Air India. In 1982, the Commemorative Golden Jubilee Flight from Karachi to Bombay was piloted by JRD, then 78 years young!
As Trustee of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust from 1932 for more than 50 years, he was instrumental in the founding of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 1936, Tata Memorial Centre for Cancer Research and Treatment in Mumbai in 1941, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1945 and the National Centre for Performing Arts in 1969. He established Tata Engineering & Locomotive Company (TELCO –now Tata Motors) in 1945, with collaboration from Daimler-Benz of Germany.
JRD Tata was far ahead of his times. He was deeply concerned about his workers. In 1956, he took the initiative of closely associating workers with the management and gave workers a stronger say in the interactions of the company. He was a strong advocate of employee welfare and championed the cause of a working day of eight hours (much before USA or England had formally included it in their legislation), provident scheme, free medical aid, and accident compensation plans for workers, which were later implemented as statutory requirements in the country. He would always say that he wanted India to be a ‘happy country’ rather than an economic superpower.
In 1968, JRD Tata established the Tata Computer Centre (now Tata Consultancy Services). In 1979, Tata Steel introduced a new practice: a worker was considered to be “at work” from the moment he left home for work till he returned home from work. Thus, the company was made financially liable for any calamity of the worker on the way from and to work. Considering the quality of life, welfare, roads and sanitation provided by Tata Steel, Jamshedpur was chosen as the first South Asian city to join the select band of six cities in the world for the UN Global Compact Cities Pilot programme in 2005.
The assets of the Tata group grew exponentially under JRD’s leadership from Rs. 62 crores in 1939 to over Rs. 10, 000 crores in 1990. JRD Tata passed away in Geneva, Switzerland at the age of 89 years on November 29, 1993. With his demise, an era came to an end. The Indian Parliament was adjourned in his memory – a rare honour, rarely given to those not members of Parliament. He was buried in Paris.
JRD’s constant attempts to make the world a better place won him several valued awards. In 1948, he was bestowed with the honorary rank of Group Captain by the Indian Air Force. He was promoted to Air Commodore rank and further promoted in 1974 to Air Vice-Marshal rank. For his contribution to aviation, he was awarded the Tony Jannus Award in 1979, the Gold Air Medal of the Federation Aeronautique International in 1985, the Edward Warner Award of the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 1986 and the Daniel Guggenheim Medal in 1988. In 1955, JRD received the Padma Vibhushan. He was conferred The French Legion of Honour in 1983. He was conferred India’s highest civilian honour – the Bharat Ratna – in 1992 for his noble humanitarian deeds. He was also awarded the United Nations Population Award in 1992 for his vigorous campaign of starting and effectively putting into action the family planning movement in India. It was only much later that family planning became an official policy of the government. The Maharashtra Government also honoured JRD Tata by naming its first double-decker flyover at Nasik Phata in Pune as ‘Bharat Ratna JRD Tata Udaan Pul’.
It is less known that JRD was an ardent writer of letters. The Tata Archives in Pune have over 40,000 letters JRD wrote to his family, friends, political leaders, business acquaintances and the common people. Young people wrote to JRD, asking for his advice. He would reply them with sincere and intense conviction. A young lady of the Indian Institute of Science, who was annoyed at an advertisement of TELCO (now Tata Motors) that said that women need not apply, wrote a letter to JRD that it was unbefitting of a respected group like the Tatas. She received a telegram asking her to attend an interview. The lady, none other than Sudha Murty, wife of Narayan Murty of Infosys, got the job.
Despite the fact that JRD was the leader of the largest business group in India, he would offer lifts to people on the road, in his car. This speaks volumes for his simple nature.
He advocated a business mantra of ‘Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta’, which means ‘good thoughts, good words and good deeds’. Here are a few of JRD Tata’s quotes, which serve as a guide for entrepreneurs even today:
* If I were to attribute any single reason to such success as I have achieved, I would say that success would not have been possible without a sustained belief that what I did or attempted to do would serve the needs and interests of our country and our people and that I was a trustee of such interests.
* No success or achievement in material terms is worthwhile unless it serves the needs or interests of the country and its people and is achieved by fair and honest means.
* I do not want India to be an economic superpower. I want India to be a happy country.
* Live life a little dangerously.
* Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without deep thought and hard work.
* To lead men, you have to lead them with affection.
* Making steel may be compared to making a chappati. To make a good chappati, even a golden pin will not work unless the dough is good.
* If you want excellence, you must aim at perfection. It has its drawbacks, but being finicky is essential.
* The future belongs to the young. We must not only trust them with responsibility but must thrust it upon them whilst they are still young and full of energy, zest, hope and even illusions. However heart-breaking it may be to ourselves, we must make way for the new generations even when we feel we are still in our prime.
This was the message of one of JRD Tata’s companies in appreciation:
He touched the sky and it smiled.
He stretched out his arms and they encircled the globe.
His vision made giants of men and organizations.
On the occasion of JRD’s 113th birth anniversary, let us pay our tribute to the doyen of Indian industry and remember the traditions, values and business ethics he lived by.
B.E. Mech. [COEP], P.G.D. – International Trade [IIFT, New Delhi]
Author – ‘World Famous Indian Scientists’
Creative Writer: Articles; Speeches; Citations; Business Profiles
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