Remembering Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, a visionary ahead of his times, on his death anniversary
JRD – Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, 118th anniversary (29 July 1904 – 29 November 1993)
26th July 1938, was a historic day for Tata Group to make a very important decision to select future leadership at a time when India was fighting for Independence and the Indian business community waiting for a sharp take-off in industries. Mr. Sorabji Saklatwala, who was leading the Tata Group, proposed JRD as the successor for Tata Group. At 34 years of age, Mr. Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata became the youngest Chairman of the Tata Group and continued for the next 53 Years (up to 1991) and was followed by his successor Mr. Ratan Tata.
Ratanji Dadabhoy (RD) Tata, a strict disciplinarian father was said to be a revolutionary at his times because of his second marriage with a French woman Ms. Suzanne Briere (Ms. Sooni, after converting to Zoroastrian) the mother of five children, served in Medical corps during World War I. No surprise Mr. JRD was so affectionate, adorable, and kind enough to all. One of the reasons why we still admire this man.
As a fortunate youngster, JRD was able to spend his memorable days in Paris, France-Bombay-Yokohama, Japan, which has given him glimpses of global exposure to various international events. Young minds will not forget memorable incidents in their life. Incidents will shape our minds and aspire us to achieve something unimaginable. There was one such a thing in JRD life “Passionate to Fly in Skies”, inspired by aviators like Mr. Adolphe Pegoud and Mr. Louis Bleriot (1st flight airplane from Europe to Britain in 1909).
Indian-born astronaut, Kalpana Chawla drew her inspiration from JRD. He was passionate about history, French poetry, reading books, flying, horse riding, zipping on the roads, etc., Having witnessed Word War I in France, he has clear thoughts towards India, that India should get Independence from Colonial Britain. Love for freedom undeterred by Western thoughts at the age of 15.
Thanks to his father who forced him to come back to India in the Mid 1920s’ leaving apart his dream of studying at Cambridge University. JRD started working in Tata Group in 1925 in Mumbai and Jamshedpur with a salary of Rs.750/ month. JRD carried forward the dreams of his predecessor and took the growth engine to next level, from $100 million to $5 billion, as of 2021-22, the revenues of Tata companies, taken together was $128 billion and employed over 935,000 people. Market capitalization is $311 billion, as on March 31, 2022. As a perfect all-rounder, Tata’s diversified business portfolios to name a few, Tata Chemicals, Tata Power, Tata Motors (TELCO), TCS, Tata Oil Mills, New India Insurance, LAKME Brand and not to forget his Philanthropy. Trillion thanks for establishing the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in 1945, as wished by Homi Bhabha, Father of India Nuclear Program, Tata Memorial Hospitals, TISS, etc.
Games reveal our innermost thought process, attitude, and character. Having received his pilot license in 1929 (1st Indian to do so), JRD heard about the Aga Khan Air Race Solo trip from England to India and the winner will get £500. As a risk taker, known for adventurism JRD took part along with two other Indians (Mr. Manmohan Singh & Mr. Aspy Engineer). When the Aspy engineer badly needed a spark plug, JRD came forward and offered his spares. This shows his attitude, helping persons in need when knowing well he is your competitor, and winning alone is not in JRD’s mind. Mr. Aspy engineer went on to become chief of Air Staff in 1960 and JRD become India’s best industrialist and received India’s highest award “Bharat Ratna” in 1992.
“Why don’t you start your own airline?” Was the question put to JRD by Mr. Neville Vincent a British pilot who had come to India in 1929 to start air services. Visionary JRD after convincing Dorabji started Tata Aviation services in 1932 with an Investment of Rs.2 lakh which later on becomes Air-India. First service from Karachi to Madras via Juhu, Mumbai.
JRD differed widely with Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Nehru about their economic plans for India post-independence. Visionary JRD was much worried about Mr. Nehru’s love for Russian socialism which will be a disaster for the industrial economy. He along with other famous personalities like GD Birla, Dr. John Mathai, AD Shroff, Thakurdas Purushotramdas, and many others, outlined the Economic Development Plan of India, in 1944. Unfortunately, their plan was not widely discussed and it took another 44 Yrs. to move away from the socialist regime to Liberal Economy, in 1991. Infamous JRD statement “If Mr. Sardar Valla Bhai Patel was PM of India, India would have followed a different path and we could have been in a better economy than we have today.”
Having lived in France, JRD knows the flavor of freedom, liberty, equality, and independence. “There is No option for You but to give complete Independence to India, if you want India to remain peaceful, it is better that you grant her the Independence she deserves. It would save a lot of bloodshed”, are words of JRD when he wrote to Viceroy on 5th Aug 1942 before Quit India Movement started.
The 1950s was a tough decade for Tata when Nehruvian socialism started dictating the terms in the name of the nationalization of industries. The government literally took over three profit-making Tata companies (Air India, Air India International & New India Assurance) but the legendary JRD who is known for bluntness, openly criticized the government’s policy, tussled with bureaucrats, and shot off various letters to top leadership. Not to forget Mr. Morarji Desai terminated JRD as chairman of Air-India and removed him from the board of the Atomic Energy commission.
Having said all, JRD maintained cordial relationships with Indian leaders, scientific communities, ace lawyers, and business leaders. Always open to supporting the government whenever the situation demands be it for necessary inputs to various ministries. He offered various support to GOI during natural calamities and also for the Indo-China war. This legend has lived and has seen 8 prime ministries in his lifetime and when India liberalized its economic policy in 1991, perhaps that would be the happiest movement for him.
JRD was born in Paris and died in Geneva but a true Karma Yogi who set the track for Indian industries uplifted millions of Indians and continues to inspire many of us. Truly 20th century best Industrialist for India.
A long overdue, India should celebrate the Indian business community as we respect farmers and labour. “Blood and Business community are the same, one travels across the body and another covering Bharat”.
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2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
 The Tatas: How a Family Built a Business and a Nation – Mar 25 2019, Amazon.in
 Tata Titans – Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata – Tata.com
 Financial Information and live stock data of the Tata companies – Tata.com
 Here are 8 other things JRD Tata spoke about in the now viral clip showing his views on Jawaharlal Nehru – Sep 11 2020, OpIndia
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