It Takes Vision And Wisdom To Get There

Updated: Jul 29 2004, 06:48am hrs
New and advanced technologies fascinated JRD Tata, be they in information technology, automobiles or any other area. I got to know him when I joined Tata Electric Companies (Now Tata Power). His main strength as a business leader lay in motivating people to do something, not so much by talking to them, but more by asking questions that made them think.

JRD had this searching mind, which made you feel he was always interested in what you were doing. Naval Tata also had a touch of kindness about him. He was my chairman at Tata Electric. When I was leaving the company to join Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), he wrote to me, saying: You can come back at any time. Your place and seniority will be protected. We had built up the company to world standards.

I recall an incident from 1984 when it was proposed to merge Tata Burroughs and TCS. I underwent cardiac surgery the same year in the US. JRD kept track of my progress, even speaking personally to the surgeon in charge. I came to know later about JRD telling his colleagues that while he would favour the merger, he would not take any decision without consulting me. The surgery was performed on July 18. JRD said to wait till September 18 to allow me to recoup fully before any decision on the merger was taken.

TCS was set up in 1968 and I went there in September 1969. I was reluctant to leave Tata Electric, but I was asked to take charge of the new venture for a year (TCS was facing difficult times then). A plan was worked out whereby I would move to TCS and then return to Tata Electric, and this was cleared by Nani Palkhivala, JRD and others. Of course, as things panned out I never went back to Tata Electric.

I wasnt reporting directly to JRD, but I met him almost every month. He did visit TCS sometimes. He was completely taken in by the technology and was supportive of our work and our plans. TCS was looking for office space then and we were offered the 10th and 11th floors of the Air-India building (in south Bombay). The location was premium and so was the rent. JRD was A-Is chairman at that point and learned of our plans. He called me up and said that TCSs profits did not justify the cost. Why dont you look for space in the suburbs he asked. I told him it would give us marketing clout, while assuring him that we would make enough money to pay for it. He agreed with me.

Similarly, around 1988 we wanted to buy an IBM System 390 for $5 million. We needed a clearance from Tata Sons (of which TCS is a division) and the proposal went to JRD. He asked me why we needed such an expensive machine when even the likes of Tata Steel did not. I reasoned the necessity for TCS to go in for such a system and he just said: Go ahead. JRD encouraged our efforts because he knew all along that this technology would take off.

The Tatas contribution to the country in terms of industrialisation and the setting up of infrastructure has been outstanding by any yardstick.

The writer has been associated with the Tata Group since 1951, first in Tata Electric (now Tata Power) and then Tata Consultancy Services. Source: Lasting Legacies-Tata Review Commemorative Issue, 2004