Ratan Naval Tata
India
Ratan Naval Tata
  • Former Chair, Tata Group; Chair, Tata Trusts (Diversified)
Born Surat, India, 1937. Bachelors, Architecture and Engineering, Cornell University (1962). Advanced Management Program 71, Harvard Business School (1975).
“[W]e need to encourage Indian venture funds ... the important change is that we have a situation where some young people can get together, get an idea, and find the funds to establish and implement that idea, which didn’t exist five years ago.”

Summary

Ratan Tata is one of India’s most iconic business leaders and was the chairman of Tata Group, an Indian public multinational conglomerate based in Mumbai, between 1991 and 2012. Tata opens this interview by reflecting on the difficult state of the Group when he became chairman. Tata discusses how he felt the need to bring in new board members who would allow for change and modernization of the Group, and he also explains the need to restructure the Group after the end of the so-called License Raj and the advent of the World Wide Web.

In 1991, India experienced an economic crisis which caused even profitable companies within India to struggle. In this interview, Tata explains that it was this crisis that influenced him to start considering expanding beyond India as he recognized the importance of not relying on any one economy fully. As a result, the Group began its global expansion process, first establishing Tata Africa Holdings in South Africa in 1994, and in 1998, Tata Motors started exporting commercial vehicles to the country. Then, in 2000, Tata Tea acquired its first major international brand, the British-owned Tetley Tea. In 2002, Tata Motors acquired Daewoo, a South Korean automotive company, and 2007 Tata Steel acquired Corus, an Anglo-Dutch steel company. In 2008, Tata Motors made another large acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover in Britain after being approached by Ford. In this interview, Tata describes this acquisition process in particular and the challenges faced, including pushback from employees from Jaguar Land Rover UK who feared losing their jobs. Tata uses these examples to explain that the Group only looked at acquiring companies that would give them a strategic advantage.

Tata continues the interview by discussing his experience with Tata Nano, a small, compact, and affordable car which Tata Motors began manufacturing in India in 2008. He reflects on the processes that went into building the Nano for the mass market including the design process, the marketing process, the development of the business, and the challenges and mistakes that constrained its success. Tata argues that the company under-estimated that the base of the pyramid market was demanding for status. Instead, his company wrongly positioned the brand as a product which a consumer would buy if they could not afford to buy another car.

To conclude the interview, Tata deplores what he discerns as deteriorating ethical standards in much of Indian business over recent decades and sets a vision for India as a country that should offer equal opportunity for all of its citizens. Finally, he describes India’s environmental concerns including severe water and air pollution and calls on laws to be enforced for everyone, stating that there needs to be a zero-tolerance policy for corruption around these issues.

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Ratan Tata is one of India’s most iconic business leaders and was the chairman of Tata Group, an Indian public multinational conglomerate based in Mumbai, between 1991 and 2012. Tata opens this interview by reflecting on the difficult state of the Group when he became chairman. Tata discusses how he felt the need to bring in new board members who would allow for change and modernization of the Group, and he also explains the need to restructure the Group after the end of the so-called License Raj and the advent of the World Wide Web.

In 1991, India experienced an economic crisis which caused even profitable companies within India to struggle. In this interview, Tata explains that it was this crisis that influenced him to start considering expanding beyond India as he recognized the importance of not relying on any one economy fully. As a result, the Group began its global expansion process, first establishing Tata Africa Holdings in South Africa in 1994, and in 1998, Tata Motors started exporting commercial vehicles to the country. Then, in 2000, Tata Tea acquired its first major international brand, the British-owned Tetley Tea. In 2002, Tata Motors acquired Daewoo, a South Korean automotive company, and 2007 Tata Steel acquired Corus, an Anglo-Dutch steel company. In 2008, Tata Motors made another large acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover in Britain after being approached by Ford. In this interview, Tata describes this acquisition process in particular and the challenges faced, including pushback from employees from Jaguar Land Rover UK who feared losing their jobs. Tata uses these examples to explain that the Group only looked at acquiring companies that would give them a strategic advantage.

Tata continues the interview by discussing his experience with Tata Nano, a small, compact, and affordable car which Tata Motors began manufacturing in India in 2008. He reflects on the processes that went into building the Nano for the mass market including the design process, the marketing process, the development of the business, and the challenges and mistakes that constrained its success. Tata argues that the company under-estimated that the base of the pyramid market was demanding for status. Instead, his company wrongly positioned the brand as a product which a consumer would buy if they could not afford to buy another car.

To conclude the interview, Tata deplores what he discerns as deteriorating ethical standards in much of Indian business over recent decades and sets a vision for India as a country that should offer equal opportunity for all of its citizens. Finally, he describes India’s environmental concerns including severe water and air pollution and calls on laws to be enforced for everyone, stating that there needs to be a zero-tolerance policy for corruption around these issues.
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Video Clips by Topic

Base of the Pyramid

Ratan Naval Tata, former Chair of Tata Group in India, assesses the base of the pyramid market and the need to respect the dignity of those consumers.


Global Expansion

Ratan Naval Tata, former chair of the India-based diversified business group Tata Group, describes his company's acquisition of Jaguar/Land Rover in the UK and some of the challenges in convincing the employees that Tata was not going to sell the plant.


Innovation

Ratan Naval Tata, Chair of Tata Trust and Former Chair of Tata Group, discusses the external acquisition of technology using the example of Tata's acquisition in 2008 of Jaguar Land Rover.

Keywords: India, Innovation


Leadership

Ratan Naval Tata, for Chair of India-based Tata Group, explains his faith in India's future: "I'm an optimist… there is perhaps the highest degree of entrepreneurship in our country… we need to harness that."
Keywords: India, Leadership


Social Impact

Ratan Naval Tata, Chair of Tata Trust and Former Chair of Tata Group in India, explains his belief that corporations must become a part of, and engage with, the communities in which they operate.
Keywords: Social Impact, India


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Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Interview Citation Format

"Interview with Ratan Naval Tata, interviewed by Tarun Khanna, April 27, 2015, Creating Emerging Markets Project, Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School, http://www.hbs.edu/creating-emerging-markets/."