J. R. D. Tata
|29 July 1904
|29 November 1993 (aged 89)
|Père Lachaise Cemetery
|Founder of Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Motors, Titan Industries, Voltas and Air India
|Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata
Suzanne "Sooni" Brière
|See Tata family
|Padma Vibhushan (1955)
Legion of Honour (1982)
Daniel Guggenheim Medal (1988)
Bharat Ratna (1992)
Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata(29 July 1904 – 29 November 1993) was an Indian aviator, industrialist, entrepreneur and chairman of Tata Group.
Born into the Tata Family of India, he was the son of noted businessman Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and his wife Suzanne Brière. His mother was the first woman in India to drive a car and, in 1929, he became the first licensed pilot in India. He is also best known for being the founder of several industries under the Tata Group, including Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Motors, Titan Industries, Tata Salt, Voltas and Air India. In 1983, he was awarded the French Legion of Honour and in 1955 and 1992, he received two of India's highest civilian awards the Padma Vibhushan and the Bharat Ratna. These honours were bestowed on him for his contributions to Indian industry.
See also: Tata family
J. R. D. Tata was born on 29 July 1904 to an Indian Parsi family in Paris, France. He was the second child of businessman Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and his French wife, Suzanne "Sooni" Brière. His father was the first cousin of Jamsetji Tata, a pioneer industrialist in India. He had one elder sister Sylla, a younger sister Rodabeh and two younger brothers Darab and Jamshed (called Jimmy) Tata. His sister, Sylla, was married to Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, the third baronet of Petits. His sister's sister-in-law, Rattanbai Petit, was the wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who later became the founder of Pakistan in August 1947. Jinnah and Rattanbai's daughter Dina Jinnah, was married to Bombay Dyeing chairman Neville Wadia who was the son of Sir Ness Wadia and Lady Eveylne Clara Powell Wadia. Neville and Dina had two children, Nusli Wadia and Diana N Wadia. Nusli is the current chairman of the Wadia Group. Nusli married Maureen Waida and they have two children, Jehangir Wadia and Ness Wadia.
As his mother was French, he spent much of his childhood in France and as a result, French was his first language. He attended the Janson De Sailly School in Paris. One of the teachers at that school used to call him L'Egyptien.
He attended the Cathedral and John Connon School, Bombay. Tata was educated in London, Japan, France and India. When his father joined the Tata company he moved the whole family to London. During this time, J. R. D.'s mother died at the age of 43 while his father was in India and his family was in France.
After his mother's death, Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata decided to move his family to India and sent J. R. D. to England for higher studies in October 1923. He was enrolled in a grammar school, and was interested in studying engineering at Cambridge University. However, as a citizen of France J. R. D. had to enlist in the army for at least a year. In between grammar school and his time in the army, he spent a brief spell at home in Bombay. After joining the French Army he was posted into a regiment of spahis. Upon discovering Tata could not only read and write French and English, but could type as well, a colonel had him assigned as a secretary in his office. After his time in the French Army, his father decided to bring him back to India and he joined the Tata Company.
In 1929, Tata renounced his French citizenship and became an Indian citizen. In 1930 Tata married Thelma Vicaji, the niece of Jack Vicaji, a colourful lawyer whom he hired to defend him on a charge of driving his Bugatti too fast along Bombay's main promenade, Marine Drive. Previously he had been engaged to Dinbai Mehta, the future mother of The Economist editor Shapur Kharegat.
While he was born to a Parsi father, and his French mother converted to Zoroastrianism, J. R. D. was agnostic. He found some Parsi religious customs like their funeral rites and their exclusiveness irksome. He adhered to the three basic tenets of Zoroastrianism, which were good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, but he did not profess belief or disbelief in God.
When Tata was in tour, he was inspired by his friend's father, aviation pioneer Louis Blériot, the first man to fly across the English Channel, and took to flying. On 10 February 1929, Tata obtained the first license issued in India. He later came to be known as the "Father of Indian civil aviation". He founded India's first commercial airline, Tata Airlines in 1932, which became Air India in 1946, now India's national airline. He and Nevill Vintcent worked together in building Tata Airlines. They were also good friends. In 1929, J. R. D. became one of the first Indians to be granted a commercial's license. In 1932 Tata Aviation Service, the forerunner to Tata Airline and Air India, took to the skies. That same year he flew the first commercial mail flight to Juhu, in a de Havilland Puss Moth.
The first flight in the History of Indian aviation lifted off from Drigh in Karachi to Madras with J. R. D. at the controls of a Puss on 15 October 1932. J. R. D. nourished and nurtured his airline baby through to 1953, when the government of Jawaharlal Nehru nationalised Air India. It was a decision J. R. D. had fought against tooth and nail.
He joined Tata Sons as an unpaid apprentice in 1925. In 1938, at the age of 34, Tata was elected Chairman of Tata Sons making him the head of the largest industrial group in India. He took over as Chairman of Tata Sons from his second cousin Nowroji Saklatwala. For decades, he directed the huge Tata Group of companies, with major interests in steel, engineering, power, chemicals and hospitality. He was famous for succeeding in business while maintaining high ethical standards – refusing to bribe politicians or use the black market.
Under his chairmanship, the assets of the Tata Group grew from US$100 million to over US$5 billion. He started with 14 enterprises under his leadership and half a century later on 26 July 1988, when he left, Tata Sons was a conglomerate of 95 enterprises which they either started or in which they had controlling interest.
He was the trustee of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust from its inception in 1932 for over half a century. Under his guidance, this Trust established Asia's first cancer facility, the Tata Memorial Centre for Cancer, Research and Treatment, Bombay in 1941. He also founded the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS, 1936), the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR, 1945), and the National Center for Performing Arts.
In 1945, he founded Tata Motors. In 1948, Tata launched Air India International as India's first international airline. In 1953, the Indian Government appointed Tata as Chairman of Air India and a director on the Board of Indian Airlines – a position he retained for 25 years. For his crowning achievements in aviation, he was bestowed with the title of Honorary Air Commodore of India.
Tata cared greatly for his workers. In 1956, he initiated a programme of closer 'employee association with management' to give workers a stronger voice in the affairs of the company. He firmly believed in employee welfare and espoused the principles of an eight-hour working day, free medical aid, workers' provident scheme, and workmen's accident compensation schemes, which were later, adopted as statutory requirements in India.
He was also a founding member of the first Governing Body of NCAER, the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi, India's first independent economic policy institute established in 1956. In 1968, he founded Tata Consultancy Services as Tata Computer Centre. In 1979, Tata Steel instituted a new practice: a worker being deemed to be "at work" from the moment he leaves home for work until he returns home from work. This made the company financially liable to the worker for any mishap on the way to and from work. In 1987, he founded Titan Industries. Jamshedpur was also selected as a UN Global Compact City because of the quality of life, conditions of sanitation, roads and welfare that were offered by Tata Steel.
Tata was also controversially supportive of the declaration of emergency powers by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in 1975. He is quoted to have told a reporter of the Times, "things had gone too far. You can't imagine what we've been through here—strikes, boycotts, demonstrations. Why, there were days I couldn't walk out of my house into the streets. The parliamentary system is not suited to our needs."
Tata received a number of awards. He was conferred the honorary rank of group captain by the Indian Air Force in 1948, was promoted to the Air Commodore rank (equivalent to Brigadier in the army) on 4 October 1966, and was further promoted on 1 April 1974 to the Air Vice Marshal rank. Several international awards for aviation were given to him – the Tony Jannus Award in March 1979, the Gold Air Medal of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1985, the Edward Warner Award of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Canada in 1986 and the Daniel Guggenheim Medal in 1988. He received the Padma Vibhushan in 1955. The French Legion of Honour was bestowed on him in 1983. In 1992, because of his selfless humanitarian endeavours, Tata was awarded India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna. In his memory, the Government of Maharashtra named its first double-decker bridge the Bharatratna JRD Tata Overbridge at Nasik Phata, Pimpri Chinchwad.
Following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's 1975-1977 Emergency, in which she controversially pursued forced sterilizations as a form of population control, Tata built on these efforts by ordering Tata Steel to open nine family planning centers in 1984. Employees and their non-employee partners were compensated for undergoing sterilization, and factory plant departments were awarded for achieving the lowest fertility rate. While such incentives arguably violated the medical ethics principle of personal bodily autonomy, Tata was awarded the 1992 United Nations Population Award for his efforts.
Tata died in Geneva, Switzerland of a kidney infection on 29 November 1993, at the age of 89. He said a few days before his passing: "Comme c'est doux de mourir" ("How gentle it is to die").
Upon his death, the Indian Parliament was adjourned in his memory – an honour not usually given to persons who are not members of parliament. He was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
In 2012, Tata was ranked the sixth "The Greatest Indian" in an Outlook magazine poll, "conducted in conjunction with CNN-IBN and History18 Channels with BBC."