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  • Sukanya Mukherjee

The Ratan Tata Story - Courage is Having Grace under Fire



Life is not a bed of roses, nor is it supposed to be. You might think you are the only one going through failures or making poor choices alone but let me assure you, you are not the only one. The trick is to make a decision and not regret it. You cannot change what has already happened; therefore, you must accept it. From tech giants to leading entrepreneurs to famous industrialists, everyone has had their fair share of experiences in making decisions they were not proud of.


One of my favourite stories on decisions gone wrong is the story of the Tatas. Tata group belongs to the highest level of corporate as well as industry. For many of us, they are not just any random business group; they stand for trust and reliance. Despite all this glory, the Tata group is no stranger to hardships and conflicting decisions, which led to a massive adverse outcome.


While the Tatas always had remarkable success as a pioneering entity in many fields, many business decisions set them back too. Ratan Tata joined the Tata group back in 1961. Many of you trust that it must have been a cakewalk. It is quite the opposite in fact, let me tell you that.


Just because he belongs to the Tatas, everyone thought Mr. Tata’s story would be like all those heirs handed an entire empire on a silver platter. The Tatas have always been different, and this case was no exception. Ratan Tata had to earn his place in the company from the very beginning. Hardwork and no sense of entitlement made him who he is today. Apart from knowledge and insight, it is his graceful and humble behaviour that earned him a global reputation.


In 1961 Mr. Tata joined the group when he was only 24. He started as an apprentice at Tata Motors. As his passion and curiosity have always been uncompromisingly directed towards the automotive industry, he concentrated on making Tata Motors stand out as a leading company.


Failure of INDICA

A brilliant scholar and a visionary. Mr. Tata never stopped searching for betterment. He always wanted to go that extra mile that he believed would make a difference. In 1998, Tata Motors launched its Tata Indica. The main reason behind the creation of Tata Indica was Ratan Tata was told multiple times that it was not possible to make an utterly Indian car. This motivated Tata to create something that was complete Indian from the beginning. When Indica was launched and put into the market, it did not perform well.


A lot of energy, time, money and emotions invested into making the first car which encapsulated the Indian spirit, turned out to be completely meaningless. This massive setback, though an eye-opener, could never stop Mr. Tata from experimenting. In multiple interviews, he bravely owned up to this failure and shared how he felt. He confessed he felt as if he was without any support. He felt hopeless and hurt, just like many of us would. After a jaw-clenching 3 years, Tata Indica fought back and gained 30% of the market share.


1999:Bill Ford Meets Ratan Tata

In 1999, Tata motors decided to sell its car division to Ford. To discuss the specifics, a meeting was held in Detroit. In that meeting, Mr. Tata was practically humiliated along with other group members. Bill Ford, the head of the Ford group, told him they should not have a car division as they knew nothing about passenger cars.


After the meeting, Ratan Tata decided not to sell their car division.


How the Table Turned

2008 was one of the worst years in the world economy. The recession left no sector untouched. Many companies worldwide were facing bankruptcy. Ford was one of them. Yes, you read it right. Ford went bankrupt, and they had no idea what would happen to them. What happened next was beyond the wildest imagination. Ratan Tata came to the rescue and bought the Jaguar Land-rover division for 2.3 billion dollars. Ford could not believe this. After all, this was the very man to whom they were anything but kind. Many of Tata's colleagues didn't like the decision. That did not stop Tata from making the decision.


JLR turned into a dramatic success that no one thought it could. Within a short time, it turned out to be one of the best-selling units in Tata Motors.


Corus Steel Acquisition and What It Led to…

In 2007, Ratan Tata’s name again made headlines after one of the acquired the second largest steel Corus was the second-largest steel producer in Europe, generating revenues of 9.2 billion pounds in 2005. This transaction was valued at £6.2 billion. The acquisition gained worldwide attention. But sadly, the spirit and hype of the acquisition perhaps overshadowed the facts and the accurate picture of what was really taking place.


Tata Motors paid a lot more to acquire than its original value. Before entering the deal, there were many advantages that encouraged Tata Motors to acquire Corus Steel. But afterwards, the deal proved to be quite costly.


The Nano Project

Tata motors and Ratan Tata made the headlines once again in 2008 while launching the most ambitious project as of yet. They launched the Nano project. Nano was supposed to be a game changer- the ultimate car for the middle class and the lower middle. To put it simply, they wanted to make a car for the social classes for whom a car in itself is a meaningful achievement and a status symbol.


Even though the Nano was the brainchild of Ratan Tata himself, the project was greeted with disappointment. The company’s biggest mistake was to brand the car as the cheapest car. It could not make its mark on the brand-conscious mindset of the target demographic they had in mind. They failed to understand the psychology of their audience.


So the Nano, which was strong in quality, durability, and performance, simply did not receive the response it deserved.


The Point is…

You must be wondering why I only picked the stories of disappointments here. My point is everyone faces failures and distress in their lives. Even Mr. Tata, a brilliant erudite and visionary, was no exception. All his decisions were confronted and criticized, just like most of us.


The point is not to let your convictions shake. Continue your struggle with humility and courage. No matter what Ratan Tata, it was his faith, insight and trust in the greater good that kept him in persuasion. Let us, too, not give up.


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