If the term one-man industry were to apply to anyone in corporate India, it would most appropriately be Ratan Tata. Not just because he heads the business group that is the country's oldest, most diversified and the most respected, but also because the Tatas occupy a unique mind-space among Indians. Ask anybody to name one industrial house of India and the top of the mind recall in most cases will be the Tatas. Along with all its financial might and enviable legacy, the Tatas' importance also lies in the fact that they are considered to be the first family of Indian business.
First family? Family? If that word strikes as odd in the context of the Tata Group, it's not without a reason. Unlike many other business houses, the Tatas never had problems with family succession-if they had a problem, it was that of finding a family member as a successor. That's why there is more than usual interest in the only other Tata in the group-Noel Naval Tata, Managing Director of Trent. The half-brother of Ratan Naval Tata and son-in-law of Pallonji Mistry, who controls roughly 18 per cent stake in Tata Sons, Noel is a quintessential Tata. He is self-effacing, follows a very simple-some would say boring-lifestyle and works very hard (six-and-a-half days a week). Yet, in a group as professionally managed as the Tatas, family name and hard work may be necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for the top job as the group chairman. BT spoke to the reclusive Noel Tata exclusively on a range of issues, including his passion-retail. See pg 38.
Fascinating as the stories of family businesses are, the tales of India's first generation entrepreneurs are also compelling-especially of those who are daring to go into businesses that the big incumbents didn't. One such example is Jignesh Shah of Financial Technologies-best-known for commodities exchange MCX. On pg 68, we present a blueprint of what Shah calls his emerging financial ecosystem, which will include small farmers in rural India as well as big financial centres of the world. There is a third interesting facet to India's business landscape: The growing presence of expat managers, some of who now run global businesses out of India. A prime example is Wim Elfrink, Chief Globalisation Officer, Cisco. On pg 86, we profile the man whose life at work and life after work are equally absorbing.