Business Today

The new Henry Ford

Over the last 12 months, the 70-year-old Chairman of the Tata Group has wrested back the position of #1 Indian business house.

     Print Edition: January 27, 2008

Ratan Naval Tata
Ratan Naval Tata
Ratan Tata has hit a purple patch. Last year, particularly, was exceptional, and this year promises to be more of the same. Over the last 12 months, the 70-year-old Chairman of the Tata Group has wrested back the position of #1 Indian business house, which the group had ceded to Reliance Industries sometime back. The Corus takeover last year added a 75 per cent incremental heft to the group’s top line, taking it roaring past the $40-billion (Rs 1,60,000 crore) mark, well clear of its rivals in the field.

Then, Tata Motors has recently been named preferred bidder for Ford Motor Company’s luxury brands, Jaguar and Land Rover, and “hopes to seal” the final deal over the next few weeks. And in between these two deals, Tata has gobbled up smaller companies across the world, making his group the first Indian multinational in the truest sense of the word. The icing on the cake in what will, undoubtedly, go down as one of the finest years for the 139-year-old group, was its ranking, at #3 on the list of the world’s most accountable and transparent businesses by Britain’s One World Trust, behind GE and GlaxoSmithKline. If there was one sour note, it was the rude—and uncivilised— rebuff Indian Hotels received from the management of Orient Express on its proposal for an alliance.

Name: Ratan Naval Tata
Age: 70
Designation: Chairman
Company: Tata Group
But Tata’s crowning glory is expected to be the launch of the much awaited “People’s Car”, aka the Rs 1-lakh car—his dream project—that has auto enthusiasts and rivals agog. Nothing instills confidence half as well as the respect of opponents. And Carlos Ghosn, President & CEO of Renault and Nissan, paid him that respect by saying: “If the Tatas can do it, so can we.” This marks a first—of a world-leading multinational humbly admitting that it is following in the footsteps of a much smaller Indian company. There has been speculation that Tata may announce his retirement after the launch of the much-talked-about car, but no confirmation has been forthcoming from the group. The New York Times even speculated that he will set up a small architecture firm after that—he is an architect by training, from Cornell University—but again, there’s no confirmation.

For now, though, there’s a huge prize waiting for him. After all, if the Rs 1-lakh car succeeds, Tata may well become a Henry Ford, who pioneered mass motoring with the Ford Model T, of the 21st century.

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