Friday, July 29, 2005


Today happens to be the 101st birth anniversary of Bharat Ratna J.R.D. Tata (JRD). The Hindu has a nice piece by R.M. Lala (who has penned JRD's biography) on the business ethics of JRD.

In a ToI editorial recounting some of the key achievements of the Tata industrial empire under JRD's leadership, I found this bit rather curious:

... JRD started India's aviation industry. Though Air-India and Indian Airlines were later nationalised and run to the ground by successive governments, JRD would probably have been proud to see how India's aviation industry has shaped up today: New private airlines jostling for space on the tarmac, soon-to-come private investment in airport infrastructure and plummeting fares that have driven the cost of air travel down to railway-ticket levels.

I don't know if JRD really would have felt proud about the current state of the aviation industry; but one can be reasonably sure that he would feel sad about the fact that the Tatas have been -- utterly unfairly -- kept out of aviation in the country. When private airlines were allowed to operate in the country, the House of Tatas -- in technical and financial collaboration with Singapore Airlines -- proposed setting up a domestic airline company. Our atrocious policy prevented then, and continues to prevent now, any foreign airline from taking a (minority, but substantial) stake in an Indian aviation company. Expertise in aviation, according to this bizarre policy, is actually a deterrent to investing in the same industry in India. Go figure!

In an Economic Times op-ed, we have none other than N.R. Narayana Murthy (Chairman, Infosys) reminiscing about JRD. Right in the beginning of his piece, Murthy says, "most conversations with my then-friend and now wife, Sudha, were spent in her extolling the virtues of “Apro JRD”, as she always called him". Sudha Murthy herself has written an extremely interesting article about why JRD is her hero:

It was a long time ago. I was young and bright, bold and idealistic. I was in the final year of my master's course in computer science at the Indian Institute of Science [IISc] in Bangalore, then known as the Tata Institute. Life was full of fun and joy. I did not know what helplessness or injustice meant.

It was probably the April of 1974. Bangalore was getting warm and red gulmohars were blooming at the IISc campus. I was the only girl in my postgraduate department and was staying at the ladies' hostel. Other girls were pursuing research in different departments of science. I was looking forward to going abroad to complete a doctorate in computer science. I had been offered scholarships from universities in the US. I had not thought of taking up a job in India.

One day, while on the way to my hostel from our lecture-hall complex, I saw an advertisement on the notice board. It was a standard job-requirement notice from the famous automobile company Telco [now Tata Motors]. It stated that the company required young, bright engineers, hardworking and with an excellent academic background, etc.

At the bottom was a small line: "Lady candidates need not apply." I read it and was very upset. For the first time in my life I was up against gender discrimination.

Read her article for the rest of the story!


  1. Anonymous said...

    "We do not claim to be more unselfish, more generous or more philanthropic than other people. But we think we started on sound and straightforward business principles, considering the interests of the shareholders our own, and the health and welfare of the employees the sure foundation of our prosperity." - From The Hindu article

    So true and so simple!

  2. Anonymous said...

    The same RM Lala has an article in Business Line as well