Ratan Naval Tata (born 28 December 1937) is an Indian industrialist , investor, philanthropist, and a former chairman of Tata Sons who serves as its chairman . He was also chairman of Tata Group, from 1990 to 2012, and again, as interim chairman, from October 2016 through February 2017, and continues to head its charitable trusts. He is the recipient of two of the highest civilian awards of India – Padma Vibhushan (2008) and Padma Bhushan (2000). He is well known for his business ethics and philanthropy.
Born in 1937, he was a scion of the Tata family, and great-grandson of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of Tata Group. He is an alumnus of the Cornell University College of Architecture. He joined his company in 1961, and was the apparent successor to J. R. D. Tata upon the latter’s retirement in 1991. During Ratan Tata’s chairmanship of 21 years, revenues grew over 40 times, and profit, over 50 times. He boldly got Tata Tea to acquire Tetley, Tata Motors to acquire Jaguar Land Rover, and Tata Steel to acquire Corus, in an attempt to turn Tata from a largely India-centric group into a global business.
Ratan Tata was born in Bombay, now Mumbai, on 28 December 1937, and is the son of Naval Tata (born in Surat). His biological maternal grandmother had been the sister of Hirabai Tata, wife of group founder Jamshedji Tata. His biological grandfather, Hormusji Tata, had belonged to the broader Tata family; Ratan therefore was a Tata by birth. Parents Naval and Sonoo separated in 1948 when Ratan was 10, and he was subsequently raised by the widow of Sir Ratanji Tata, his grandmother, Navajbai Tata, who formally adopted him through the J. N. Petit Parsi Orphanage. He has a half-brother, Noel Tata (from Naval Tata’s second marriage with Simone Tata), with whom he was raised. His first language is Gujarati.
He studied at the Campion School till the 8th class, followed by Cathedral and John Connon School and at Bishop Cotton School in Shimla, and, in 1955, graduated from Riverdale Country School in New York City. In 1959, he then received a degree in Architecture from Cornell University, and in 1975, attended the seven-week Advanced Management Program of Harvard Business School an institution which he has since endowed.
In 1961, Tata began his career in the Tata Group, working on the shop floor of Tata Steel, shovelling limestone, and handling the blast furnace. Promoted to management during the 1970s; he then endured trial by fire and was able to turn Group company National Radio and Electronics (NELCO) around, only to see it collapse during an economic slowdown. In 1991, J. R. D. Tata stepped down as chairman of Tata Sons, naming him his successor. When he settled down into the new role, he faced stiff resistance from many companies heads, some of whom had spent decades in their respective companies and rose to become very powerful and influential due to the freedom to operate under JRD Tata. He began replacing them by setting a retirement age, and then made individual companies report operationally to the group office and made each contribute some of their profit to build and use the Tata group brand. Innovation was given priority and younger talent was infused and given responsibilities. Under his stewardship, overlapping operations in group companies were streamlined into a synergised whole, with the salt-to-software group exiting unrelated businesses to take on globalisation.
During the 21 years he led the Tata Group, revenues grew over 40 times, and profit, over 50 times. Where sales of the group as a whole, overwhelmingly came from commodities when he took over, the majority sales came from brands when he exited. He boldly got Tata Tea to acquire Tetley, Tata Motors to acquire Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Steel to acquire Corus. All this turned Tata from a largely India-centric group into a global business, with over 65% revenues coming from operations and sales in over 100 countries. He conceptualised the Tata Nano car. In 2015, He explained in an interview for the Harvard Business School‘s Creating Emerging Markets project, the development of the Tata Nano was significant because it helped put cars at a price-point within reach of the average Indian consumer.
Ratan Tata resigned his executive powers in the Tata group on 28 December 2012, upon turning 75, appointing as his successor, Cyrus Mistry, the 44-year-old son of Pallonji Mistry of the Shapoorji Pallonji Group, the largest individual shareholder of the group and related by marriage. On 24 October 2016, Cyrus Mistry was removed as the chairman of Tata Sons and Ratan Tata was made interim chairman. The decision went through intense media scrutiny that made many scrutinize the root causes of the sudden removal, and the resultant crisis. A selection committee was formed to find a successor. The selection committee consisted of Mr. Tata, TVS Group head Venu Srinivasan, Amit Chandra of Bain Capital, former diplomat Ronen Sen and Lord Kumar Bhattacharya. All of them, except Mr. Bhattacharya, were on the board of Tata Sons. On 12 January 2017, Natarajan Chandrasekaran was named as the chairman of Tata Sons, a role he assumed in February 2017.
Tata invested personal savings in Snapdeal – one of India’s leading e-commerce websites -and, in January 2016, Teabox, an online premium Indian Tea seller, and CashKaro.com, a discount coupons and cash-back website. He has made small investments in both early and late stage companies in India, such as INR 0.95 Cr in Ola Cabs. In April 2015, it was reported that Tata had acquired a stake in Chinese smartphone startup Xiaomi. In October 2015, he partnered with American Express, investing in Bitcoin venture Abra. In 2016, he invested in Nestaway  and online pet care portal, Dogspot.Tata Motors rolled out the first batch of Tigor Electric Vehicles from its Sanand Plant in Gujarat, regarding which Ratan Tata said, “Tigor indicates a willingness to fast-forward India’s electric dream. The government has set an ambitious target to have only electric cars by 2030.”
Tata is a supporter of education, medicine and rural development, and considered a leading philanthropist in India. Tata supported University of New South Wales Faculty of Engineering to develop capacitive deionization to provide improved water for challenged areas.
- Tata Education and Development Trust, a philanthropic affiliate of Tata Group, endowed a $28 million Tata Scholarship Fund that will allow Cornell University to provide financial aid to undergraduate students from India. The scholarship fund will support approximately 20 scholars at any given time and will ensure that the very best Indian students have access to Cornell, regardless of their financial circumstances. The scholarship will be awarded annually; recipients will receive the scholarship for the duration of their undergraduate study at Cornell.
- In 2010, Tata Group companies and Tata charities donated $50 million for the construction of an executive center at Harvard Business School (HBS). The executive center has been named Tata Hall, after Ratan Tata (AMP ’75), chairman emeritus of Tata Sons. The total construction costs have been estimated at $100 million. Tata Hall is located in the northeast corner of the HBS campus, and is devoted to the Harvard Business School’s mid-career Executive Education program. It is seven stories tall, and about 155,000 gross square feet. It houses approximately 180 bedrooms, in addition to academic and multi-purpose spaces.
- Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has given the largest ever donation by a company to Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) for a facility to research in cognitive systems and autonomous vehicles. TCS donated $35 million for this grand 48,000 square-foot building that is going to be called TCS Hall.
- In 2014, Tata Group endowed the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay and formed the Tata Center for Technology and Design (TCTD) to develop design and engineering principles suited to the needs of people and communities with limited resources. They gave 950 million to the institute which was the largest ever donation received in its history.
- Tata Group, under the leadership of Ratan Tata formed the MIT Tata Center of Technology and Design at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a mission to address the challenges of resource-constrained communities, with an initial focus on India.
Board memberships and affiliations
He was the interim chairman of Tata Sons. He continues to head the main two Tata trusts Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and Sir Ratan Tata Trust and their allied trusts, with a combined stake of 66% in Tata Sons, Tata group’s holding company.
He has served in various capacities in organizations in India and abroad. He is a member of Prime Minister’s ‘Council on Trade and Industry’ and the ‘National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council’. He is on the jury panel of Pritzker Architecture Prize – considered to be one of the world’s premier architecture prizes.
He is a director on the boards of Alcoa Inc., Mondelez International and Board of Governors of the East-West Center. He is also a member of the board of trustees of University of Southern California, Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors, X Prize and Cornell University. He is a member on the board of International Advisory Council at Bocconi University
He is also a member of the Harvard Business School India Advisory Board (IAB) since 2006 and previously a member of the Harvard Business School Asia-Pacific Advisory Board (APAB) 2001-2006.
In October 2016, Tata Sons removed Cyrus Mistry as its chairman, nearly 4 years after he took over the reins of the over $100 billion conglomerate, Ratan Tata made a comeback, taking over the company’s interim boss for 4 months. On 12 January 2017, Natarajan Chandrasekaran was named as the chairman of Tata Sons, a role he assumed in February 2017.
Honours and awards
Other notable awards include:
YearNameAwarding organisationRef.2001Honorary Doctor of Business AdministrationOhio State University2004Medal of the Oriental Republic of UruguayGovernment of Uruguay2004Honorary Doctor of TechnologyAsian Institute of Technology.2005International Distinguished Achievement AwardB’nai B’rith International2005Honorary Doctor of ScienceUniversity of Warwick.2006Honorary Doctor of ScienceIndian Institute of Technology Madras2006Responsible Capitalism AwardFor Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST)2007Honorary FellowshipThe London School of Economics and Political Science2007Carnegie Medal of PhilanthropyCarnegie Endowment for International Peace2008Honorary Doctor of LawUniversity of Cambridge2008Honorary Doctor of ScienceIndian Institute of Technology Bombay2008Honorary Doctor of ScienceIndian Institute of Technology Kharagpur2008Honorary Citizen AwardGovernment of Singapore2008Honorary FellowshipThe Institution of Engineering and Technology2008Inspired Leadership AwardThe Performance Theatre2009Honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE)United Kingdom2009Life Time Contribution Award in Engineering for 2008Indian National Academy of Engineering2009Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian RepublicGovernment of Italy2010Honorary Doctor of LawUniversity of Cambridge2010Hadrian AwardWorld Monuments Fund2010Oslo Business for Peace awardBusiness for Peace Foundation2010Legend in Leadership AwardYale University2010Honorary Doctor of LawsPepperdine University2010Business for Peace AwardBusiness for Peace Foundation2010Business Leader of the YearThe Asian Awards.2012Honorary FellowThe Royal Academy of Engineering2012Doctor of Business honoris causaUniversity of New South Wales2012Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising SunGovernment of Japan2013Foreign AssociateNational Academy of Engineering2013Transformational Leader of the DecadeIndian Affairs India Leadership Conclave 20132013Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year – Lifetime AchievementErnst & Young2013Honorary Doctor of Business PracticeCarnegie Mellon University2013Honorary DoctorateUniversity of Amsterdam2014Honorary Doctor of BusinessSingapore Management University2014Sayaji Ratna AwardBaroda Management Association2014Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (GBE)United Kingdom Government2014Honorary Doctor of LawsYork University, Canada2015Honorary Doctor of Automotive EngineeringClemson University2015Sayaji Ratna AwardBaroda Management Association, Honoris Causa, HEC Paris2016Commander of the Legion of HonourGovernment of France
In 2011, Ratan Tata stated, “I came seriously close to getting married four times and each time I thought off in fear or for one reason or another – Noel Tata.”