JRD Tata Story: What is good for India, is Tata’s way… JRD’s thinking is Tata’s success

Highlights of the story

  • JRD Tata was born in France
  • JRD returned to India at the behest of his father

Today is the 118th birth anniversary of JRD Tata, the oldest industrialist in the Tata group. JRD Tata was born on this day in 1904 in Paris. His father RD Tata was a business partner and relative of Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the Tata Group. JRD Tata’s mother Sooni was a citizen of France. He was the second of his parents’ four children. Apart from France, he studied in Japan and England.

JRD Tata achieved many great achievements in his life, for which he will always be remembered. His contribution is not limited to giving India its first airline, but from making India a global powerhouse in the steel sector to fulfilling Jamsetji’s unfulfilled dreams, his story also is registered to your account. Today, on his birth anniversary, we’re bringing you some of those accomplishments.

India’s first licensed pilot

First of all let’s talk about India’s first airline. Tatas love of flying is well known. This association was not only with JRD Tata, who made India the first airline, after him Ratan Tata, who took over the reins of Tata Sons, was also fond of flying. Tatas’ association with aircraft and flight dates back to the days of JRD Tata. JRD used to be fascinated by flying since childhood. Only when he was 15 years old did he have the pleasure of flying by plane in France. This experience sparked JRD’s love for mental flight, which eventually led to the launch of Air India. In 1929, JRD Tata obtained his commercial pilot’s license and thus became the first Indian to obtain such a license.

Only British can do this job, then JRD Tata did it… India is still proud!

JRD himself made the first flight

In 1930, there was a proposal to start an airmail service at Tata headquarters (Bombay House), which was to connect Bombay, Ahmedabad and Karachi. Dorabji Tata, the then chairman of the Tata group, was persuaded to start this service by John Peterson, JRD’s friend and Tata colleague. Dorabji entrusted the responsibility of this new business to JRD. JRD Tata started the company along with Air Force pilot Neville Vincent. In this, he had then invested two lakh rupees. This company was started not for passenger flights but for carrying mail. Its first postal service flight was from Karachi to Madras and JRD Tata himself became the pilot.

Air India is JRD’s gift (Photo: tata.com)

I used to love Air India like a kid

In 1932, Tata Aviation Service was started under the leadership of JRD. After some time, the name of the company was changed to Tata Airlines. However, this name was short-lived and eventually this company was named Air India, which is still alive. After India’s independence, the government led by first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru nationalized Air India in 1953. You might not know, Air India’s famous Maharaja logo is also a gift from JRD Tata. It was designed by JRD Tata for Air India’s international service. There are many stories of JRD Tata’s attachment to Air India. He also participated in the selection of the hostess and in this work he used to receive help from his wife. From meat to tomatoes to eggs, he himself included in Air India’s menu. His eyes were on everything from the tea to the coffee served to the passengers on the flight.

Tata had a leader like JRD

The Tata group got a leader like JRD, in which his father RD Tata has a big hand. JRD had previously joined the French army and wanted to remain in service. When the father refused, he had to suppress his desire. Later, JRD wanted to study engineering at Cambridge University, but his father refused even and ordered to come to India and join the work of Tata Group. He started his career in the Tata group as an apprentice in December 1925 and for that he did not get a single rupee. When JRD was only 22 years old, his father died. After this, JRD got a seat on the board of Tata Sons. In 1929, JRD renounced his French citizenship and began to concentrate on business in India.

JRD Tata on the beach (Photo: tata.com)

JRD received this legacy from Jamsetji

Jamsetji had headed the Tata group only 17 years ago. The company was earlier named Tata & Sons, which was later renamed Tata Sons after becoming a private limited company in 1917. After Jamsetji, Tata’s leadership passed to JRD Tata, who has led the Tata Group for the longest time. Jamsetji’s principles have contributed a lot in making JRD Tata a success. RM Lala takes a look at it in JRD’s biography ‘Beyond the Last Blue Mountain’. He writes, “Jamsetji used to repeatedly ask a question in board meetings… what does the country need? Now if the answer was steel, hydropower or science college, Jamsetji used to work hard in that direction.

What is good for India is good for Tata

JRD had tied this knot of Jamsetji and imbibed this principle for the rest of his life. RM Lala writes in the book, “Many times at Sir Dorabji Tata Trust meetings, I have seen JRD asking this question… What does the country need? I am sure that the directors who accompany him to company board meetings must having seen JRD asking this question repeatedly. RM Lala, comparing JRD to Alfred Sloan of the then US auto giant General Motors, says: “Alfred Sloan always said that whatever is good for General Motors is right for the United States. JRD thought the opposite. JRD’s thinking was…what is good for India is also good for Tata. This very thing about JRD gives it a different position in the list of all the great industrialists.

Impressed by this American businessman

JRD Tata was also heavily influenced by Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie. The gist of Carnegie’s story is that when he left Scotland for America, he was empty-handed. In time, he became the uncrowned king of America’s steel industry. Even more interesting is that in the last years of his life, he gave away his hard-earned wealth for charitable works. JRD also believed that whatever he or his company earned, the profits should ultimately go to people in need. Jamsetji also planted the same idea at the root of the Tata group, which JRD watered into a giant banyan tree.

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