The tiger that Tata has unleashed

While The Guardian seems to feel that Ratan Tata – last year honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the NID/BusinessWorld Design Excellence Awards jury – overpaid for his Corus Steel investment – a profitable UK based company by all accounts and much larger than Tata Steel itself, they cannot help but acknowledge Tata’s own words that what he paid for this company wasn’t even near his reserve bid. Ratan Tata is an architect from Cornell [PDF bio link from The Economist

Yet after indifferent early reviews, Ratan Tata has transformed the Tata group, of which he is chairman. When he took over from his uncle, J.R.D. Tata, it was a cumbersome conglomerate with stakes in a huge collection of companies that seemed likely to wither in the face of foreign competition. Now it makes foreign acquisitions and ventures into unfamiliar markets. Tata Steel’s bidding war with CSN, a Brazilian firm, over Corus, an Anglo-Dutch steelmaker, is just one example of the once-staid group’s new boldness. Mr Tata was recently voted Indian of the year by viewers of an Indian television channel, beating both Sachin Tendulkar, India’s greatest cricketer, and Aishwarya Rai, the country’s most famous screen goddess. And he has succeeded partly because he is what his friends call an individualist, and others might call a loner.
He does not seem to be motivated by money, and talks constantly about fairness and doing the right thing. “I want to be able to go to bed at night and say that I haven’t hurt anybody,” Mr Tata says twice in the course of an interview at a hotel in New Delhi owned by the sprawling group.

Well, that’s an deeply impressive display of global showmanship for sure. And the Tata name, while only now rising over the horizon from the East, has been reknowned in Indian industry and daily life since 1870. The Independent seems to have a very good summary of who and what Tata is exactly. As the businessworld recovers from Davos, it is a timely moment to remember CK Prahalad’s words from the CII Tata Steel  Power Breakfast,

Professor Prahalad referring to
his recent, world acclaimed work on "Opportunities at the Bottom of the Pyramid"
mentioned that collaboration with civil society is no more a choice for
corporates. It is this model of partnership that will create capacities for
increasing the market which is estimated at 5 billion under served according, he

Sir Nicholas Stern had said something similar in his Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change recently.

Tata is arguably the only for profit mega conglomerate that has the kind of brand equity around its CSR activities as any world class NGO.

Robert Davies from the International Business Leaders Trust said that India will be a crucible for the world. “India and Tata Steel have pioneered more in the world than any other country in the area [of] CSR. India’s development model very relevant for rest of the world," he added.

Research shows that NGO’s have far stronger brand equities globally than most MNC global brands. Coca Cola’s various missteps in India are but one minor example of why.

I hope Tata can lead the way forward in demonstrating how companies can operate profitably in the third world and its developing markets, particularly in rural or remote areas.

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