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Last Updated : Nov 29, 2018 08:04 AM IST | Source:

Remembering JRD Tata: The maverick entrepreneur, splendid aviator and humble leader

Read on to know more about what was guided JRD, or “Jeh” to take the Tata goodwill to new heights till the end of the 20th century

Moneycontrol News @moneycontrolcom

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata was the fourth chairman of the Tata group, and was known for steering it through the trying times and the dizzying possibilities that came with India’s independence.

Taking to the helm of the group in 1938 at the age of 34, employees across all statures remember JRD as a strong, but gentle leader who brought out the best in people not by force or fear, but through affection. Accounts say that he was the personification of humility, a quality that future Tata leaders emulated in various forms.

“No success or achievement in material terms is worthwhile unless it serves the needs or interests of the country and its people and is achieved by fair and honest means.”


Read on to know more about what was guided JRD, or “Jeh” to those near and dear, to take the Tata goodwill to new heights till the end of the 20th century.

The beginnings

JRD was the second child of Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata. His mother Suzanne 'Sooni' Briere, was of French descent. JRD spent his formative years growing up and studying in France, and was able to speak in fluent French. He spent one year in the French army as a mandatory requirement of the time before moving to Mumbai to learn the ropes of the family business in Bombay.

“Live life a little dangerously.” It is this quote which could explain JRD’s fascination with flight. The appeal of the adventure, the thrill in seeking new horizons prompted him to be first pilot in India to be granted a licence.

It was in this passion in which he saw a diamond in the rough. With two Puss Moth aircraft carrying mail from Karachi to Chennai in phases, JRD began Tata Air Mail in 1932, soon to become the predecessor to Air India.

“If you want excellence, you must aim at perfection. It has its drawbacks, but being finicky is essential.”

Contrary to the public air carrier’s image today, Air India defined the standards of a world class airline then.  Being JRD’s brainchild and a project close to its heart, he kept a keen eye to ensure all the details were in place.

Nothing would be too trifle a concern for JRD. He would even wash a smudged glass, or sweep a dirty cabin floor of a plane, leaving the crew red-faced with embarrassment. It was this dogged attention to detail that would have likely been instilled in Air India’s crew that earned its name across international airways.

"Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without deep thought and hard work"

In the five decades of his role as chairman, JRD turned the Tata group from a cluster of 14 companies, to a conglomerate of 95 enterprises valued in the billions of dollars. Chief among them being Tata Motors and Tata Consultancy Services.

With the belief that the Tata empire was not just a means towards profitability, but a driver towards developing the nation, he also set up some of India’s most respected institutions such as the Tata Institute for Social Sciences (TISS) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).


Despite his humility, JRD’s work did not go unnoticed. He was given the honorary title of Air Vice Marshal and several international awards such as The Tony Jannus Award in March 1979, and the Daniel Guggenheim Award in 1988. Before his death on in Geneva, Switzerland on 29 November 1993, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour.

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First Published on Nov 29, 2018 08:04 am
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