Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata or JRD Tata led the Tata Group for more than half a century. He pioneered civil aviation in the subcontinent in 1932 when he launched Tata Airlines and when he was elevated to the top post in the Tata Group in 1938, taking over as Chairman, he was the youngest member of the Tata Sons board.
Over the years of his stewardship the group expanded into chemicals, automobiles, tea and information technology. The business tycoon, however, had a unique way to evaluate how to make the Tata Group grow. When most entrepreneurs would think of choosing a profitable enterprise, JRD Tata put India's needs first.
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JRD Tata's biography Beyond the Last Blue Mountain by RM Lala stated that in his later years, the Tata Group founder Jamsetji Tata would not ask "What enterprise is the most profitable?" He would instead ask, "What does the nation need?" "If the answer was steel, hydro-electric energy or a University of Science, Jamsetji would make best efforts to fulfil that need," the book stated.
Lala writes that JRD Tata followed in Jamsetji Tata's footsteps. "‘What does India need?’ I have heard this question asked by him at meetings of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust and I am sure his fellow Directors have heard the same question at Company Board meetings...‘What is good for India is good for Tatas,’" Lala wrote quoting JRD Tata in his biography.
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There was one other thing that Jamsetji Tata had said which JRD Tata did not forget. "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," Beyond the Last Blue Mountain stated quoting the pioneer industrialist.
Explaining why Jamsetji Tata meant so much to him, JRD Tata had said, "Jamsetji was a man of great intelligence, a man of extraordinary vision. There are some very intelligent people but they have no sense at all of the future. Jamsetji had that sense. His vision of the future gave him a sense of what needed to be done for the country. And then he had integrity. Not only money-related integrity. Jamsetji had integrity of thought and mind."
"The final attribute was his great humanity—the way he thought about workers nobody in India or abroad thought at that time."
(With inputs from Tata)