12/28/12 Exclusiv e: Ratan Tata, by someone who knows him well - Redif f .


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Exclusive: Ratan Tata, by someone who knows him well
Last updated on: December 28, 2012 11:22 IST

Few people know Ratan Tata as well as R K Krishna Kumar does. Widely perceived to be among the managers closest to Tata, Krishna Kumar assesses Ratan Tata, the man and business leader, in this exclusive interview to Rediff.com's Vaihayasi Pande Daniel.

R K Krishna Kumar, 74, a director on the board

of Tata Sons, a trustee on several Tata trusts and the chairman of a host of group companies, has been working with the Tatas for 50 years. A member of the Tata Administrative Service since 1963, Krishna Kumar, left, started work in the group at Tata Industries. In 1982 he joined the senior management of Tata Tea where began his direct interactions with the chairman of the Tata Sons. In an exclusive interview to Rediff.com's Vaihayasi Pande Daniel, Krishna Kumar identifies the finest points of the man he has worked closely with, for over two decades -- Ratan Naval Tata, who retires as Chairman of Tata Sons on Friday, December 28. Tata ran a 144-year-old group, that after 20 years of his stewardship, now consists of about 100 companies, employing nearly half a million people in 80 countries, with a brand value of $15.08 billion. But it is Tata's humility, principles and humanity that Krishna Kumar admires most. What are your earliest personal memories of working with Mr Tata? What has been his contribution to the group? In a corporate world it is not very often that you come near to a titan. I say that because Mr Ratan Tata truly represented some unique features. He was ahead of his time. I think he was very singularly gifted with visionary abilities to see what the future looks like and what should be the response to the challenges of the future. And to shape the developments for the group. He successfully did it and in doing so he transformed the group. While these are achievements in the corporate organisation style, one mustn't forget the unique characteristics that he had -- that is to maintain and upheld values. In business and industry it is an extremely difficult challenge to uphold values. Throughout this period of 20 years I have had the privilege of working with him on some crises, including the Assam crisis in 1997 (when Tata Tea was held to ransom b y the outlawed United Lib eration Front of Asom terror group) We worked very closely together -- it was a life and death (situation) for our management and staff. We stood together at that time. His leadership was extremely important for the company and for all of us. To put it very briefly, the problem would not have existed if we had just paid Rs 8 lakhs (Rs 800,000 in ransom for a kidnapped Tata Tea employee). Peanuts at that time. I guess, most companies would have done that and that was what they were asking first. Many companies would have yielded to that pressure. We certainly didn't yield to that pressure and he supported me through out on that fundamental issue. We did talk to them (ULFA). We did engage them, but that was with the clearance and support of the Intelligence Bureau of India. It is such a paradox that on one hand we had been charged with sedition by the authorities in power at that time, and on the other had we had been directed and guided by the highest national security agency of the Government of India. We didn't disclose this publicly because we had 175 members of the Tata family across the Assam valley. And to disclose that would have been putting their lives at risk. So we decided not to do that and went through those eight, nine months of grueling challenges. He (Mr Tata) stood firm and so did I. And that's when I got an extremely close look at how he reacted in a crisis -- moral crisis, a crisis of lives in danger -- absolutely firm on first principles.

Please click Next to read more of this exclusive, fascinating, interview...
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com Exclusive: Ratan Tata. through some of the great decisions and crises he faced -. design. we were beginning to see what the future is going to look like. But he stood by me. on the business front we had many interactions. How we stand firm on some fundamental principles.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-interv iew-with-mr-rk-krishna-kumar/20121228. for giving new companies space to grow in a new global environment. cars. the leisure division. So that is another example I had. He was so supportive. On the personal front it has been a great relationship.. spend some time in the evenings. which is the beginning of the brand architecture of the Taj... interview. of course. that in the midst of all his appointments and schedules. Some of the issues of restructuring the company. wide-ranging issues. enhancement of water. We were beginning to see the need for legacies to be left behind. when I came to the Taj (R K Krishna Kumar became the managing director of Indian Hotels Co Ltd in 1997 that runs the Taj group of hotels). Harvard or any of those universities or scientific establishments that were on the cutting edge of many (fields). (Through) the last five. It has been a very interesting two decades.Redif f .htm?p… 2/7 .12/28/12 Exclusiv e: Ratan Tata. for a new mindset to come into industries to develop a global vision what we in India. They were all of issues that had to be cut through. They were about removing the great misfortunes that many people in our redif f . His heart has always been with India. They were about nation building. He was fully supportive and he participated in this processes -. I think if you were to continue (along that side of him) 26/11 was again a chapter of the same A. 2012 11:22 IST What were the experiences you shared? I greatly delighted in his sense of humour and his ability to mimic various other people. back one up on some of those changes. in Tata. by someone who knows him well Last updated on: December 28. but his mind has been globally ranging in many ways and manifested in his many passions -. Exclusive: Ratan Tata. that we were able to bring about. with a lot of opposition from established players in the company. like for example creating special business units . by someone who knows him well . They were more than just running business enterprises.his decision to withdraw from the Nano project in West Bengal. ten years I was with him. by someone who knows him well Last updated on: December 28. I shared with him intellectual.(whether it was) the Tetley tea acquisition or. could do and need to do. things about nutrition. (supportive) relationship and B. Please click Next to read more of this exclusive. the make up of the man in terms of character. We shared many things together.. he would come to the Taj. He has an extremely universal mind in the sense that he is a great patriot. the business division.like the luxury divisions. technical details. The Taj had a lot of things which needed to be done. But I did it and I would not have been able to do it if Mr Ratan Tata was not extremely supportive.flying. I was not a hotelier and therefore to get into the Taj at that time was quite a challenge. It was possible to make those changes that transformed the Taj. any of these changes. and undertaking those changes was quite a difficult (challenge).in the sense that I could recognise that in these interactions. moments when I went with him to Cambridge or to MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) or to Cornell (Ratan Tata's alma mater). 2012 11:22 IST Then. Stimulating experiences -. exhilarated. talk about all the various changes that needed to be done. Even in formulating strategy for acquiring companies. which I recognized almost in the beginning. fascinating. would not have been possible if it weren't for his support.

the big ones are the Sir Dorabji Trust. That is a standing monument. Tamil Nadu. When it came to humanitarian causes. would always be there to quickly and quietly arrive with aid? The tsunami hit India in 2004. Our joint activities in the trusts gave me an inside view of the man. Quietly decided to play a role in bringing relief to those affected. all of those groups. So for the last.. Yes. Crisis can be slow in coming. than just running a business enterprise. It is a standing monument to what the Tatas can do in such situations. 2012 11:22 IST Crisis need be does not have to be sudden. It cost the group and the trusts Rs 350 crores (Rs 3. an area devastated by the tsunami.com country suffer from. He was not in town. The Tata group started the Tata Memorial Hospital for cancer (in Mumb ai). positively.his birthday. in a very constructive manner. And he decided in which areas the Tatas would move? 3/7 . so be it a project in a remote area in Ladakh or somewhere in South India. he (Mr Tata) will be one of the first to react. Exclusive: Ratan Tata. He came back the same day. Bengal. no publicity. the Tatas. And they spent a lot of money collected from the companies and the trusts and it was implemented in a very efficient quiet manner.. the poor. he certainly did. So a quiet decision that was taken was to build a cancer hospital in Calcutta (Kolkata). It is probably one of the best hospitals of its kind in this part of the world and this is entirely a gift to the eastern part of India.all of which quietly for the past many decades have been engaged in the task of bringing relief to the suffering. He convened an urgent meeting of all the top CEOs. Sikkim. He was on a holiday -.there are a number of them. there are other trusts like the Jamsetji Trust and so on -. not just in business. the Sir Ratan Trust.Redif f . especially children. particularly under Mr Tata's leadership. We have always been very closely associated with eastern India and they were aghast to find that a large number of patients at Tata Memorial come from Orissa. the children of the poor and so on. fascinating. by someone who knows him well . from Bangladesh. a women's empowerment group. The Tata trusts -. to bring some relief and cure and rehabilitation for people suffering from cancer. the Northeast. none of that. interview. maybe more than decade. Please click Next to read more of this exclusive. But would you say that Mr Ratan Tata brought it to an even higher level? Oh. That was the beginning of a project that was started and which manifested itself in a major reconstruction programme in Nagapattinam. And there is no fanfare about it.5 b illion). It is a wellknown fact that the facilities in that hospital are cramped because of the number of patients flowing in from different parts of India. December 28. it is true that when there is a crisis in India. as a whole. that enabled the trusts to play a much larger role in projects across India. to the quiet commitment to larger purposes in life. to participate in nation building.12/28/12 Exclusiv e: Ratan Tata. or two decades. a water conservation group. The Tatas have always traditionally engaged in social work. again. by someone who knows him well Last updated on: December 28. no pictures of him or anyone of us opening the colony. And what he (Mr Tata) did was he restructured the flow of funds from the companies into the trusts.

interview. you can see them there.. I think determines the ethical side of the (b usiness) house. 2012 11:22 IST Describe Mr Tata as a boss. It is not only the tremendously busy schedule. you will find a Great Dane there. He carries it himself in spite of his back problem. They have all been very inspiring. I think someone had abandoned the Great Dane -. He is an absolute delight. that is there in the office or his travel schedule. He does not like people coming and taking his bags.com No..htm?p… . It is not just about making money and personal enrichment. there is a study planned by an outside consultant firm. of course. to society. that keep going in white Tata paper bags. speak our minds honestly. None of us in the group. Not many people realise that two-thirds of the ownership of Tata Sons is headed by the trusts. 2012 11:22 IST The other curious thing I see in him is his ability to work. but he carries it very lightly and essentially remains unchanged in that respect.. He has been trained as an architect. The range and the order of flow of funds and relief materials and so on is decided at trustees meetings. and we do our business quietly. Wellington Mews (off Cuffe Parade. imitate anybody. the Tata headquarters. that gets updated from time to time. He (Mr Tata) is the chairman and has been the chairman of most of the companies. by someone who knows him well Last updated on: December 28. interview. of course. Exclusive: Ratan Tata. Please click Next to read more of this exclusive. Therefore. south Mumbai) for instance. And then as a person outside Bombay House. I have also had the privilege of being on some of those trusts and have been witness to what it has been doing. He gets into a car and in the boot of a car there will be these bags. It is very interesting to see. which he (Mr Tata) rescued from the road. What about his love for dogs? If you go down to Bombay House. He is very good in one to one interactions with people he is comfortable with. As a person it has always been a delight to be with him and share his company. well looked after. He is probably the iconic figure in the business environment in India.we stand by our principles. He is not one given to any of those blandishments of power. all stuffed with various files/papers.that's at Wellington Mews. his observations of people/circumstances. redif f . two-thirds of the profits of Tata Sons goes back to the trusts. If you go to some of our hotels. and there is no fanfare. When he is checking into a flight he will stand in a queue. And from the trusts back to people. Please click Next to read more of this exclusive. fascinating. That is what gives Tata a unique position. quietly. There is another one that I picked up from the street -. fascinating. But he is very good at drawing and he has a comment to make on various people. And he can draw pictures. including Mr Tata. He can take a ferry from the Gateway of India across the harbor to Alibag with a bag like anybody else.she is the queen of Wellington Mews now.. There is a retinue of papers. but papers went with him wherever he was travelling. So I think that is a unique character -.12/28/12 Exclusiv e: Ratan Tata. Reserved and a little shy and reclusive when it comes to publicity where someone (else might lik e) to hog the headlines or the bright lights of any meeting. as also as an engineer.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-interv iew-with-mr-rk-krishna-kumar/20121228. He can. are anywhere near billionaires. his love for dogs. by someone who knows him well . by someone who knows him well Last updated on: December 28. He changed to architecture from engineering. which (tells us) which are the areas where we should focus our attention on. Exclusive: Ratan Tata.Redif f .

He is all prepared. the quality of his intellect. as he is at Cambridge University or in the United States. If he had a large family. remaining essentially the same person.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-interv iew-with-mr-rk-krishna-kumar/20121228.his humility. He might have landed at 2 o'clock in the morning and he comes back for a meeting at 10. So these papers have always been like a procession. fascinating. He has a razor-sharp mind and his ability to go straight to the fundamental issue is amazing. Many of them are. He is absolutely at ease. He is. by someone who knows him well Last updated on: December 28. based primarily on his understanding of the young people in the country and the talents and strengths he discovers.Redif f . But they are very India centric. He has very often been concerned. a number of children or so on. I think that is possible because his family is only two pet dogs. controversies. which he pilots for some time -. He is as comfortable here. Please click Next to read more of this exclusive. While he is extremely patriotic.. It is an absolutely seamless changeover in different contexts. He has many such responsibilities in other companies and yet when he comes for the board meeting the next morning he is thoroughly prepared for it. but he is also able to balance a global mindset with it. understanding the problems.12/28/12 Exclusiv e: Ratan Tata. but the qualities I described are quite unique -. if he is attending a board meeting of Tata Steel here or he is part of the Ford Foundation (where Mr Tata serves on the b oard of trustees). is global. I think that optimism comes out of a very strong belief in India's future. 2012 11:22 IST What sets him apart from other business leaders? I don't have much of an interaction with other business bosses outside Tatas. This permanent engagement with (his work) is a very. That means he has spent a lot of midnight oil to catch up with all the issues.' (Many b usiness heads) are very committed to India too.com When he takes them at home at night he works on them. interview.htm?p… 5/7 . as I said earlier. perturbed. he loves India. by things that are happening in India. are fully immersed in the problems. Exclusive: Ratan Tata. the nobility of his vision are unique to him. scandals. there would have been war at home with his wife. and they have been doing that for a long time. very. connected directly to India's affairs and problems. of course. challenging thing for anybody to do. he is exactly the same. his mind. the lack of speed on the developmental front. That combination -. redif f .his files follow on board the aircraft. Let us say the executives of that company are dealing with problems. by someone who knows him well . When he is travelling on an international flight -let us say his own aircraft. But he remains firmly optimistic about India.30 in the morning. because (his work) is all consuming..I don't think how many people can say 'He is a citizen of the world. which I thought was not the right thing to do from a health point of view. He comes the next day for a board meeting.

If you look at other young businesses -. whatever. but on a one to one basis certainly (will speak his mind) Please click Next to read more of this exclusive. interview. Tata Motors and so on. Was the 26/11 attack on the Taj hotel the saddest moment of his career? It was a very sad moment for him. social and political challenges. be it students or the prime minister. you have to seek it out. at peace. even in the political environment he stands alone. Exclusive: Ratan Tata. He never imposes himself. quiet personality also carries a great deal (of weight). fascinating. The fact that he has one of the best known names in India -. He (might) be the chairman of Tata Sons and an extremely highly visible symbol of India. but for all of us in the group at redif f . I think the fact that he is able to reflect a little bit more.Redif f . but that is not his ritual. He picks up important trends of basic issues in those interactions. And reorganising the company to meet the challenges of the future.htm?p… 6/7 . reaching out to people who need help. There are different companies.Tata Steel. and the scale of that transformation. they all admire his combination of business skills with entrepreneurial drive and knowledge and mastery of technical issues. I think he will crystallise some of his views and articulate them in private meetings. the start ups. to where it is today certainly (in practice. fire temples and so on. technology. view of things. Even when he was the chairman he never imposed himself in any capacity. by someone who knows him well .the Tata name as part of his name -. I don't expect him to be making speeches at various public functions.keeping aside other traditional businesses that have been there for decades -the young entrepreneurs in software engineering.. which he will not stand on a platform and speak about.yet he remains a very reclusive. Somebody has to seek that. and being altruistic in your motivation and you want to reconstruct something for the good of society. a very positive example).12/28/12 Exclusiv e: Ratan Tata. That is not something that comes (together as a package) usually in business leaders. I think he has been very convinced that India has the resources. Many corporate leaders admire his honesty of purpose and his humility. meetings with people.com The young people he interacts with in his companies and other contexts and he is always interacting.. but it depends upon how you define religion. different enterprises -. 2012 11:22 IST Post-retirement.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-interv iew-with-mr-rk-krishna-kumar/20121228. I think that. then he is not very religious. What has his contribution been to the business world beyond the Tatas? The strongest part is his ability has been to bring about fundamental transformations of organisations. he is able to pick up trends that all (put) together make up his optimism about India. yet because he has always been very human in his interactions. component manufacturers and so on. But on the other hand interactions with people. that quality of his mind on basic issues may have some very interesting spin offs for a whole range of issues -. But if you say his religion is caring for the poor. He may go once in a way. which meant a very accurate reading (b y him) of what the future is going to be like. then he is a religious person. mosques. He will never imposes that on anybody. from what it was before.the fundamental economic challenges of our country. Even in the group I think if you want his advice. Is he religious? He is religious. their suffering. That I expect to continue. All that it needs is strong directive leadership for the good of our country and he remains a very sound patriot. and where he has taken the group. and I think across India. He has that unique combination that has impacted many people outside the group. by someone who knows him well Last updated on: December 28. The prime minister of India would happily meet with him or any of one of these very senior people in government look forward to meeting him for his impartial. If you define religion as ritualistic visiting of temples. that I expect will become even more prominent once he steps (away from chairmanship). do you feel Mr Tata will take on a stronger advisory role to the Government of India? I think he will remain an active participant in the dialogue for India. I expect him to withdraw from that completely. unbiased.

Externally it only strengthened our resolve to rebuild every inch of it. But if you walk into the Taj today you will not see a single sign of that devastation. Rage that someone should go and do this and kill our guests and employees. little cuts. They all have names. but the agony that he felt standing there three days -. as it was in mine. Set up the Taj Welfare Trust to reach out to people who were affected. He is very much at home with dogs. He cannot see stones being thrown at cows.Redif f . So it is a chapter we may want to forget. the people interactions.a little girl -. but he plays (around with any dogs). we had tears in our eyes. but we can't forget. It is such a lovely sight. The entire initiative to set up a hospital for small animals came out of that. There is something mystical about the relationship with the Taj for all of us. the contributions that it makes. They also get vaccinated and they get a license so they are not picked up. In terms of the size of that company (the Taj group) it is nowhere near some of the bigger enterprises (in the group).very often there are little.. But dogs are his special friends. even during meetings. Those are the smaller things. They will come running and he will have some food for them. Yes they look like a bunch of executives. They (Mr Tata and the dogs) fool around a little bit. He is a great animal lover.. So when that was attacked viciously on 26/11. I understand he has a special group of strays that he looks after at Mumbai airport too. they come running. Because this was something more than just a business. Who would do that.. that dome (was) under attack. I think like mind his heart broke too. They are permanently there. operated on him and brought him back. But even the people who work in his home. won't go away. It cost us a lot of money. He took him all the way to Minnesota. other than the memorial that is there. It was one of the saddest moments of his life.com the senior leadership level.htm?p… 7/7 . They recognise and play around with him. after people had been killed and saw the devastation that had been inflicted.it is not enough to say saddening. We may have felt terrible when we walked in there.! They sleep there most of the time and they are happy when he comes down. was a very -. They are well taken care of. But in terms of importance. Something happens. Which is what we have done..to see this virtually a temple go up in flames. (most people) would be mortally afraid. They are. One of their children -. little blood coming. in addition to the ones who wander to corridors of power in Bombay House? Those are regular friends of his at the airport. If you see his hands -. sandwiches and they would have a feast from the plane. our hearts were broken. She comes and sits in his lap. They all have designer clothes. all of this placed the Taj -part of the oldest company in the group today (in a special position). in senseless violence. Our resolve was to build every inch of it back. Donkeys being beaten. its symbolic place in India's cultural unfolding. not from his pet dogs only. He took his dog which had a problem in his leg all the way to Minnesota for treatment.com/business/slide-show/slide-show-1-interv iew-with-mr-rk-krishna-kumar/20121228.I was there too -. redif f . and we are getting off and the bags have been taken out. To stand outside there and to watch this beautiful edifice burning. to see this happen to something you loved. And all these friends of his in the lobby of Bombay House are all fat. In the context of his passion for dogs. but dogs in particular. because that edifice. He just cannot digest it. part of it is rage. As soon as his flight lands. Something snaps inside. by someone who knows him well .12/28/12 Exclusiv e: Ratan Tata.is his favourite. He loves all animal. He and I visited every single employee's family that was affected by the tragedy. Walk around wearing Nikes. we had a passion for the Taj. They are stray dogs. As soon as the plane taxis into the hangar. was a revolting sight. you can see them charging with great passion. hearing shots and grenade fire.

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