Different from other biographies of late JRD Tata, this book is author’s personal insight into country’s leading entrepreneur’s life. The author D R Pendse is an internationally acclaimed economist who served Tata group for two decades as a full-time chief economist and worked intimately under the industry giant throughout this period.
Written in a story telling format, the book puts forth personal account of the author in a fairly engaging and lucid style. It would also widen public understanding of JRD’s philosophy and practical achievements.
Why this new book now, nearly fifteen years after JRD’s death? Why this book at all?
A dear colleague of mine during my Tata years used to insist that there must be at least two reasons for any decision that we take. Luckily, I have many more reasons for these pertinent questions.
This book is not just another biography of JRD. Nor can it be faithfully titled ‘My Years with the Tatas.’ This book has a story to tell about the late JRD Tata, based on my personal insights into his life—a story that needs to be told, has not been told, and one which may otherwise never get told.
To set the perspective, here are a couple of background facts:
In February 1991, I retired as chief economist of the Tata Group after serving them full time for more than 23 years. Within one month, in March 1991, JRD Tata relinquished his position as the chairman of Tata Sons Ltd, and thus retired as the head of the Tata Group, voluntarily advancing the known date of his retirement. He was appointed chairman of Tata Sons Ltd. in 1938, and thus headed the group for 53 years. On November 29, 1993, JRD died at the age of 89.
The years 1968 to 1991 were the most turbulent and eventful in JRD’s professional life. Coincidently, I remained in close contact with JRD during this very period. These years were also easily the most memorable in my career, far more fruitful than I ever bargained for. In large measure, it was my long and uninterrupted journey with JRD, this giant of a human being, which made them so.
My years with Tatas, passed by fast. There was hardly any time to pause and ponder. It was only after JRD’s death, and after my retirement, that I thought time and again about these past years. I realised that not only was JRD a remarkable giant but also that he was remarkably different in many ways when compared to his portrayal in much of the literature about him, and to the perception in public mind. That was the inspiration for this book.
It is said that no man can be assessed correctly until at least 10 years after his death. As more years passed, my urge to present my story became stronger.
But, giants like Sumant Moolgaokar (SM) and JRD had themselves repeatedly told me that I was not here to aspire for winning any popularity contests and that I must have the courage to write what, after full study, I considered to be in the best interests of society. I am convinced that I owe it to both, society and industry in India and abroad, that I submit to them my view of this most famous captain of industry and of the man within.
Any remaining trace of doubt as to whether I should embark on writing this book vanished after I was invited one day by Rajhans Prakashan, well-known publishers from Pune, to write for them a Marathi book presenting my personal insights into the life of JRD Tata. I welcomed it. Obviously, the book fulfilled a much felt need. Three editions are sold out already (not very common for such Marathi books, I was told); and I have a heap of laudatory letters and constructive comments from Marathi readers in India and abroad (even less common?). The response confirmed my belief that the subject demanded the widest possible readership, not only in India but also abroad. Having tested the waters, so to speak, and having taken account of comments, I have, after several months of hard work, completed writing this outspoken English book, also bringing to light some little-known events of political and corporate intrigues during JRD’s time.
I referred to the late Sumant Moolgaokar, SM to all of us. I must make one more point. After my retirement, I kept thinking that I must accept it as my life’s mission to write about these two giants—though for two entirely different reasons.
SM was a giant undoubtedly, and an entrepreneur par excellence, a visionary and a staunch patriot. Yet, he was the least publicised because he was so terribly publicity- shy. I once said to him that if he were to walk along the street, nobody would recognise him. He replied, “That does not matter. My TELCO truck is recognised and is liked by every one!” For industry managers and captains today and tomorrow, there is so much to learn from SM’s style of work. We ought to know what a great son our country had given birth to. Hence my recent book titled “Giants by any Measure: Sumant Moolgaokar &amp; JRD.”
In contrast, JRD was the most well-known of the industrialist giants. Much is already written about him. Yet, as I stated at the outset, what I have to write is important, is different and would not get written otherwise. Hence, this book.
The book is divided into five parts.
In Part A, I look at some of JRD’s rare qualities in his capacity as the head of Tatas. I highlight, in separate chapters, his vision and patriotism, his knack in spotting a potential giant and letting him stand out. as one; his unflinching loyalty to the interest of the organisation over that of any individual, even if he were JRD’s own creation; his pursuit of excellence, and his unique style of work.
In Part B, I try to see the human being within him by enumerating quite a few of his heart-warming qualities, and seeking a glimpse into his personal life, all based on my own experience. A few vignettes, also from my own experience, are added.
The longish Part C attempts to explain JRD’s acute frustrations and despairs, in five main categories: those in his personal life; about his ouster from Air-India; in respect of economic policies pursued by the Government; pertaining to his keenness to start a high grade public policy think tank as a Tata project; and those surrounding developments within the Tata Group.
Another longish part, Part D is all about JRD and me. From JRD’s point of view, I had three hats to wear:
a) as his chief economist,
b) as a senior executive in the Tata organisation, and
c) as a professional economist and an opinion-maker in India.
For JRD, each one of these was important. This Part brings out the several nuances of my evolving relationship, and concludes with my account of my and JRD’s, not unrelated, exits from the Tata group in early 1991.
The final part, Part E, ‘Curtain’ opens with a note on my visit to JRD’s resting place at the Paris cemetery. Some observations on ‘Tatas after JRD’ and on ‘myself after JRD’, wrap up my book.
Whatever I have written all these years is for the interested, the informed but non-specialist citizens. This book is no exception. Most readers have their own areas of interest, and disinterest. To hold their interest, I must write in down-to-earth, jargon-free and practical language. My readers are also busy in their respective walks of life. So, each chapter has to be brief, so that readers spend just the time that they may have at their disposal at a stretch. If the story is gripping, they will come back for sure.
This book is best read in its entirety and in the sequence in which it is published. This may not be always easy. While JRD invariably read carefully everything I wrote and sent to him, he also told me often that seven typed pages is about the maximum that an interested yet busy reader should be expected to read at a stretch; then the interest is likely to wane. We at Tatas’ Department of Economics &amp; Statistics stuck to this wisdom and ensured that our notes to the Tata directors did not exceed that length. I have tried (I am afraid, with a couple of glaring exceptions) to stick to it in this book too, making almost each chapter self-contained as far as possible. This has resulted in occasional repetition of some paragraphs. This is not inadvertent at all, though I have tried to minimise it by giving cross-references when appropriate.
Finally, readers are forewarned that ‘author’s modesty’ will not be the virtue of this book It has been a privilege and probably the best reward of my life that I came to know JRD intimately, ceaselessly tried to learn from him, and won sincere appreciation and numerous unsolicited lavish accolades for whatever little I did. I expected none of these when I joined the Tatas at the age of 37.
I did not even know what would make a good economic adviser for Tatas. JRD shared his concerns with me in total trust, and I found the answer.
I had given up any hope of making myself useful to society as an economist or as a citizen. He rekindled the hope and guided and patted my back as I tried to play a reasonable second innings.
He extracted the best out of me, and I did not know there was so much left in me.
It is not my claim that I was one of the giants created by JRD. But my journey with JRD (Part D) provided distinct clues of his sure-shot techniques. On the other hand, it is my claim that I too in turn played some part in JRD’s own late years. Not many may care to believe; hut this book will elaborate on all this.
In writing this book, I have depended largely on my memory (which must be becoming weaker), my sparse jottings and notes in diaries from time to time, and copies of some papers with me. Thus, the book is almost entirely produced, with the help of my personal computer, from the confines of my home. It has been a rather marathon singlehanded effort. There may be a drawback in this approach. But I chose it that way and I enjoyed it, because of a strong urge within, that I must share with the world the JRD that I saw during my 20—year journey with him; the JRD beyond the Giant that the world has known him to be.
Throughout the book, I have been (brutally?) candid. I have narrated numerous events, given names, quoted people. JRD was close to many other giants in India and abroad. My journey with JRD, and the public knowledge that I was accompanying JRD, brought me far too often, face to face with many of them, with attendant consequences! I have no regrets. I have written in good faith, no offence is intended to any one, and I will be happy to be corrected. Yet, if some feathers insist on being ruffled or some egos insist on being hurt, my sincere apologies in advance.
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