TATA LEADERSHIP – BREAKING THE FRAME

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PAST -PRESENT & FUTURE

TATA LEADERSHIP: TRUST REAFFIRMED
Before I begin my second and concluding part of my personal, emotional and professional views about the Tata Group that I once worked for, I would like to thank all my readers who read, liked, and shared their views on my last post. I am overwhelmed, sincerely. Thank you very much for your indulgence.

When I used to be with Tatas, there used to be an anecdote often related and passed on as a folklore and the story goes like this: Once JRD was sitting next to a small girl in a public function at TISCO (that’s what it was called then). Suddenly the girl turned towards him and asked him, “Uncle what do you do?” JRD in his inimitable style answered, “I am in Steel and in Airlines and a little bit here and there.” Now nobody ever questioned this tale, nor did they ask whether this was true, and everybody nodded in a pleasant surprise and a big smile.

There were two reasons, I believe, for us to lap up this story and accept it as true. One, we knew JRD’s humility and sense of humour were par excellence, and two, the group was so big, diverse and vast that this was probably the best way to explain to a small girl about the Tata conglomerate. However, this, I believe, has been the underlying belief of the group, i.e., never make your size a matter of arrogance and ego, but remain grounded enough and keep looking for bigger challenges. And moreover, Tata group was never about profits alone, but about people, profits and of course about the society you strive to serve.

This brings me back to the core theme of my thoughts and that is about the leadership transition at Tata Sons. As the dust finally settles down on this topic, N Chandrasekaran has taken over as the Chairman of Tata Sons after a long and arduous public fracas.

This change is both transformational and path breaking in nature as it is for the first time that they have decided to set aside family or bloodline as one of the criterion for holding such a strategic role. And with this change Tata group has in many ways reinvented itself, which many only wish they could do but finally succumb to internal and family pressures giving a go by to talent and long-term perspective. One may argue that they may have very little to choose from, but the fact remains that many organizations would not reflect for even a moment before taking a decision of such far reaching consequences and would make the “natural” choice in favour of a bloodline at the cost of talent. This to me is exemplary and must act as a path finder for any organization facing a succession battle and at the same time, looking for growth and long term survival.

N Chandrasekaran faces huge and uphill task both in terms of growth as well as group profitability, especially since the group has moved forward quite substantially from what JRD lovingly mentioned as “little bit here and there”. The product spectrum has expanded quite substantially ranging from Spices to Software and Technology and of course the conventional brick and mortar, and each one of them may need a unique strategy to grow and make an impact in the market, locally and globally. But as the things shape up, looks like Chandra will turn out to be the right choice.

This being so, the questions that come to my mind, and which I would like to get a response from my readers too, are as follows:
1. How will he balance the equation between philanthropy and profits and are they as incompatible as is made out to be?
2. How will he balance his time, efforts and focus between new, and sunrise businesses as well the conventional so called “brick & mortar businesses. Again, are they incompatible?

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