Jamsetji was born on 3rd March 1839 in Navsari (Gujarat). His father Nusserwanji hailed from a family of Parsee priests. The Tatas for several generations had taken up priesthood, but Jamsetji’s enterprising father was the first in the family to break this tradition and take to business. He moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) for trading in jute. Young Jamsetji joined him in Bombay when he was 14 years old and was admitted to Elphinstone College in 1856. He showed enough promise to have his fees waived. While he was studying, Jamsetji got married to Hirabai. He graduated as a ‘Green Scholar’ (equivalent to graduation) in 1858 and joined his father in his trading firm. As a trainee, Jamsetji learnt the nitty-gritty of business from his father and acquired knowledge of trading, markets and commodities. Jamsetji had got a good foundation in English, which helped him in his frequent trips abroad.
His father sent Jamsetji to the Far East, where he established a trading firm. The firm exported opium and cotton to China and also dispatched silk goods, brass, copper, cinnamon, camphor, Chinese gold and tea to India.
In 1861 the American Civil War had begun. It interrupted raw cotton supplies from the states in the Southern region of America to the mills in Lancashire. Fraught with lack of cotton, Lancashire turned to India, offering twice the standard price for its cotton. This resulted in the cotton boom during 1864-65. Jamsetji left for England in December 1864, with the responsibility of disposing huge cotton consignments to Liverpool from India. His insight alerted him that the boom was coming to end. He warned his partner Roychand and others, but his advice was in vain. The Civil War ended in May 1865, leading to opening up of American cotton supplies and resulting in the crash, affecting the Bombay suppliers heavily. Most of them were out of business and some traders committed suicide. Nusserwanji had to sell off his palatial house in Bombay to meet his commitments.
Jamsetji stayed on in England for four years. He familiarized himself with the nuances of the cotton industry and the trade. When he returned to Bombay, Jamsetji recognized that there was tremendous potential in the textile industry, which the British had totally dominated. He bought over a dilapidated oil mill in Chinchpokli in the industrial nerve-centre of Bombay, renamed it Alexandra Mill (after Princess Alexandra) and converted it into a textile mill. After running it for two years, he sold it at a considerable profit.
At that time, as per the established convention, the new project should have been founded in Bombay. However, Jamsetji thought otherwise and considered three vital aspects for the location of his textile mill: proximity to cotton-growing regions, abundance of water and fuel supplies, and easy access to a railway junction (railways had been established recently).
Nagpur which was in the heart of the cotton-growing regions satisfied all these requirements. Jamsetji and Nusserwanji had floated a new company –Central India Spinning Weaving and Manufacturing Company – in 1874. Three years later, his enterprise was ready to be opened. On the day of its opening on 1st January 1877, Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India. Jamsetji named his company Empress Mills. He had just set foot on one of his several adventurous entrepreneurial ventures.
Jamsetji bought the most modern machinery of superior quality for his company. Empress Mills started making huge profits. The Tata & Sons group that he established in 1868 provided its workers with a conducive, working atmosphere by offering lesser working hours and good ventilation in his work places. In 1886, he introduced a Provident Fund Scheme for workers and a Pension Fund in 1887. He also introduced an accident compensation plan. Some of these new schemes were initiated long before they were made mandatory in the West.
In order to boost workers’ morale, an annual prize day was organized by Empress Mills, where meritorious performance was recognized. Gold and silver watches, medals, etc were given away as awards to several workers, who were felicitated on the dais. This worked wonders for the workers’ morale, resulting in reduced absenteeism, greater efficiency on the shop floor, and higher productivity. It was not long before Empress Mills reached the top in results and quality. Middle and higher level officers were offered on-the-job training, giving them a stipend in lieu of a three-year bond, unlike other mills which charged them for their training. They were offered residential facilities and amenities for leisure. Their study in the library was also promoted.
During the 1880s, political awareness had started spreading among the intellectuals in India. The nationalist Jamsetji, who liked the concept of Swadeshi, was not complacent and was exploring opportunities in new areas.
He was convinced that better quality cloth could be manufactured by using long stapled cotton. He acquired the then largest mill in Bombay Presidency namely Dharamsi Mill, in an auction. The mill with antique machinery was renovated at exorbitant cost. Aptly named Swadeshi Mills, keeping patriotic sentiments in mind and using only Indian products, Jamsetji put his heart and soul into it, displaying amazing will power, vigour, determination and insight. In a span of 10 years, his yarn commanded a premium in China, Korea, Japan and the Middle East, successfully competing with yarn from Lancashire.
In one of his rare speeches in 1895 to the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces, Jamsetji said: “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 our shareholders our own, and the health and welfare of our employees the sure foundation of our prosperity”. This speaks volumes for his modesty and reticence to speak boastfully about his achievements.
In July 1901, at the inauguration of his new mill, he spoke to his audience, striving to motivate others to emulate his efforts: “We have continued to enjoy prosperity even with adverse times to fight against. Our relations with all concerned are most friendly. We have maintained the same character for straightforward dealing with our constituents and customers. Our productions have continued to be of the same high quality, and therefore command the best reputation and realize the highest prices.... I mention these facts only to point with honest and straightforward business principles, close and careful attention to details, and ability to take advantage of favourable opportunities and circumstances, there is a scope for success”.
J. N. Tata Endowment Scheme
Jamsetji did not rest on his laurels, but strived to pursue higher objectives. He was of the firm conviction that “what advances a nation or a community is not so much to prop up its weakest and most helpless members, but to lift up the best and the most gifted, so as to make them of the greatest service to the country”. It was with this objective in mind that he set up in 1892 the J. N. Tata Endowment Scheme for higher education in engineering, science, medicine, administration and humanities.
From 1892 for 12 years till his death, 10 out of 19 scholars who were granted the scholarship were studying for the Indian Civil Service (ICS), acknowledged by the British in England as ‘the finest civil service in the world’. In his narrative on Jamsetji’s life, F. R. Harris wrote in 1924 that 20% of the Indians in ICS were J. N. Tata scholars. Jamsetji, who was proud of his scholars, remarked, “Our young men have proved that they can not only hold their own against the best rivals in Europe on the latter’s ground, but can beat them hollow”.
F. R. Harris wrote, “For though Mr. Tata was a businessman he was also a scholar ... Learning was, indeed, his chief recreation and delight”. He would regularly spare time for reading and reflection. His grand plans were envisaged when he spent a few hours in quiet solitude before he went to office in the afternoon and also in the evenings after dinner.
Jamsetji was not complacent with his tremendous success in production of cloth. He had the vision to set up a world-class hotel, a world-class learning institution which would nurture and enrich Indian minds in the sciences, an iron and steel plant and a hydro-electric power project. Tata could, in his lifetime, bring to fruition only the world-class hotel. He followed up on his dreams with great passion and energy, laying the seeds and giving a firm direction to his successors to continue and bring them to reality after his death.
31st May 1893 was a historic date when two great leaders Jamsetji Tata and Swami Vivekananda sailed together on a ship from Japan to USA. Both were patriots and far-sighted. Both were icons and exerted tremendous influence on the future of India. Both were hard-core nationalists and shared the common mission to work for the progress of the country.
Indian Institute of Science (I. I. Sc)
Jamsetji was convinced during his numerous trips to America and Europe that central to India’s needs was the application of science to industry. This spurred him to conceptualize the setting up of the Research Institute. In September 1898, Jamsetji pledged half of his personal wealth of Rs. 30 lakhs (200,000 pounds then) for setting up the Institute. H. H Shri Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV, the Maharaja of Mysore (a Princely State, now the state of Karnataka) donated about 375 acres of the palace grounds in Bangalore and a handsome amount for the Institute.
On 23rd November 1898, Jamsetji wrote to Swami Vivekananda:
I trust that you remember me as a fellow traveller on your voyage from Japan to Chicago. I very much recall at this moment your views on the growth of the ascetic spirit in India and duty, not of destroying, but of diverting it into useful channels.
I recall these ideas in connection with my scheme of a Research Institute for India, of which you have doubtless heard or read. It seems to me that no better use can be made of the ascetic spirit than the establishment of monasteries or residential halls for men dominated by this spirit, where they should live with ordinary decency and devote their lives to the cultivation of sciences – natural and humanistic.
I am of opinion that if such a crusade in favour of an asceticism of this kind were undertaken by a competent leader, it would greatly help asceticism, science and the good name of our common country; and I know not who would make a more fitting general of such a campaign than Vivekananda.
Do you think you would care to apply yourself to the mission of galvanising into life our ancient traditions in this respect? Perhaps, you better begin a fiery pamphlet rousing our people in this matter? I should cheerfully defray all the expenses of publication.
With kind regards,
I am dear Swami
J. N. Tata
Swami Vivekananda supported this project completely and wrote in the April 1899 issue of a magazine:
We are not aware if any project at once so opportune and so far-reaching in its beneficent effects was ever mooted in India, as that of the post-graduate Research University of Mr. Tata. The scheme grasps the vital point of weakness in our national well-being with a clearness of vision and tightness of grip, the mastery of which is only equalled by the munificence of the gift with which it is ushered to the public...
If India is to live and prosper and if there is to be an Indian nation which will have its place in the ranks of the great nations of the world, the food question must be solved first of all. And in these days of keen competition it can only be solved by letting the light of Modern Science penetrate every pore of the two giant feeders of mankind – Agriculture and Commerce...
We repeat: No idea more potent for good to the whole nation has seen the light of day in modern India. Let the whole nation therefore, forgetful of class or sect interests, join in making it a success.
Unfortunately, before Swami Vivekananda could meet Jamsetji again, the Swami passed away in 1902. On Jamsetji’s demise in 1904, the magazine wrote: “The making of a prosperous nation depends on qualities of the head and heart like those possessed by Mr. Tata. A few more Tatas could change the face of India”.
Tata Iron & Steel (now Tata Steel)
Jamsetji was inspired to establish an iron and steel plant when he attended a lecture by the renowned philosopher and author Thomas Carlyle in Manchester, who had said, “The nation which has the steel will have the gold”. Jamsetji took up this idea as one of his missions to set up a steel plant in India.
However, he was opposed tooth and nail by the then Government of India not only for the steel plant, but for several of his projects. The steel project witnessed many ups and downs, but Jamsetji remained resolute in his resolve to ensure the project saw the light of day. For the steel plant, he picked the men with the best expertise in the world, from America. The Tata Group was reputed the world over for its thorough and professional approach. One of his numerous challenges was to counter the mocking statement of Sir Frederick Upcott, the Chief Commissioner of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIP) who promised “to eat every pound of steel rail they (the Tatas) succeed in making”. It was however, 8 years after Jamsetji’s death that the first ingot of steel was produced in 1912.
Jamsetji had a very clear idea of the sort of township he had envisaged for the workers of the proposed steel plant. His foresight of a united harmonious India with respect for and tolerance of all religions, his concern for the environment and his appreciation of sports and leisure activities are demonstrated in a letter to his son Dorab Tata in 1902, five years before the site for the steel plant had even been finalized: “Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks; earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches”.
In honour of Jamsetji, the village Sakchi, where Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO – now Tata Steel) was established, was renamed as Jamshedpur (in the present day state of Jharkhand) and the railway station Kalimati came to be known as Tatanagar.
Jamshedpur (also known as Steel City, Tatanagar or just Tata), and developed and managed by Tata Steel, was selected in 2004 as the first South Asian city to join a select band of six cities in the world for the United Nations Global Compact City Pilot programme. It was chosen because of the exceptional record of Tata Steel in the field of community development and their close involvement in the city’s development and services. One of the cleanest cities in India, it is a welcome break from the disorder of other Indian cities. The city presents a miniature India with a culture of its own and manifests the various traditions, customs and wide outlook.
Today Tata Steel has commercial presence in over 50 countries and employs 80,000 people globally. With crude steel capacity of nearly 30 million tonnes per annum Tata Steel is among the top-ten global steel companies. It is now the second-most geographically-diversified steel producer in the world.
Tata Hydro-Electric Project (Tata Power)
It was in 1875 that Jamsetji had first conceived the idea of utilizing hydraulic energy. An architect David Gostling had visualized a scheme in Lonavla (a hill station in the Western Ghats with heavy rainfall), which could provide a catchment area with the harnessed water hurtling down the valley, thus generating an artificial waterfall. Gostling spoke to Jamsetji about this and the latter envisaged the potential of his idea. However, it was only in late 1902 that Jamsetji wrote to the authorities about his hydro-electric scheme for supply of electric power to Bombay.
After Jamsetji expired in 1904, the new Governor of Bombay Sir George Clarke, later Lord Sydenham, offered encouragement and support to Jamsetji’s son Dorab Tata for launching this project. The foundation ceremony of Walvhan Dam took place in early 1911. On the occasion, Dorabji said: “To my father the acquisition of wealth was only a secondary object in life; it was always subordinate to the constant desire in his heart to improve the industrial and intellectual condition of the people of this country; and the various enterprises which he from time to time undertook in his life-time, had for their principal object the advancement of India in these important respects. To me it is of the matter of utmost regret that he is not alive today to see the accomplishments of the three cherished aims of the last years of his life – the Research Institute, the Iron and Steel Project, and the Hydro-Electric Scheme ... Kind fate has however permitted me to help in bringing to completion his inestimable legacy of service to the country, and it is a matter of the greatest gratification to his sons to have been permitted to carry to fruition the sacred trust which he committed to their charge”. It was in 1915 that the Tatas commissioned India’s first large hydro-electric power project in Khopoli.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel was one of the major ventures that Jamsetji conceived of and which became a reality during his lifetime. There is a legend that Jamsetji decided to build this world class hotel after being denied entry to one of the hotels in Bombay, for being an Indian. It was completed in 1903 at a cost of more than Rs. 4 crore. A luxury hotel, it was the first building in Bombay to use electricity. It was also the first hotel in India having German elevators, American fans and Turkish baths, along with English butlers, among other novel amenities.
The Taj, a symbol of Indian hospitality, completed its centenary year in 2003. The Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) and its subsidiaries, known as Taj Group collectively, is one of Asia's biggest and most excellent groups of hotels. The Taj Group comprises 108 hotels in 63 locations in India, and 17 hotels in Malaysia, Maldives, USA, UK, Australia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Africa and the Middle East. Time-honoured Indian hospitality, modern luxury and service measuring up to international standards are the USP’s of the Taj group of hotels.
Jamsetji’s health deteriorated in 1903. With his doctor, he left for Bad Nauheim (German Empire) in the hope of a cure. However, he passed away in his sleep on 19th May 1904 at the age of 65. A man who did so much during his entire lifetime, for the sake of India and Indians is rightly known as Father of Indian industry.
Tata Group today
Today, the Tata group is a global enterprise headquartered in Mumbai, and comprises over 100 companies operating in over 100 countries, exporting products and services to more than 150 countries. The total revenue of Tata companies, was $108.78 billion (about Rs. 665, 185 crore) in 2014-15, with 68 percent of this coming from businesses outside India. Tata companies globally employ over 611,700 people.
The Tata Group’s primary purpose is to enhance the quality of life of the communities it serves internationally, through long-term stakeholder value creation based on leadership with trust.
Major Tata companies include Tata Motors, Tata Steel, Tata Power, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Communications, Indian Hotels, Tata Chemicals, Titan, Tata Teleservices and Tata Global Beverages.
Several Tata companies have realized global leadership in their businesses. For example, Tata Steel is among the top 10 best steelmakers and Tata Consultancy Services is one of the top 10 global IT services companies. Tata Communications is the world’s largest wholesale voice carrier. Tata Global Beverages is the second-largest player in tea in the world. Tata Chemicals is the world’s second-largest manufacturer of soda ash. Tata Motors is among the top five commercial vehicle manufacturers in the world. Innovativeness has been demonstrated by Tata Motors, which designed and manufactured the small smart city car, the Tata Nano.
The Tata brand was valued at $21.1 billion by Brand Finance, a UK-based consultancy firm. It secured 34th rank among the top 500 most valuable global brands as per Brand Finance Global 500, 2014 report.
The Tata Trusts with majority shareholding in Tata Sons have endowed institutions for medical research, social studies, science and technology, and the performing arts. Aid and assistance to NGOs working in the fields of health care, education, etc are provided by the trusts. Tata companies too, work for a wide range of social welfare causes, particularly at their places of operations.
Initiatives for the Youth (Courtesy: www.tata.com/)
From fostering international understanding through student internship programmes to promoting social entrepreneurship, the Tata group engages with the youth through various initiatives.
Tata Crucible - The Business Quiz, a key initiative aimed at engaging the youth, brings together the sharpest young corporate minds in India to take on the heat of the toughest business quiz. Started in 2004, the quiz is held for corporate employees and campus students.
The Tata Building India School Essay Competition encourages young leaders of tomorrow to showcase their thoughts on nation building through essays. Started in 2006, the competition is now one of the largest essay competitions in India.
Launched in 2008, Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (ISES) is a unique two-month experiential internship programme that provides students from the world's leading universities, grass-roots level exposure through corporate sustainability projects of Tata companies in India.
A joint initiative by the Tata group and the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, the objective of Tata Social Enterprise Challenge is to find India’s most promising social enterprises. It also aims at raising awareness and promoting social entrepreneurship among youth.
India's first national mentoring and recognition platform for student start-ups, Tata First Dot Powered by NEN (National Entrepreneurship Network) promotes, mentors and showcases India's youngest and most dynamic entrepreneurs. Tata First Dot is a collaborative initiative of the Tata group and the NEN Trust.
Jamsetji: “Freedom without the strength to support it and, if need be, defend it, would be a cruel delusion. And the strength to defend freedom can itself only come from widespread industrialisation and the infusion of modern science and technology into the country's economic life”.
The Times of India on Jamsetji Tata's death: “He was not a man who cared to bask in the public eye. He disliked public gatherings, he did not care for making speeches, his sturdy strength of character prevented from fawning on any man, however great, for he himself was great in his own way, greater than most people realised. He sought no honour and he claimed no privilege, but the advancement of India and her myriad peoples was with him an abiding passion”.
Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India, on Jamsetji Tata's demise: “No Indian of the present generation had done more for the commerce and industry of India”.
Dr. Zakir Hussain, the former president of India: “While many others worked on loosening the chains of slavery and hastening the march towards the dawn of freedom, Jamsetji dreamed of and worked for life as it was to be fashioned after liberation. Most of the others worked for freedom from a bad life of servitude; Jamsetji worked for freedom for fashioning a better life of economic independence”.
B.E. Mech. [COEP], P.G.D. – International Trade [IIFT, New Delhi]
Alumnus – Loyola High School, Pune, India
Alumnus – Fergusson College, Pune, India
Alumnus – College of Engineering (COEP) Pune
Alumnus – Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi
Creative Writer: Articles; Speeches; Citations; Business Profiles; Content
Editor: Philosophical Texts; MBA Reports; Industry Manuals; Theses
US Higher Education Counsellor for Statements of Purpose (SOP)