Ratan Tata
Chairman Emeritus, Tata Sons
Ratan N. Tata was the Chairman of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group, from 1991 till his retirement on December 28, 2012. Effective December 29, 2012, Mr. Tata has been conferred the honorary title of Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons, Tata Industries, Tata Motors, Tata Steel and Tata Chemicals. Mr. Tata was the Chairman of the major Tata companies, including Tata Motors, Tata Steel, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Power, Tata Global Beverages, Tata Chemicals, Indian Hotels and Tata Teleservices and during his tenure, the group’s revenues grew manifold, totaling over $ 100 billion in 2011-12.

Mr. Tata serves on the board of directors of Alcoa and is also on the international advisory boards of Mitsubishi Corporation, JP Morgan Chase, Rolls-Royce and the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

Mr. Tata is also associated with various organizations in India and overseas. He is the Chairman of the Sir Ratan Tata Trust and the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, two of the largest private-sector-promoted philanthropic trusts in India. He is the Chairman of the Council of Management of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. He also serves on the board of trustees of Cornell University and the University of Southern California.

Mr. Tata joined the Tata Group in 1962. After serving in various companies, he was appointed Director-in-Charge of the National Radio & Electronics Company Limited in 1971. In 1981 he was named Chairman of Tata Industries, the group’s other holding company, where he was responsible for transforming it into a group strategy think-tank, and a promoter of new ventures in high technology businesses.

Mr. Tata received a B.Arch. degree from Cornell in 1962. He worked briefly with Jones and Emmons in Los Angeles before returning to India in late 1962. He completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School in 1975.
The Government of India honored Mr. Tata with its second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan, in 2008. He has also received honorary doctorates from several universities in India and overseas.

 

What attracts you to a startup?

If the startups are working in an unserved or underserved space and building an idea around that. I’ve worked 20, 30 years in smokestack industries that need millions of dollars for even a small delta to occur. What’s wonderful about the startup space in today’s age is that you can put your idea to work quickly – software and chipset design – and change the way the world looks at a certain area of the market. That’s what’s wonderful and invigorating.

I have to say with humility how on many occasions when I felt something couldn’t work and it became a huge success.

Take smartphones – the impact of it in the space that it has created. If you didn’t have smartphones, many ideas would go away.  Technology helps create enterprises that couldn’t be created 20 years ago.

 

What should entrepreneurs look for in an investor?

It just struck me that an investor is like a talent scout in a music company; bands do their best to impress the talent scout. He can’t always put down the numbers this group will generate, nor how they might do it, but he intuitively feels that this group will work and mentally conjures up a plan of concerts and recordings. One looks for an investor with a similar sort of excitement about what a company is trying to do – is he ready to not just risk his money but participate in the journey, using his contacts and mentorship to make it work? Not just plain numbers, because there’s lot of intuition that we don’t always pay enough attention to, and we should, to be able to come to the conclusion that this is an exciting new venture.

 

The one thing you wish you had known when you were 25

As a young employee in Jamshedpur, when I had an idea, I would go to my bosses and they would tell me not to be so eager and that something was being done in a particular way for 30 years. And I would quietly go back. I yearned for an environment where I could be heard if I had an idea. I wish I could have communicated better at the time.

[Source: YourStory coverage of Kstart Launch]

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