Steel amid adversity: Tata after Mumbai

December 22, 2008

Joe Leahy reports from Mumbai in Financial Times:


Ratan Tata was at home in south Mumbai late on November 26 when the call came. On the line was a frantic R.K. Krishna Kumar, head of the Tata group unit that owns the city’s luxury Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.

The unthinkable had happened, Mr Kumar told the Tata chairman. Terrorists had taken over the Taj, the 105-year-old wedding cake-like structure on Mumbai’s waterfront that was built by Mr Tata’s great-grandfather and is the pride of India’s largest private sector group. Scores had been killed. The building was on fire.

Unable to leave his apartment that evening because of the chaos on the streets, Mr Tata made it to the group’s stately south Mumbai headquarters, Bombay House, the following day. As the country’s politicians engaged in a blame game, Mr Tata was one of the few public figures who seemed to strike the right tone on the attacks. He bluntly criticised the state’s lack of preparedness while expressing grief for those killed.

“This is a very, very unfortunate situation which none of us are going to forget. My message really is that the government and state authorities should also not forget,” he told journalists on the steps of Bombay House.


Ratan Tata’s Obama moment

December 4, 2008

Is Ratan Tata the strong, credible leader India needs right now? He certainly has Robyn Meredith’s vote in Forbes. Who has your vote? Who do you think is most appropriate to lead the country? Send in your votes via comments.

ratan_d_tataThe Mumbai massacre was unlike previous global terror attacks because of the choice of targets. When terrorists hit Islamabad in September, they bombed the Marriott hotel, a clear attack on Western interests.

The Mumbai attackers, when they weren’t firing indiscriminately at crowds, reportedly favored killing Americans, Brits and Jews. But their choices of buildings to shoot up is notable. They didn’t target American hotels. They aimed at the very symbols of proud Indian success: the Indian-owned Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels. Those are the homes away from home for India’s elite, along with visiting foreigners. Mumbai’s social and business elite and Bollywood stars alike regularly dined in the bullet-pocked restaurants of the Taj and the Oberoi.


Taj Mahal hotel owner: We had warning

November 30, 2008

Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata in interview with CNN‘s Fareed Zakaria:

Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata

It’s ironic that we did have such a warning, and we did have some measures,” Tata said, without elaborating on the warning or when security measures were enacted. “People couldn’t park their cars in the portico, where you had to go through a metal detector.”

However, Tata said the attackers did not enter through the entrance that has a metal detector. Instead, they came in a back entrance, he said.

“They knew what they were doing, and they did not go through the front. All of our arrangements are in the front,” he said.

“They planned everything,” he said of the attackers. “I believe the first thing they did, they shot a sniffer dog and his handler. They went through the kitchen.”


Tata forced to relocate ‘people’s car’ plant

October 4, 2008

From a story headlined “Bullet into Bengal’s soul” in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

Ratan Tata with 'people's car' Nano

Ratan Tata with Nano

Bengal’s symbol of industrial resurgence, the Nano, died a violent death today, the trigger pulled by Mamata Banerjee, Ratan Tata said.

After a meeting with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Tata said: “Two years ago, I said if somebody puts a gun to my head, you would either have to remove the gun or pull the trigger. I would not move my head. I think Ms Banerjee pulled the trigger.” More:

Also in The Telegraph transcript of Ratan Tata‘s media conference:”This is a decision we have taken with a great deal of sadness…” Click here for more

Indians count cost of pyrrhic victory over Tata

Amy Kazmin in Financial Times:

Rising from the lush green paddy fields 40 kilometres from India’s decrepit former colonial capital Calcutta, Tata Motors’ flagship Nano car factory was expected to bring jobs and prosperity to a region little touched so far by the forces of globalisation now transforming other parts of India.

Instead, the high-profile plant in Singur – where Tata planned to produce the world’s cheapest car for India and for export – foundered on resistance of farmers such as 55-year-old Prabhat Shi, who saw little role for himself in the industrial sector, and preferred to cling to time-tested ways of living.


Previously in AW: Time to say tata & bye bye?

Time to say tata & bye bye?

August 23, 2008

Hours after Ratan Tata, chairman of India’s Tata conglomerate, threatened to pull out of his Rs one-lakh ($2,500) Nano car project from Singur, West Bengal, other state governments — most notably MaharashtraOrissa and Punjab — have rushed forward with invitations to Tata’s boss to set up the project in their state instead.

In West Bengal, however, Mamata Banerjee, leader of the state opposition party Trinamool Congress, stands firm and insists that 400 acres of land acquired from farmers by the Tatas be returned to them. But, here’s the twist to the tale, the farmers of Singur don’t want the Tatas to leave, reports The Indian Express

In a twist of the tale, a day after Ratan Tata threatened to pull out of the ‘Nano’ project in Singur, farmers whose land have been acquired do not want the Tata Motors Limited Chairman to leave as they believe industrialisation would improve their lot.

Marginal land owner Debaprasad Das whose 0.75 acres was taken for the project, but who had not taken his cheque as he had supported the agitation against land acquisition, said he wanted industrialisation.


Tata’s new ratan

June 2, 2008

Ford completes the £1.7 billion deal to sell British icons Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata. BBC News has that story.

Ford has completed the sale of its Jaguar and Land Rover businesses to Indian conglomerate Tata in a deal valued at £1.7bn.

The companies are being sold for £1.15bn with Ford paying £600m into the pension fund of the luxury brands.

The negotiations started last June and the deal was announced in March.

Ford is selling the firms to try and boost overall performance. Land Rover remains profitable but Ford has never made money from its Jaguar investment.


And for a story on India Inc’s global acquisition spree, read this story in The Economic Times here.

Tea, cars, steel, IT… Tata, the headiest brew in the world

May 4, 2008

India’s extraordinary conglomerate has found unique solutions to many of its problems. But it’s still unclear what will happen when the boss retires. Heather Connon reports from Mumbai in The Observor, UK:

The favourite boast of executives of the Tata Group is that it accompanies the average Indian throughout the day. They wake to the alarm of its Titan clocks, drink its tea or coffee for breakfast, wear clothes bought from its Westside shopping centres, take a Tata car or bus to work on a computer set up by Tata Consultancy Services, lunch in a Tata hotel, arrange their evening appointments on a Tata mobile phone and use Tata power to light their homes.

These days, the influence of the Indian conglomerate is spreading beyond its home country. Back in 2000, it made the first major acquisition by an Indian group when it acquired the Tetley tea company; last year, that was trumped when it bought steelmaker Corus for £6.2bn, while in March it was confirmed as the purchaser of British icons Jaguar and Land-Rover from Ford. Next month, it will make its first foray into UK financial services when New Star launches an Indian investment fund that will be managed by Tata Asset Management.


Jaguar’s new boss

March 31, 2008

In The Telegraph (UK), William Langley traces Ratan Tata’s lineage to discover a man of patrician bearing and why he is in such a hurry to leave his stamp on the world

ratan-tata.gifIt is tempting to look at Ratan Tata, the Indian tycoon whose company last week took over Land Rover and Jaguar, as a symbol of a nation’s headlong charge towards economic superpowerdom. This, we suspect, is how it tends to be with those pesky, nouveau riche Asians; one minute you’ve never heard of them, the next they are snaffling up all your best-known firms, and treating themselves to large, stucco-fronted mansions in Kensington.

Ratan, 70, and his faintly mysterious Bombay-based family, do not fit this caricature at all. Resoundingly non-nouveau, the Tatas have moved among India’s business aristocracy since Queen Victoria was on the throne, and while the last 150 years have seen a steady growth in their power, wealth and reach, the family is famed for never having done anything even remotely headlong.


The reverse Raj: Indian businesses turn tables on imperial master

March 30, 2008

Britain took commercial and cultural advantage of India as its imperial master. Now a new generation of wealthy Indians is reversing the roles. Dean Nelson in The Sunday Times, UK:

The assembled businessmen wore black ties and listened politely to a string quartet under crystal chandeliers in a magnificent ballroom. The room buzzed with talk of the old country, but more importantly with commercial speculation about their new domain. What was to be their next takeover target in the local economy?

It could have been a sepia print of the British East India Company, which effectively ruled India as a private colony for 100 years, but a closer look revealed a different kind of burra sahib. More Chandigarh than Cheam, the men gathered at the Grosvenor House hotel in Mayfair, central London, last year were the representatives of a new Indian raj, powerful men intent on buying up chunks of the homeland of their old imperial masters.


Is this the Indian century?

Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian, UK:

Shishir Bajoria is meant to be talking about India’s rise and the world economy, but first he wants to raise the really big stuff. “Have you seen the cricket?” he asks, and launches into an unkind description of the Australian player he saw whingeing on telly this morning about the bullying Indian cricket board. “A white man – a white man! – complaining about racism.” And he throws up his palms as if to say, how upside down can you get?

That’s not the only topsy-turvy thing around here. Take our location: the Bengal Club, the leading social club in Calcutta, former capital of British India. There was a time when it wouldn’t have let the likes of Bajoria through the door. “In the Bengal Club, they don’t allow dogs or Indians,” reported Somerset Maugham in 1938, “but in the Yacht Club in Bombay they don’t mind dogs; it’s only Indians they don’t allow.”


Tata lands Rover and Jaguar

March 26, 2008

Ford on Wednesday confirmed that it has agreed to sell its luxury UK-based car brands Land Rover and Jaguar marques to Indian group Tata for $2.3bn (£1.15bn). In The Guardian, UK, Randeep Ramesh reports from Mumbai on how Tata has persevered — and largely succeeded:


When Italy’s L’Expresso magazine last month splashed with the news that Ratan Tata (photo), chairman of India’s Tata group, was going to buy up luxury car marque Ferrari the story made front page news across the world.

jaguar.jpgAlthough later denied, what was surprising was no one thought a bid from Mumbai’s Tata for Milan’s most wanted brand implausible. After all Tata had spent £6.7bn buying Anglo-Dutch rival Corus. It was certain to snap up Jaguar and Land Rover.

Few remember that Tata’s first car 10 years ago, the Indica, was little more than a noisy box on wheels. It was instantly dubbed “Ratan’s folly”.


Tata buys into 40 years of trouble

In Fortune, John Elliott has a word, or two, of warning for Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata, who runs the Tata Group, one of India’s two biggest conglomerates, is buying into a history of trouble with his $2.3 billion cash deal, announced today,  to acquire the Jaguar and Land-Rover companies from Ford (F). Transfer of ownership to Tata Motors is due to be completed by the end of June, and the  question is whether Tata can then break a cycle of decline.

It’s been 40 years since the British government, in a bid to rebuild the country’s automobile industry, cobbled together ailing car brands such as Jaguar, Rover, Austin, Morris and Riley into a giant called British Leyland. BL, as it became known, was a failure, mainly because of endemic labor problems, uninspired products and poor quality. Since 1968, there have been many rescue attempts, but only rare short bursts of success. Several of the once proud names are long forgotten and none is British-owned; the iconic MG brand was bought three years ago by China’s Nanjing Automobile to make sports cars in China and the U.K., and the Morris Mini cult car is with BMW.


Previously on Asian Window:

India’s most powerful people

March 3, 2008


In its annual power list, India Today mixes new names with old to come up with a list of those who matter most in the creation of a new India. Some of the names, Ratan Tata (at #1) and Mukesh Ambani (#2) are now standard bearers on the list. Anil Ambani inches his way up to #3.


Media barons continue to matter. Brothers Samir and Vineet Jain (#9) of the Times of India group, Raghav Bahl (#18) of TV18 and Prannoy and Radhika Roy (#22) of NDTV continue to be on The List, while Ronnie Screwvala (#24) of UTV is the new entrant.

Other names debuting on the list include former President APJ Abdul Kalam (#7), K.V. Kamath (#13), managing director of India’s largest private bank ICICI and Lalit Modi (#29), BCCI’s powerful vice president and the creator of the Indian Premier League.

Film stars continue to make the list with Shah Rukh Khan (#6) way ahead of Amitabh Bachchan (#16), Rajnikant (#28) and Aamir Khan (#38). And cricket, the other religion of India along with films, rules with Sachin Tendulkar (#25) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (#35).

For a complete look at who’s on the list, and why, click here.

Confidence and pride beyond political class

January 22, 2008
Indian self-confidence is despite and in spite of its political class writes Namita Bhandare in Mint
 Politicians aren’t known to be thin-skinned. Yet, even the thickest of this amazing breed must have noticed a serious image problem that just got worse this past one week.
In no particular order: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Maya memsaab had a birthday party—her own symbolic “let them eat cake” moment, with diamonds and a helicopter as gifts. Even as a shocked nation watched senior bureaucrats feed behenji her favourite cream cake in a spectacle of sycophancy came the news that one of New Delhi’s most awaited, and needed, expressways (to Gurgaon) was ready to roll but that the aam aadmi (common man) would have to wait.
The reason? No VIP was available to inaugurate this “very important road”. Despite a “people’s inauguration”, the expressway remains shut—it is now to be inaugurated by Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit and other significant politicians later this week.
Then there was the absolutely unedifying hullabaloo over the Bharat Ratna.

The Tata invasion

January 22, 2008

James Surowiecki in the New Yorker

Americans are used to foreign cars—nearly half of us, after all, drive one—but no American has yet seen a vehicle bearing the brand name Tata Motors tooling along the highway. So when, a few weeks ago, news broke that this same Tata Motors, an Indian auto company, was close to buying Jaguar and Land Rover, the first reaction of many was “Who?” The implausibility of the bid was magnified when Tata rolled out its newest product, a tiny, stripped-down car that will sell for a mere twenty-five hundred dollars. The spectacle of a low-end specialist trying to buy a couple of established luxury brands looked to some like a cubic-zirconium peddler making a play for Tiffany.

The new Asian tiger poised to match China

January 19, 2008

Randeep Ramesh on the rise of the Indian economy in The Guardian

It took one minute to sell all $3bn (£1.53bn) worth of shares to the public in India’s biggest share floatation. The buying frenzy of stock in Reliance Power will almost certainly see 48-year-old Anil Ambani overtake his older brother Mukesh to become the country’s richest man with a fortune of more than $60bn when the shares debut on the Bombay stock exchange later this month.

What is remarkable is that Indians have been buying into a company that has little more than a famous name, Reliance, and big ambitions. The soaring stockmarket is a symptom of India’s overflowing optimism. Little wonder that Gordon Brown, who arrives in the country tomorrow night, has decided to make India the second stop on his Asian tour.


India driving

January 12, 2008

Hindustan Times

The launch of Tata’s Nano marks the beginning of the end of an India shaped only by the privileged few writes Barkha Dutt

Tata’s NanoTata’s NanoTata’s Nano 

If the travels of a country were to be chronicled by its cars, in the journey from the Ambassador to the Nano is, perhaps, the story of India’s evolution as a nation.    

When Hindustan Motors rolled out the first Ambassador Car in 1957 its sturdy body, rounded contours and Mother Earth simplicity immediately bagged it a place in our collective consciousness. Fifty years on, its unchanging form, plodding-yet-comfortable manner and homegrown efficiency has imbued the Ambassador with a sepia-tinted nostalgia. The ‘Amby’ may have been modelled on the Morris Oxford but for most of us, it is quintessentially and uniquely Indian and marks a milestone in our growth as an industrialised country. Read the rest of this entry »


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