25 October, 2020

The Boston Brahmins Of Business

The connection between India and Harvard goes back over half a century

The Boston Brahmins Of Business

When Forbes magazine launched its first Billionaires’ List 25 years ago, India had not one legitimate billionaire by its measure. So that India would be represented, I was asked to write a profile of JRD Tata. It was exhilarating to meet and interview this icon of Indian business. JRD knew Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on a first-name basis, but refused to bow before his Fabian socialist ideology, at great cost to the Tata group he headed. JRD’s management philosophy was one of laissez-faire. He chose strong chiefs for the group’s principal companies, then let them manage. He believed, he told me then, that the values the Tata group had inculcated would keep the group united and strong.

His presumed successor, Ratan Tata, disagreed. At the end of our interviews he told me that the group stayed together out of respect and affection for JRD. Ratan said he had begged JRD “to step down in favour of a single person in order to hold it all together” but that JRD believed Tata’s values were the binding glue. Values were important...



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