Ratan Tata the man of steel finally speaks after corus deal

Corporate guru:: Mr Man of Steel (Ratan Tata), first of all many, many congratulations on becoming the Businessman of the Year. You are becoming quite a star.

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Thank you. I think that’s a statement I would feel very awkward in even acknowledging, but I just want to say that I am deeply touched and deeply honoured to have been awarded this honour. It’s something that I will carry with humility because I believe all I have been doing in my small way is my own job. And I think I have a sense of great sensitivity to the fact that this is being recognised by you. So, thank you for giving me this recognition and for all the people who have made this happen.

Corporate guru:: But Mr Tata you keep getting awards and recognitions. Just look at the newspapers, you are there in eight columns across. Has that changed Man of Steel (Ratan Tata) in any way, the adulations that’s coming your way?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: I hope not, because I think these things happen almost seasonally and they are based on events. You get knocked for something you do, you get applauded for something else you do or don’t do. On the whole, I think the best way to view this is to just let it pass.

Corporate guru:: But it’s interesting. The award has been given to you for 2006. And we are now meeting against the backdrop of all that’s happened in 2007. In fact, there was the Corus deal that has put you on another level. When we ask the jury the reasons for making you the Businessman of the Year, they mentioned two facts: One was integrity and the other was putting the company on a global scale. How important are these two concepts to you – integrity and the global scale?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Integrity is very important to me. I have tried to continue the foundations of the Group in terms of operating with integrity and with a value system. And I would hope that will be followed after me and that this is one of the strengths that we have and differentiators that we have and we should, in fact, nurture it and cherish it and fight for it ferociously.

Corporate guru:: Is that what Brand Tata stands for? When all across India and now increasingly across the world when the word Tata is mentioned is that the one attribute that you would like to associate with this brand?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Certainly, it would be. At the same time, I would not want that to also be linked to ultra-conservativeness, lack of aggression in the market place and lack of vision. All of which I think in some ways we were branded with also in the past. I think we have to be a Group for today but operating with our eyes on tomorrow, but operating with a sense of integrity and values.

Corporate guru:: Is that what this globalisation is about? Is that what acquiring new companies overseas? You used two words – aggression and vision, was the acquisition of Corus, for example, at one level about aggression? You have got to stretch new boundaries: is that what being a global leader you believe is about today?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Part of it. Corus was big, because it had a strategic value to us in Europe. It had scale and, more importantly, it had a human chemistry in its management, which was compatible.

Corporate guru:: But, therefore, when there is criticism, as there was to some extent even in the Corus deal: you overbid, you spent more than you should have; how would you react? I have often found that a number of your ventures have faced criticism. Even the Tata Indica, when you first started it, there was a lot of criticism. How do you take the criticism: that you perhaps overbid for Corus?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: See, I don’t consider that I have overbid for Corus. We have paid more than what we had initially wanted to pay; that we offered in October. And that would have been the price at which we took Corus. Then we had a competitor who came in and between him and the hedge funds, the price of Corus went up. It never reached a level where we would have thought it would be a jeopardy to our shareholders to take it. And if we had reached such limit, we would not have taken.

Corporate guru:: It would have never been about an ego that “I have to win this”?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: No, absolutely not. Just the fact that we went into the auction meant that it was not a question of ego, because it could have easily been a situation where we would have lost and we would have walked away.

Corporate guru:: I am asking this because in 2004 you made an interesting statement that I read: “I am not averse to risk, but I am not a gambler.”

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Yeah, not a gambler.

Corporate guru:: So, this was not a game of rush and rule that you were playing there?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: No, it wasn’t. Because we had a limit that we all agreed to. We tacitly decided that we would walk away if that limit was reached. And we never reached it.

Corporate guru:: But in general, as I come back, even in the Tata Indica deal, when there was criticism, there was a feeling that it won’t work. Did you ever have any self-doubt? Does ever have self-doubt because you as an entrepreneur are taking risk every time you venture into new areas?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: In the Indica, I had a great sense of fear that it may not work out. We never designed a car before. India had never done it. We ourselves had never done a passenger car. We were going into a new world. Everyone was telling us that we were foolish. So, yes I had great apprehensions. Even my friends distanced themselves close to the launch from me, because they were afraid of being associated with someone who failed.

Corporate guru:: When you say aggression, are you a risk-taker by nature? Are you someone who believes that aggression has to involve taking risks in business particularly?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: No, it’s more risk-taking than being aggressive. If I were to assess myself, I would say that I am more given to taking measured risks than being aggressive.

Corporate guru:: Is that why, for example, you have gone into West Bengal, a state where no one really adventured? You stood by your Rs 1-lakh car project in Singur despite criticism from various groups. Again have you ever felt that maybe I’ve ventured too far? Are you still convinced about your Rs 1 lakh car dream?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Oh, yes I am. More so now then I was with Indica, because we have done it before and we will do it again.

Corporate guru:: Is there a favourite area for Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):? Is it about cars, is it about aviation? Because I know for a while you have also been someone very keen on aviation.

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Still very keen on aviation, but aviation as a sector. I have been keen on airlines also. But today, I am also one of the people who say that we probably don’t want to be in the airline business at this time.

Corporate guru:: But when you see Singur, are you caught in a political trap? Do you fear that even you have no option in India today but to be caught between various political pulls and pressures? Does that trouble you?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: I think Singur is unfortunate, because it really isn’t our battle. We are caught in the middle of some crossfire that’s political.

Corporate guru:: Does that trouble you – if Man of Steel (Ratan Tata) or Tatas in general is branded as anti-national?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Oh yes, it would, because I don’t believe we are.

Corporate guru:: You obviously are not, because the legacy comes from the great Jamshedji Tata. In a sense when the Corus deal was happening, did you sort of harked back to legacy? Do you have a sense of history of where it all started, particularly with steel? I know you have expanded to all these areas, but steel is really where it started.

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Yes.

Corporate guru:: Do you have the sense of history that when you were bidding for Corus, that this was the legacy that you were carrying of Tata Steel?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: No, quite frankly the legacy part never emerged in the hectic time before Corus. It’s just was what was right for Tata Steel at this time.

Corporate guru:: When you have been the head of Tatas, how much of that Great Jamshedji, JRD Tata and the various people who have served this company over the years weigh on you: that you have got to carry the burden and the weight in the sense of history?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Very much. But in the area of values, in the area of the manner in which we do business, the fairness with which we deal with all our stakeholders, in that sense, very, very heavily. Emotionally, when we are expanding whether that throws us back to the vision of Jamshedji or not? No, not in that sense. But in the fundamentals and philosophy that these people did hold and considered important; that way it weighs very heavily on me.

Corporate guru:: I say this because Corus acquisition is being seen as the biggest acquisition in the history of India Inc. Do you believe you have become a trendsetter, that this will encourage other Indian companies to go global, to push the frontiers?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: I hope it will.

Corporate guru:: The Tatas have traditionally believed that business has to have a strong philanthropic component. Do you believe Indian business in general doesn’t still do enough? Do you feel Indian corporates need to do much more in terms of philanthropy?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Yes, I do. I think the Indian business community needs to be much more sensitised to the fact that when we are creating wealth, we need to give it back to the people.

Corporate guru:: And at Tatas, you have been very conscious of that always: That corporate responsibility is critical, corporate governance is critical? Are you overall satisfied though with the trajectory that you see Indian corporates are moving in, both on the global scale as well as nationally?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: No, I think we can do much more. But on the corporate responsibility point of view, this would be much more ‘in focus’ if enforcement of violations were also undertaken in an effective manner. There is always a view among some segments of the industrial community that they are above the law and that they can manage the environment.

Corporate guru:: Was that true of the license-permit raj or is that true even post-license-permit raj? That businessmen still believe that they can cut corners and get away?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Well, it’s not in the license area any more because the license raj is gone.

Corporate guru:: So, in the post-license-permit raj it’s still there: you can cut corners and get away; if you need, you can peddle influence with politicians, or influence someone, bribe someone?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: I think it’s still there. And if enforcements were stricter and more uniform, then I think India would become a better place.

Corporate guru:: I’m not a business journalist. But business journalists would certainly ask you, when Corus happened, the Tata shares fell for a while: Did that worry you? Is that something that concerned you. The business journalists say you overbid and that had an impact.

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Yes, it did bother me and it bothers me even now, because our share is being battered. But I believe that this is a short-term view and it has been a harsh view that has been taken. I hope that out in time, we can look back and say “we did the right thing.”

Corporate guru:: So you won’t tell us what’s next on your mind, but tell us: is this trend towards global acquisition going to continue? Do you want Tatas to be a global player? Is that your dream?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Yes, I do.

Corporate guru:: Should the Tata Group then be seen as an ‘Indian multinational’ in the truer sense of the term: a company headquartered at Bombay House, with interest all across the world?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Not all across the world, because it’s not my intention that we will be in every continent. But wherever we feel it’s strategically important for us, I feel we should be there in a meaningful way, and being a good corporate citizen in the place we are.

Corporate guru:: You have seen the Indian economy grow over the years. It’s eight per cent now. The Hindu rate has been left far behind. Where do you see this economy going? If you were to look at potential roadblocks as we enter the Budget month, do you see any potential roadblocks to India emerging as an economic superpower in this century?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: The roadblocks I see would be, possibly, the expenditure on infrastructure slowing down. I would see, possibly not, some political upheaval being roadblock to progress. And I would see, possibly, in political circles parties pulling in different directions, as negating to some extent the direction that the present government would like to do.

Corporate guru:: Any advice to the Finance Minister that you would like to give ahead of the budget 2007? Anything that you would like him to do on behalf of corporate India?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: I don’t think the Finance Minister needs any advice from us.

Corporate guru:: You are very much a part of the advisory council to the Prime Minister. Is there anything that you believe should be there?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: I think today the country should be growth-oriented and the policies of the government should be growth-oriented. To some extent, some of the fine print, that I would say, that holds back growth, that hinder growth, that take time to fulfill; those should change.

Corporate guru:: You have been an intensely private person. You have said that you have accepted this award with great humility. We hear only little nuggets of information about. I know you love dogs, I know you go to Alibagh for Christmas and New Year. You remain an intensely private person. Is that the way you always would like to be?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Yes, I would. I think having one’s own space is very important.

Corporate guru:: In that sense, you are a bit of an anachronism in this world of media and hype and celebrity-hood. We don’t catch you on Page 3.

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: No.

Corporate guru:: Is there anything in particular that gives you joy? Parsi food cooked by your sister, I am told?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: No, not really. But I think technology excites me. A lot of things that I feel I can do.

Corporate guru:: I am told you are flying an F-16? Or you intend to participate in the aero show.

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: I have been invited to fly an F-16 in the show. That excites me very much.

Corporate guru:: It is said that on Tata Steel you did every possible job during your initial years, including working at the steel furnace.

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Yes, I did. I was on the shop floor for three years I think.

Corporate guru:: How do you relax? Is there any particular way? How do you relax after Corus, once you knew you have won the deal and all the press conferences are over, did you get any time to relax?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: On that day, I didn’t, unfortunately. The one thing I kept thinking of, when can I go to sleep. That did not happen till the night of that day.

Corporate guru:: Anything else though that keeps you relaxed?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: There is nothing in particular. I have many interests. I love to read. I love to be involved with electronics and technology. There are many things that interest me – cars are a passion, flying is something I enjoy.

Corporate guru:: Does the 69-year-old Man of Steel (Ratan Tata) ever think of retirement? Is that something that comes to your mind?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: It does, constantly. I got the group to set a time limit of me to retire.

Corporate guru:: Does that mean 2012 will finally be the year when you get retirement?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Whatever that is.

Corporate guru:: And then what? Alibagh, away from it or still play the role of a corporate citizen?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: I don’t know. It’s still a while away. I have a few things in my mind that I would love to do.

Corporate guru:: Anything you would like to share?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Well, I have always said that I would like to be involved more in product design and scenario. I enjoyed big historical architecture, which I studied. I would enjoy being involved with causes that I thought were important.

Corporate guru:: Finally, what would your message be to all those young people emerging out of business schools who want to be entrepreneurs? What would be the one thing that you would tell them?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: I don’t think I can tell them anything, because most of the young people have much more entrepreneurial intuition than I would ever have.

Corporate guru:: But what is that little thing that makes a good entrepreneur? What is it that you would suggest to those who are ready to set up businesses across this India?

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: What could I say to them? The idea has to be there, the robustness of that idea is there. The only thing I would say to them, if I could, would be: “Don’t compromise your values. Don’t add to the destruction of the fabric or ethics in the country. Try to build on it and look at building a better India.” Perhaps one thing I would say to most young people: “Have a sense of spirit for your country rather than merely for yourself.”

Corporate guru:: You are an entrepreneur, a patriot and also  Businessman of the Year. Many, many congratulations and may there be many Coruses in your life.

Man of Steel (Ratan Tata):: Thank you very much.