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‘The Younger Generations Are Driven By A Sense Of Purpose Rather Than Monetary Rewards’

In an interview BW Businessworld, Mukund Rajan to discuss his role as the Tata Group’s chief sustainability and chief ethics officer

Photo Credit : Umesh Goswami

India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. With fast-paced economic progress, there is also an underlying need to have corporate leaders consciously implement best work practices and business ethics as a core part of a company’s growth strategy. Only this will result in creating ‘highly effective global leaders for future generations’.

Brand Tata has always been synonymous with ‘trust’. Even today, each employee of the Tata Group is proud to be part of a truly ‘global’ and yet ‘humble and socially responsible’ company. Munnish Puri meets with Mukund Rajan to discuss his role as the Tata Group’s chief sustainability and chief ethics officer.  

Edited excerpts:

After Tata Steel’s acquisition of Anglo Dutch major Corus and the Tata Motors’ buyout of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) of the UK, analysts questioned both the transactions and specifically alluded to how would the Tata Group integrate its best working practices amongst the management and employees of Corus and JLR. In your opinion, how successful has the Tata Group been in managing such challenges?

I think, we have had very good success in integrating the companies the Tata Group acquired. There are at least three key factors that have contributed to this — first, the cultural sensitivity with which we approached our acquisitions; second, our willingness to give the management of the acquired companies the requisite autonomy to run their operations; and third, the alignment of the companies and people with the core pillars of the Tata brand — our code of conduct and our business excellence model.

To illustrate, when Tata Motors bid for Korea’s Daewoo commercial vehicle operations in 2004, our then chairman Ratan Tata asserted that in Korea, we must be seen as a Korean company, and not as an Indian company. This philosophy meant that Tata Motors in Korea would essentially retain Korean management and connect itself to the Korean society and serve Korean consumers. When you bid for a company with this attitude, you send out a signal that you care for the long-term success of the company, and its integration with the local community.

Similarly, when we bought JLR, we not only decided to retain the brand name and senior executives but we also immediately pumped in over a billion dollars towards the working capital requirements of the company. This reassured the workforce that it had an owner who was sensitive to the goodwill the brand enjoys, with a willingness to fund the new product pipeline. The company was acquired for $2.3 billion, and has generated cumulative profits in excess of $15 billion since then.
In the case of Corus, however, we came to the conclusion that the brand really did not enjoy significant equity; Corus itself was an aggregation of different steel companies, with different names and legacies. Stakeholders in the steel industry, including lenders, suppliers, and customers, had a positive understanding of  Tata Steel India, a rock solid and very efficient and profitable organisation. It made sense to align their understanding with the understanding of the aspirations we had to make Corus Steel a similarly successful organisation.  Consequently, we renamed Corus as Tata Steel (Europe).

A question we are sometimes asked is whether we regret the fact that some of our brands do not carry the Tata name.  The answer is no, we do not.  Each brand enjoys a unique relationship with its consumer base. We do not want to interfere in that relationship, unless it becomes essential to defend the larger values for which our group stands. This approach has helped us retain the equity that the consumer has with the brand, and preserve the bond that the employees have with the company.

On the subject of good business ethics, how does the Tata Group effectively manage to maintain this culture across a diverse group of companies globally? 

One of the principle tools that we use to guide our colleagues towards ethical conduct and our businesses to conduct themselves in a value-driven manner is the Tata Code of Conduct. First crafted in 1998 under Ratan Tata, the code reinforces the value system that has endured since the group was founded. It lays down the ethical standards that Tata colleagues need to observe in their professional lives.

Yet, a code is only as good as its implementation. Hence, we also invest significantly in cascading the code across all levels of the organisation and reinforcing the key tenets of the code through actions that include celebrating an ethics week every year, translating the code in local and foreign languages to make it accessible to our colleagues across all levels and around the world, providing an online e-learning module, and conducting masterclasses for ethics counsellors of Tata companies, and various other such programmes.

To ensure that the right governance mechanisms are in place, we have frameworks and tools that measure and monitor the adoption of the code and provide feedback to our companies on areas of improvement. The intention is to assess and benchmark group companies against each other, and against global standards. Companies that fall short of our high standards can have the Tata brand withdrawn from them, and some companies, as in the past, may even be divested.  

Some of the areas we are focusing on are the companies’ policies, processes and procedures for both coverage and completeness of the code, and making sure that these remain contemporary and effective in implementation, including anti-corruption and anti-bribery frameworks. We are also attempting to bring more rigor to the management of ethics-related activities, e.g., capturing and reporting accurate case-data, monitoring data trends, defining reliable processes for investigations or sexual harassment inquiries, and conducting external assurance surveys regularly.

So, as you rightly pointed out, promoting and sustaining this culture of a value-driven approach to business requires constant and continuous education and communication. We are on a journey, and with every milestone we reach, our bar will only be set higher.

On a broader and on a more futuristic perspective, the new generation, which is referred to as the Generation Z or the iGeneration, is big on individuality and yet effective in multi-tasking. They also seem to be global in their outlook and very entrepreneurial too. Looking into the future, how will the Tata Group look at managing this generation, especially since Generation Z will have leaders of the future?
Since many members of GenZ are yet to even enter high school, it will be difficult to draw definitive conclusions on what inspires or motivates them.

However, our experience with millennials has shown that the younger generations are more and more inclined to be driven by a sense of purpose rather than pure monetary rewards. We have seen this with our young employee base, with the average age of our employees being 31 years, who demonstrate huge enthusiasm in areas like volunteering with non-profits.  

It is to speak to this audience that last year, we formally adopted the value of ‘pioneering’ as one of our core values. It was also a way to celebrate and recommit to the innovative and entrepreneurial legacy of our founder and the subsequent Tata leaders.

We also have several programmes in the Tata group to drive a culture of innovation and nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of our colleagues. One of the signature programmes we have is Tata InnoVista, an annual rewards and recognition programme for Tata companies that celebrates the successes and struggles of innovation. Recognising that it entails effort, risk, and frequent disappointment before success is achieved, one of the important award categories of this programme is the one, which showcases risk-taking and perseverance.  The award is called Dare To Try, and is, in a manner of speaking, an award for failure. We believe this is critical to encourage, so that a culture of innovation is sustained across the organisation.

From a leadership development perspective, Tata companies drive company specific management development programmes. At the group centre, we run a programme called the TAS, which was conceived by JRD Tata in 1956. With TAS, he aimed to create a talent pipeline of leaders for group companies to draw from. As part of their training, TAS recruits are exposed to the Tata group’s various sectors, businesses, financials and development strategies, and are mentored by some of the best senior-level executives. Such a programme not only provides a wide range of exposure to the recruits but it also helps them explore their personal passions and chart their own paths within the group.

In all this, we are cognizant that while such programmes and initiatives help in attracting talent, the next generation needs a strong sense of purpose and ‘meaning’ in their jobs to stay motivated and sustain their interest. I think, this is where our unique ownership structure plays a substantial role. Two-thirds of the equity of Tata Sons, the investment holding company of Tata group companies, is held by charitable trusts, which are dedicated to doing good. Our colleagues across the group know that the profits they generate are paid back as dividends to the Trusts, and that for every day they work here, they are changing the lives of those less fortunate, somewhere around the world. And that is a powerful motivation.


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