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BW Businessworld

BW Webinar: All For Society

The strength of the Japanese trading houses is not so much in trading, as in technology. Trading houses must focus on trading.

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“Whatever the Tatas have done is really for society at large ... the 0nly thing the Tatas could do better is improve their efficiency” 

Yamal Gupta, author, Imperial College alumni, former Director, Tata Sons, talks of his new book and the memories of his life’s journey that he shares in it, in a conversation with Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld & exchange4media group

How have the last five months been for you, both   personally and professionally?  

For the last five months we have been locked up at home. I  couldn’t go out so I started doing physiotherapy on the net  as well as yoga online to keep myself going. I read journals   from different institutes and try to keep myself aware  of what is going on there – not that I understand them  completely as every day there is new research.  

There are a lot of interesting things. I am interested in the  solar business. Solar has become a big business and I am  on the international committee which comprises Oxford,   Imperial College, the IITs and government agencies. They are trying to build a new solar cell. We are putting   up a small unit in India to show that hybrid solar cells are  working.   

A lot more R&D is going to happen. It is quite interesting.  The line of thinking of the Tata’s is in line with that of the  government’s line of thinking – solar pumps, solar lighting   and all the possible things we did in the past. I have lost  touch now but they are doing well.

Your book is named Quintessential Tata. Tell us why  you chose the name. What defines the Tatas?  

When I completed 50 years of service with the Tata  management, they wrote an article ‘Quintessentially Tata’s  – Syamal Gupta’. So I asked them what it meant and they  said it means you are a “‘Tata man’. All along you have been  a Tata person or a Tata product.”

What are the values that define ‘Tata’ and what is   being quintessentially Tata?  

It is the values, ethics, honesty, integrity, relationships  and pioneering activities of the Tatas. I am old now but I  still think of how Tata used to function. They thought that   India must have industry to start with steel for economic  freedom and this steel plant was built for society, for the  benefit of society at large.

Whatever the Tatas have done is really for society  at large. Look at Tata steel – steel plants were for the  economic freedom of the country and to give society the  steel it needed. The next was excellent R&D and then they  did hydropower. It was done for society again. Society  benefitted   and that is why I say Tata and India is so closely related.

The fourth chapter of the book is dedicated to Africa.  Tell us how the African safaris of the Tatas worked out  and you played an important role there too. So, what is  your assessment of the African safari of Tatas?  

I think that the Tatas did a good job, and when the Tatas  went there nobody in Africa knew what Indian business  is. The gap in understanding that India had all the  sophisticated equipment at a much cheaper price and   readily available – that ignorance went on for a long  time. We showcased many of our products and services  there and the government of India did a great job. Even in  Singapore things went well.

Where do you see the Tatas ten years from now?  

I don’t think I am aware of any plan of the Tata group ten  years down the line as I am out of touch But I feel the Tatas  will surely grow. This is what I feel and the government will   support their endeavours. More efficiency and also better  technology will ensure that they grow.  

What could the Tatas have done better, in your view?   

The social work that they are doing now is excellent.  Transparency is very important and that they have. The  only thing they could do better is improve their efficiency.

How do you see the role of trading houses in the current global scenario of protectionism?

I think trading houses in my opinion have no reflection on the Tatas or anybody. Trading houses should operate in the  way the Japanese ones do.  

The strength of the Japanese trading houses is not so   much in trading, as in technology. Trading houses must  focus on trading. They must employ technology to have  the right information about the product in a way to help  them make better decisions.   

What would be the prerequisite for sending employees   on overseas postings? Do you believe that an overseas  experience adds a lot of value and experience?  

Yes, overseas experience is very important and not only  in social activity. It adds a lot of value and when I went to  Singapore I saw 70 Indians, most of them from companies   other than the Tatas.   

 The first thing we decided was how to build relationships.  Experience is like education. How to deal with people,  how to talk to people, how to motivate them and see that  whatever we do is good for them.

Why did you leave Singapore when you could make the Tatas reach new heights? 

I would have liked to stay, but the Tatas sent me to  Singapore and they called me back. I was always loyal to  the Tatas. That is my answer.  

In the current environment where do you see the role  of Indian manufacturing companies?  

They should grow. Export a lot of manufactured products  from India. I also pick up many things from many people. At  the Tatas, I got tremendous support from all my bosses and   colleagues. I am very happy with the past. 

What does success mean to you?   

Success in the job I was given, came to me. Money and   success were given to me by the Tatas for me to survive and  to look after myself. It is like when you meet some special  people who give you compliments and you feel good.  

If we speak in another five years, what would you see  the Tatas achieving?  

I feel that high quality production and satisfaction of  customers will be a big high. Also, achieving social trust by  their products and services will increase even more.