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BW Businessworld

The Soul, The Spirit

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While there has been a lot of buzz over the ascendancy of Cyrus Mistry to the top seat vacated by Ratan Tata, there is, perhaps, another succession happening flippantly. Russi M. Lala — the man who penned books such as The Creation Of Wealth: The Tatas From The 19th To 21st Century and Beyond The Last Blue Mountain: A Life Of J.R.D. Tata that chronicled the extraordinary history of the Tatas — is making way for Harish Bhat, the author of Tatalog, as the chronicler of the incredible journey of the Tata Group since India’s economic liberalisation.

Currently the managing director and CEO of Tata Global Beverages, Bhat is a sensitive insider and an old Tata hand. Not new to writing (his columns appear in several media), Bhat emerges a good storyteller in Tatalog.

This is not purely a tome on management; it is neither just a work on corporate history nor a felicitous juxtaposition of eight success stories of the Tatas when Ratan Tata was at the helm. This is an attempt to capture the spirit (or the soul) of the Tatas through significant episodes and watershed events.

For the uninitiated, there is the revelation of the Tata Way. Though the author provides a disclaimer that there is no such ‘bottled formula’ available, what he presents is evidence of beliefs, actions and behaviour of the group and its key protagonists over a sustained period of time that leads one to it.

The Tata Way is all about 4Ps — pioneering, purposive, principled and almost perfect. Bhat picks up eight stories that exemplify these 4Ps. So, on the one hand, you have the story of the birth of an Indian supercomputer, EKA, showcasing the ‘pioneering’ spirit of the Tatas and, on the other, you have Tetley’s acquisition by Tata Tea — a company much smaller than Tetley.

The group’s ‘principled’ stance elaborated in the chapter on Tata Finance is written passionately and has a tone of regret, if not apology. The author captures the saga that reflects the group’s character of owning up ‘imperfection’ even though it is a rare occurrence.

The book brings under public purview efforts such as that of Tata Chemicals in Okhamandal, Gujarat, which epitomises the outreach programme of a concerned corporate citizen committed to social causes as diverse as raising the water table in an arid area to protecting the endangered whale shark.

Then, there is a story about the amazing Second Career Internship Programme, or SCIP, of the Tatas, which offers a second career to women who take a break to raise a family. These women are a latent talent pool that needs some hand-holding to ‘ease the return-to-work cliff into a gradual slope’. This chapter is a real gem, along with the ones on Tanishq and Indica.

Bhat enumerates the group’s commitment to bringing top talent back to work in a way that endears one to the group, and this endearment is a heady mix of respect, awe and regard. SCIP showcases the group’s generosity in offering a six-month internship along with flexi-hours and a stipend to boot — and all this to resettle them not necessarily within the group. The nuances that Bhat shares give an insight into what makes the group so different from most of its peers across the world.

It would be unfair to talk about the book without a mention of the foreword by another Tata veteran — R. Gopalakrishnan. Unlike most forewords that are either loaded with emotion and praise for the author or go tangential to the purpose they are written for, Gopal’s essay sets the tone and puts the subject into perspective.

That said, one would have loved to see stories on the brouhaha over the Radia episode or issues that the Nano project ran into in West Bengal or even the launch of the small car — but then those could well be the subject of Tatalog II. Bhat, folks will be waiting.

Sharma runs BehindTheMoon, a consultancy 

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 04-02-2013)

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