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Transparency Is Very Important, They Could Do Better By Improving Efficiency: Syamal Gupta

Syamal Gupta talks about his book ‘Quintessentialy TATA – My Journey over 55 years’ and his more than five and a half decades tenure with Tata.

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Syamal Gupta, Author, Imperial College Alumni, Former Director, Tata Sons in conversation with Dr Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, BW Businessworld & exchange4media group, about his new book and the memories and journey he penned down. 

Q. How have been the last 5 months for you, both personally and professionally?

A. For the last 5 months we have been locked up at home and me personally, I couldn’t go out so I started doing physiotherapy on the net and yoga as well online to keep myself going. I read journals from different institutes and try to keep myself aware about what is going on there, not that I understand them completely as everyday 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 of Oxford, Imperial College, 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. Tata’s line of thinking is in line with 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. 

Q. Your book is named ‘Quintessential Tata’, so please tell us why you call Tata quintessential Tata, and in your view what defines Tata? 

A. 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 Tata product.” 

Q. What are the values that define Tata and what is so quintessential about being Tata?

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

Q. The fourth chapter of the book is dedicated to Africa. Please tell us how the Africa safaris for the Tatas worked out in your assessment and you played an important role too in that, so tell us what is your assessment in the African safari of Tatas?

A. I think that Tata did a good job, and when 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 gap of ignorance went on for a long time. We showcased many of our products and services there and the Govt. of India did a great job. Even in Singapore things went well. 

Q. Where do you see Tatas 10 years from now? 

A. I don’t think I am aware of any plan of the Tata group 10 years down the line as I am out of touch in any case. But I feel Tatas will surely grow is what I feel and the government will support their endeavors. More efficiency and also better technology will ensure that they grow. 

Q. What are the things that Tatas could have done better in your view?

A. 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 improving their efficiency. 

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

A. I think trading houses in my opinion has no reflection on Tata or anybody. Trading houses should operate in the way the Japanese ones do. Japanese trading houses strength is not as such trading, but 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.

Q. 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?

A.  Yes, overseas experience is very important and not only is social activity. It adds a lot of value and when I went to Singapore I saw 70 Indians, most of them were companies other than 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. In the process you should get something also. I don’t have a structured thought but that is what I think. 

Q. Why did you leave Singapore when you could make Tata reach new heights? 

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

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

A. It should grow. Export lot manufactured products from India. I also pick up many things from many people. In Tatas I got tremendous support from all my bosses and colleagues. I am very happy with the past.

Q. What does success mean to you?

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

Q. We all know that relationship skills in business are very important. We also know that domain and technology skills are very important. If I simplify my question by saying relationship plus domain technology is equal to 100. Which is more important? For example, 60 – 40 or 70-30 or 50-50? What is your view?

A. I think relationships to start with are very important. Once you win their trust half the job is done. Then technology and other things will come after that. 

Q. If we spoke in 5 years, what do you see Tata achieving?

A. 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.

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