20 Years Ago on This Day JRD Tata Died, What Made him the Man He Was

Twenty years ago, on this day, India lost one of its most successful entrepreneurs. JRD Tata, the former chairman of the Tata Group is known as the founder of IT services giant TCS, automotive giant Tata Motors, Titan Industries, Tata Tea, Voltas and Air India.

Business Historian Gita Piramal’s book “Business Legends” offers a few glimpses into the life of JRD, one of India’s foremost businessmen, listed alongside the likes of “David Rockefeller and Pope Paul VI as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by the Esquire magazine in 1970.”

Here are five traits, abstracted from the book, that made him the man he was.

Image Credit: Tata.in
Image Credit: Tata.in


Analysing his own performance, JRD took credit for only one creation: Air India. For the rest, he generously attributed the group’s success to his executives. (p, 433)

Surround Yourselves With Smart People

In a sense, JRD’s business life can be painted as a series of partnerships following one after the other. English ex ICS officer John Peterson dominated the twenties when JRD was learning the ropes in a small office at Navsari Chambers. Sir Homi P Mody’s advice guided JRD through difficult thirties & helped him win his corporate spurs. Forties belonged to Sir Ardeshir Dalal, the director in charge of Tisco. Sumant Moolgaokar, Darbari Seth, Nani Palkhivala and many others have been mentors and advisors at various stages of his life. (p,434)

Moral Rectitude

Piramal narrates an incident from JRDs life to show how important moral rectitude was for JRD.

JRD had promised a third of the profits to Nevill Vincent, a pilot with whom he had started Tata Airlines. When business picked up, J D Choksi, the group’s legal adviser, suggested that a new agreement be worked out. Vincent was unhappy with the new agreement and wanted to resign. Tata honored his verbal commitment. Later, he told his official biographer: In retrospect, I asked myself, why did I allow a situation to be created where I made Nevill feel that I was not fair to him? It was one of those rare occasions when I regretted my inability to stand up immediately for what I believed. (p, 435)


“You could set your watch by Mr Tata,” the book quotes Ajit Kerkar, the former head of Indian Hotels. He used to get up early and was in his office by 9.30 am. (p, 438)

Love of life

JRD regularly brought work home..After he’d finished attending to office papers, JRD would turn to photography and reading, spending time in his library, which was dominated by books on Aviation, warfare, sports cars, racing and crime fiction. He enjoyed cowboy westerns and read all the books by Louis L’Amour.

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