Tata’s are the first family of Indian Industry.. They literally kick started India’s Industrialization along with a few other Parsi and Marwari Families. They are still the most respected and revered business groups of the country and the reason behind this never ending admiration for them is that they are nation building industrialists. They are not limited to being businessmen, they invest in and build enterprises that contribute to nation building. 

Tracing the origins of the group and telling its story over a century can be a book in itself , and there are books on the Tata Saga. I will not try to tell you about the group's business activities of which there is enough material available everywhere. Instead, I would like to talk about the people behind the group and their actions that led to this immensely respected and revered Industrial Family. Naturally , the best way to trace the group's journey is through its leaders and the TATA group has had 4 pillars over the last century who have shaped the group's business activities and its goodwill in the world. Between the founder and Cyrus [Mistry], there have been four chairmen—three were knighted and one is a Bharat Ratna. Which other group can claim such a feat ?

Jamsetji Nusserwanji TATA

1. Jamsetji Nussewanji Tata was the founding father of the Tata group. The Indian Mutiny of 1857 was but two years past when Jamsetji joined the small firm that his father, a merchant and banker, ran. He had just turned 20. In 1868, aged 29 and armed with the experience garnered by nine years of working with his father, Jamsetji started a trading company with a capital of Rs21,000. His first expedition to England soon followed, where he learnt about the textile business.

2. Jamsetji made his move into textiles in 1869. He acquired a dilapidated and bankrupt oil mill in Chinchpokli, in the industrial heart of Bombay, renamed the property Alexandra Mill and converted it into a cotton mill.

Jamsetji made sure his workers children got educated on site .

3. Jamsetji was way ahead of his time when it came to taking care of his workers. He offered his people shorter working hours, well-ventilated workplaces, a crèche for young mothers, and provident fund and gratuity. He also installed the first humidifiers and fire-sprinklers in India. In 1886, he instituted a Pension Fund, and in 1895, began to pay accident compensation.

4. From about 1880 to his death in 1904, Jamsetji was consumed by three great dreams for India: an iron and steel company, generating hydroelectric power, and a world-class educational institution that would tutor Indians in the sciences.

 He built separate medical dispensaries for men and women at his mills.

5. For his Steel plant, he spelt out his concept of a township for the workers at the steel plant in a letter he wrote to Dorab Tata in 1902, five years before even a site for the enterprise had been decided. "Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety," the letter stated. "Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches."

6. For his Institute of Science , he had decided to donate a major portion of his estate including 14 buildings and a hefty amount for the cause. It was recommended that Bangalore was a good place for such an institution and the Maharaja of Mysore donated 320 acres of land and a yearly grant for the same. 

Jamsetji on building a world class science institution in India to Lord Reay. 

7. Swami Vivekananda, in his backing of the IISc a brainchild of Jamsetji tata, wrote in 1899, "I am not aware if any project at once so opportune and so far reaching in its beneficent effects has ever been mooted in India... The scheme grasps the vital point of weakness in our national well-being with a clearness of vision and tightness of grip, the mastery of which is only equalled by the munificence of the gift that is being ushered to the public.

8. Jamsetji did realise one of his dreams while alive - that of a world class hotel in Bombay. He travelled the world to buy lights, decorations, pillars , furniture , upholstery , marble and cutlery for the hotel. It was a marvel for its time, a one of a kind hotel that had electricity too - the first hotel in Bombay. He spent 4 crores on the hotel an enormous amount for the early 1900s . Everyone of his aides advised against it, saying that he would surely lose money on the venture, he was fine with it. He wanted Bombay to have a world class hotel and was ready to go to any lengths for it. 


9. Jamsetji also started the JN Tata Endowment for the Higher Education of Indians. The first of the Tata family’s philanthropic initiatives, the Endowment enabled Indian students, regardless of caste or creed, to pursue higher studies outside the country. To say that the investment has paid off would be an understatement: since it was set up in 1892, the JN Tata Endowment has supported generation after generation of promising minds in the country.

10. At a time when Bombay houses were lit by oil lamps and were damp, unclean and unorganized, Jamsetji pioneered the modern flat system and laid the foundation of the  Mumbai real estate industry. He built a block of 16 flats , four on each floor, well lit by electricity - the first in Mumbai. 

Jamsetji with his brother RD Tata and his sons Dorab tata and Ratan Tata. (From Left to RIght)

Sir Dorab Tata

11. Sir Dorab Tata, the elder son of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, was born on August 27, 1859. Dorabji, as he was known, attended the Proprietary High School in Bombay and, at the age of 16, was sent to a private tutor in Kent in England. At 18, he attended Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge.

12. Sir Dorab returned to Bombay in 1879 and joined St Xavier’s College, from where he obtained a bachelor's degree in arts in 1882. Instead of including his son in his expanding business, Jamsetji encouraged him to broaden his experience with a stint at journalism, and later gave him independent charge of setting up a textile project in Pondicherry.

13. Upon graduating, Dorab worked for two years as a journalist at the Bombay Gazette. In 1884, he joined the cotton business division of his father's firm. He was first sent to Pondicherry, then a French Colony, to determine whether a cotton mill might be profitable there. Thereafter, he was sent to Nagpur, to learn the cotton trade at the Empress Mills which had been founded by his father in 1877. 

14. Sir Dorab staked his personal fortune to save the steel venture when, in 1924, it slipped into trouble. His business sense and audacity had seen the company undertaking a five-fold expansion program in the post-World War I period. Spiraling costs combined with transport and labor difficulties in the West upset Sir Dorab’s calculations. At about this time, the company’s largest pig iron customer, Japan, was struck by an earthquake and steel prices tumbled.


15. It got to a point when there was not enough money to pay his workers’ wages. Sir Dorab pledged his entire personal fortune worth, about Rs1 crore and including his wife’s personal jewelry, to obtain a loan. F. E Dishaw who was a long time Tata loyalist, advisor and Bombay landlord loaned him the money to stay afloat. 

Tata Iron and Steel secured support from unexpected quarters — among those backing the company were Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the future leaders of independent India and Pakistan — and it survived the crisis.

16. Sir Dorab is credited with the establishment of the conglomerates Tata Steel in 1907 which his father founded and Tata Power in 1911, which are the core of the present-day Tata Group. Dorabji  personally accompanied the mineralogists who were searching for iron fields, and it is said that his presence encouraged the researchers to look in areas that would otherwise have been neglected.

17. Under Dorabji's management, the business that had once included three cotton mills and the Taj Hotel Bombay grew to include India's largest private sector steel company, three electric companies and the New India Assurance Co Ltd. in 1919, the largest General Insurance company in India

18. India owed its participation in the Olympic Games at Antwerp in 1920 in great measure to Sir Dorab. As president of the Indian Olympic Council, he financed the Indian contingent that went to the Paris Olympiad of 1924. He was also a member of the International Olympic Committee.

A Trust For The People

19. Among Sir Dorab’s most valuable legacies was the establishment of a substantial trust, into which he poured all his wealth, down to his pearl-studded tie pin. Like his father and brother before him, he believed that wealth ought to be put to constructive use. The size of this trust can be compared to the present day Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. It was enormous for its time and an incredibly selfless gesture by Sir Dorab to leave his entire estate to a trust that was to use these resources for the betterment of humanity without any discrimination . 

20. The trustees of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust were empowered to sell his lands, shares, securities and jewellery, including the fabulous Jubilee diamond, but were not permitted to withdraw the shares Sir Dorab had to his credit with Tata Sons. Through the trust, he sought to ensure the integrity of the parent firm his father, he and RD Tata had founded in 1887.


21. Born into the Tata Family of India, he was the son of noted businessman Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata , the first cousin of Jamsetji Tata and his wife Suzanne Briere. His mother was the first woman in India to drive a car and, in 1929, he became the first licensed pilot in India. He is also best known for being the founder of several industries under the Tata Group, including Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Motors, Titan Industries, Tata Salt, Voltas and Air India.

22. JRD was educated in France, Japan and England before being drafted into the French army for a mandatory one-year period. He was later called back to Bombay by his father to join the family business.

23. He was elected chairman of Tata Sons in 1938 at the young age of 34 after his cousin Nowroji Saklatvala’s untimely death. He was famous for succeeding in business while maintaining high ethical standards – refusing to bribe politicians or use the black market.

24. Under his chairmanship, the assets of the Tata Group grew from US$100 million to over US$5 billion. He started with 14 enterprises under his leadership and half a century later on 26 July 1988, when he left, Tata Sons was a conglomerate of 95 enterprises which they either started or in which they had controlling interest.

25. In 1968, he founded the present day IT services behemoth Tata Consultancy Services as Tata Computer Centre. In 1979, Tata Steel instituted a new practice: a worker being deemed to be "at work" from the moment he leaves home for work until he returns home from work. This made the company financially liable to the worker for any mishap on the way to and from work. In 1987, he founded Titan Industries.


26. Perhaps what JRD is most famous for is his contribution to Indian aviation sector. He got India's first commercial pilot license in 1929. A year later, a proposal landed at the Tata headquarters to start an airmail service that would connect Bombay, Ahmedabad and Karachi. JRD was excited and wanted to pounce on the opportunity, but it would take his immediate superior Peterson to convince Dorabji Tata, then Chairman of the Tatas, to let him have his way.



27. In 1945, he founded Tata Motors. In 1948, Tata launched Air India International as India's first international airline. In 1953, the Indian Government appointed Tata as Chairman of Air India and a director on the Board of Indian Airlines – a position he retained for 25 years. For his crowning achievements in aviation, he was bestowed with the title of Honorary Air Commodore of India.

 The First HR department

28. While he was seriously ill in July 1943, he wrote from his sick bed “If we have 50,000 machines,” he noted, “we would undoubtedly have a special staff or a department to look after them… but when employing 30,000 human beings, each with a mind of his own, we seem to have assumed that they would look after themselves, and that there was no need for a separate organization to deal with human problems involved.” The note resulted in the founding of a personnel department; it was the first corporate HR department in India.

 Building Institutions


 Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

29. JRD played a critical role in increasing India's scientific, medical and artistic quotient. The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research started by Dr. Homi Bhabha which lead to India’s Nuclear Energy Program, the Tata Memorial Hospital which is till date the foremost authority on cancer research and treatment in India, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences - the best social science institute in the country , the National Institute of Advanced Sciences- the premier institute for interdisciplinary studies in the country and the National Centre for the Performing Arts - the mecca of performing arts and artists, each an exemplar of excellence in its field, were projects that would not have come to fruition without JRD's steadfast support.

30. JRD Tata along with other prominent industrialists like GD Birla and Kasturbhai Lalbhai in 1944 helped formulate the Bombay Plan. The aim of the Bombay Plan was to help uplift India’s Industrial efficiency. The plan recommended investments in three core sectors – Roads, railways and power. These remain relevant in the country till day. The plan was touted as one of JRD’s most valuable contributions to India by Indian President R Venkataraman.


31. He was Awarded the Padma Vibhushan - 2nd highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna - Highest civilian honour, generally given posthumously , JRD being one of the few exceptions to this case and the French Legion of honour- the highest award given by the French Government

Tata was also awarded the United Nations Population Award for his contribution towards initiating and implementing the family planning movement in India, much before it became an official government policy.


Tata died in Geneva, Switzerland on 29 November 1993 at the age of 89 of a kidney infection.He said a few days before his passing: "Comme c'est doux de mourir" ("How gentle it is to die"). 

The Indian Parliament was adjourned in his memory – an honour usually reserved for Members of Parliament. He was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

In 2012, Tata was ranked the sixth "Greatest Indian" in an Outlook magazine poll, conducted in conjunction with CNN-IBN and History18 Channels with BBC.

Ratan Tata


32. Born to Naval and Soonoo Tata on December 28, 1937, Mr Tata and his younger brother, Jimmy, were brought up by their grandmother, Navajbai R Tata. He is an alumnus of the Cornell University College of Architecture and Harvard Business School through the Advanced Management Program that he completed in 1975. 

33. He joined the Tata group company in 1961 when he used to work on the shop floor of Tata Steel, and succeeded J. R. D. Tata upon the latter's retirement in 1991. It was the liberalization era of India, its markets had just been opened for foreign investors and industries were welcome to do business with negligible supervision and control . 

34. Ratan tata  Tata aggressively sought to expand the Tata group , and increasingly  focused on globalizing its businesses. In 2000 the group acquired London-based Tetley Tea for $431.3 million, and in 2004 it purchased the truck-manufacturing operations of South Korea’s Daewoo Motors for $102 million. In 2007 Tata Steel completed the biggest corporate takeover by an Indian company when it acquired the giant Anglo-Dutch steel manufacturer Corus Group for $11.3 billion.

35. In 2008 Tata oversaw Tata Motors’ purchase of the elite British car brands Jaguar and Land Rover from the Ford Motor Company. The $2.3 billion deal marked the largest-ever acquisition by an Indian automotive firm. The following year the company launched the Tata Nano, a tiny rear-engine, pod-shaped vehicle with a starting price of approximately 100,000 Indian rupees

36. During the 21 years he led the Tata Group, revenues grew over 40 times, and profit, over 50 times. Where sales of the group as a whole, overwhelmingly came from commodities when he took over, the majority sales came from brands when he exited.

37. He is responsible for building brands such as the Tata Indica, Tata Nano, bringing the Jaguar Land Rover to India and in converting the Tata name into a truly global corporate powerhouse. 


The Tata’s have done more for the  country, its industry and it’s well being than any other corporate house of the country.Tata Sons is the principal investment holding company and promoter of Tata companies. Sixty-six percent of the equity share capital of Tata Sons is held by philanthropic trusts, which support education, health, livelihood generation and art and culture.In 2019-20, the revenue of Tata companies, taken together, was $106 billion (INR 7.5 trillion). These companies collectively employ over 750,000 people. The family owns less than 5% in the holding company , there is no other corporate house in the country that can say this. They have exemplified Community and collective well being through industry and there is no other conglomerate in the world for whom that can be said. Tata prioritises nation building and stakeholder and societal welfare before profits and revenues. This shows in their various philanthropic endeavours through the various trusts that have been established by different chairmen over the course of a century . It is truly a group that personifies its Tagline “Leadership with Trust”