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Torchbearers to trailblazers

This book is for anyone who wants to know about the culture and work style of the Tatas. HBS scholar Shashank Singh has done a great job in documenting the best practices that have helped India’s most respected group move the distance from Good to Great.


The Tatas first established a trading business in 1868 and then formed Express Mills in 1877. In 1887, came Tata Sons and in 1903 the iconic Taj Hotels was built. The Family’s love for India was evidenced when Tata Steel supplied steel to the allied forces during World War-I. Meanwhile, Jamsetji established an Institute for higher learning at Bangalore (1911). The group made clean energy available to Bombay through Tata Power. Under Dorabji’s headship, they experimented with new enterprises like Indian Cement Company (1912) and New India Assurance Company (1919). In independent India, Tatas flourished with capacity expansions.

CREATION OF WEALTH and igniting innovation

The Tata Business Excellence Model and the Tata Code of Conduct are two initiatives in codifying the group’s value systems. Tata’s voluntary fraud disclosure and deposit repayment represents their way of resolving financial fiascos. Conscientious corporate governance was established when Tata Sons gifted their stake in TCS to Tata trusts. Interbrand valued Tata brand at Rs 73,944 crore (2017) based on 6 attributes: trustworthiness, pioneering, ethical and social consciousness, patriotism, fighter, and global presence.

People-centric initiatives, work culture, and quality business are the building blocks of Tata Steel. TCS started with punch-card projects, developed software and progressed with migration services. An industry-defining business model was created when TCS signed software installation contract, which involves exporting individuals, onsite project management and offshore software delivery. Thereafter, TCS listed their shares and achieved $100 billion market capitalisation (2018). Three innovations of Tatas include Tata Indica, Tata Ace and Tata Prima truck.


Due to low customer satisfaction, Tatas approached Ford to buy their passenger vehicle division, causing avoidable embarrassment to Tatas. Subsequently, Tatas improvised their automotive sector and acquired Jaguar and Land Rover, from, which was mentioned as Tata’s sweet revenge. Joining the ranks of the world’s most geographically diversified chemical companies was achieved by the acquisition of a Morocco-based chemical company. Started with the supply of phosphoric acid, Tata Chemicals advanced into life and farm products. On acquiring 63.5 per cent stake in Brunner Mond (2005), Tata Chemicals became 3rd largest soda ash producer and subsequently became 2nd by acquiring US-based chemical giant, GCIP in 2008.

Tatas acquired NatSteel & Millennium Steel and expanded globally. By 2007, Tatas acquired Corus Steel.
Unfortunately, Corus started incurring losses due to recession and availability of cheap Chinese steel.

Tatas witnessed success (Tetley, JLR) and courted failures (Corus, Taj) in their acquisitions, which was viewed as
learning experiences.


Titan’s watch division transformed the market orientation. Tatas focused on understanding customer preferen
ces, continuous product innovation, maintaining brand prestige after-sales services. By 1996, the Group started Tanishq and failed. However, Tatas low prices, superior designs, and quality won consumers at a later date. Also, Tatas succeeded in eyewear retail and fragrance business.

Tatas introduced employees welfare schemes: housing, healthcare, and education. They witnessed the outcome of the welfare measures when Tata Steel Union opposed nationalisation. When the company had to reduce manpower, Early Separation Scheme was proposed.


Tatas always stood as a pioneer in funding researches, technology centers, sporting talents and charitable activities. Tata’s trust initiatives will be either innovation or institution building, in partnership with other foundations. Remarkable efforts include Google Internet Sathi, Zila Swachh Bharat Prerak and Project funding for
Malaria menace.

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