Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata (J.R.D. Tata) was a non-resident Indian entrepreneur and industrialist. He was an aviator, philanthropist, and former chairman of Tata Group. He is the man who has many firsts attached to his name. He was the first licensed pilot who laid the foundation of India’s first international airline, Air India. He was a visionary industrialist, who saw the potential of industrial growth in India and took relevant initiatives to achieve it. Under his leadership, the Tata conglomerate grew from 14 to 95 enterprises. He is the founder of many successful ventures under the TATA Group, including Tata Motors, Tata Salt, Tata Consultancy Services, Voltas, Air India, and Titan Industries.
J.R.D. Tata was born on Friday, 29 July 1904 (age 89 years; at the time of death) in Paris, France. He belonged to a wealthy Indian family. He spent his childhood in France; French was his first language. In 1909, his father bought a new house on the Hardelot beach in France. Here, J.R.D. grew up fascinated by aviation. His inspiration was his neighbour Louis Bleriot, an aviator. He enjoyed his first aeroplane ride when he was 15. During 1909 – 1917, his family shifted between Paris and Bombay. It was during this time that he studied at the Cathedral School in Bombay. In 1923, after the death of his mother, his father sent him to England for higher studies. He studied in four countries including France, India, Japan, and England.
Family & Ethnicity
JRD Tata belonged to a non-resident Indian Parsi family.
Parents & Siblings
His father was Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, who made significant contributions in the growth of Tata group, and his mother’s name was Suzanne Sooni Brière, and she was a French woman. He was the second child of his parents, and his siblings were Jimmy, Rodabeh, Sylla, and Dorab.
Wife & Children
J.R.D. Tata fell in love with Thelma Vicaji and married her in 1930. The couple had no children.
Enthronement of the Tata Legacy
Since he was a citizen of France, he had to serve in the French army for at least a year. After doing so, he returned to India to take over his responsibilities as an unpaid apprentice at TATA in 1925. In 1926, his father died, and J.R.D. Tata took over his responsibilities by becoming the Director of Tata Sons. Three years later, in 1929, he gave up his French citizenship and became the first licenced pilot in India.
In 1932, he established a courier service connecting Madras (now Chennai), Karachi, Ahmedabad, and Bombay (now Mumbai). He piloted the first flight of this service from Karachi to Bombay. This service was named Tata Air Mail.
In 1938, he graced the Chairman position of Tata Sons. A few years later, the Tata Air Mail became India’s first domestic airline and was renamed Tata Airlines.
In 1946, it was renamed as Air India. J.R.D. Tata also invested in expanding Tata’s existing business verticals. This included Tata Steel, Tata Power and Tata’s hotels. He further invested in diversification and laid the company’s foundation in automobiles, chemicals, financial services, information technology, and pharmaceuticals. In 1953, Air India was nationalized, but Tata remained as its chairman until 1978. In 1991, he stepped back from his leadership in Tata Sons, and at that time, the annual revenue of Tata Group was about US$4 Billion, and its asset valuation reached US$5 Billion from US$100 Million.
Contribution to National Development
He took the initiative to establish a series of institutions for promoting medical, educational, scientific, and artistic developments in India. In 1944, he established the J.R.D. Tata Trust and participated in the foundation of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1945. These institutions were Tata Memorial Hospital, Tata Institute of Social Science, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, National Centre for the Performing Arts, and National Institute of Advanced Science. He was one of the wise men who initiated promoting family planning and created the Family Planning Foundation, which was established in 1971. He invested in grooming talent to support the business domain and created Tata administrative services and staff college. In later years of his life, he even sold his apartment in Bombay and most of his shares to lay the foundation of J.R.D. and Thelma Tata Trust, which works for disadvantaged women’s welfare in the country. J.R.D. Tata once said,
I do not want India to be an economic superpower. I want India to be a happy country.”
Nationalization of Air India
When the Nehru government decided to nationalize Air India, J.R.D. Tata tried his best to hold the ownership of the airline; however, the airline was eventually nationalized, even after his utmost efforts to save the airline from going into the hands of the government. Although Air Inida became a national property, he headed the airline till 1977 on the request of the Nehru government.
Love-hate relationship with Morarji Desai
In an interview with Rajiv Mehrotra, J.R.D. Tata was asked about how did it feel when he was fired by the Morarji Desai government from heading Air India. He said,
It wasn’t a good experience but it was not unexpected. Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister of India. He was the man with whom I had a whole life of love-hate. We were friends and at the same time, the man was quite impossible to deal with.”
A critic of Nehru’s economic policies
He always had a different opinion on economic policies than Pt. Nehru. In an interview, J.R.D. Tata talked about it when he was asked why don’t he argues with Jawaharlal Nehru on economic policies. He said,
You don’t argue with Jawaharlal. He didn’t want to discuss it. But the interesting thing was I was a good friend of his. He trusted me. He knew I admired him. But he knew I disagreed with all his economic policies, and I even didn’t agree with his foreign policy. I felt that Krishna Menon and others like that were pro-Soviet. So I never was able thereafter to discuss economic matters.”
When he was asked that whether he tried to discuss things with Nehru, he said,
Yes. He and Mrs Gandhi later developed this similar little polite way of telling me to shut up. Jawaharlal, when I started to bring up the subject of economic policy, would turn around and look out of the window. Mrs Gandhi did something else.”
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- In 1930 he finished second, the Aga Khan Aviation Race to fly an aircraft from India to the United Kingdom.
- In 1983, he became the Commander of the French Legion of Honour.
- In 1957, he was awarded Padma Vibhushan.
- In 1974, he was honoured with the post of Air Vice Marshal, which is the third-highest active rank in the Indian Air Force.
- In 1975, he received the Sir Jehangir Ghandy Medal for Industrial peace.
- He received several international awards for aviation, including the Tony Jannus Award (1979), Gold Air Medal (1985), and Edward Warner Award (1986).
- In 1988, he received the Daniel Guggenheim Medal for aviation and the Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Award.
- He received the United Nations Population Award in 1992.
- He also received Bharat Ratna in 1992 for his contribution to Indian industrialization.
J.R.D. Tata receiving Bharat Ratna
He passed away on 29 November 1993 in Geneva, Switzerland and was buried at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
- He is known as the father of civil aviation in India.
- J.R.D. Tata often piloted Air India and inspected every minute detail of the aircraft and flight.
- Once on a flight with L.K. Jha, J.R.D. Tata went to inspect the toilets on the flight and even fixed toilet rolls that were placed incorrectly.
- Since its inception, he was a trustee of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, which established Asia’s first cancer hospital in Mumbai.
- Repotedly, J.R.D. Tata was blessed with a beautiful handwriting, and he wrote over 40,000 letters in his entire lifetime.