[Roundup] Takeaways from YS exclusive leadership talk with Ratan Tata

Ratan Naval Tata, Chairman of the Tata Trusts, spoke on a wide range of topics, including business ethics, creating stakeholder value versus just shareholder value, and startups.

23rd Jul 2020
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Ratan Tata leadership talks

Ratan Tata, Chairman of Tata Trusts, in conversation with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma

In the hour-long live conversation with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma on Thursday, Mr. Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Trusts, revealed what the lockdown has been like for him, and the thing he misses most and would like to relive soon in a post-COVID-19 world.


“It’s been a strange experience. I have been quite comfortable at home. I have a little garden; my dogs have been able to run there, so they haven’t been cooped up. But (one misses) the touch and feel of being in a situation, even though it is a dangerous situation in that you could catch the virus and fall ill or even die. It has taken interest in life away. I find it difficult to decide if it’s Monday or Wednesday. Have I given someone an appointment for this week or next week?” Mr. Tata told in a virtual YourStory Leadership Talk interview, which saw a record 40,000 people tune in live to listen to the conversation.


The one thing Ratan Tata misses most during the COVID-19-induced lockdown


Mr. Tata revealed that the thing he misses most during the lockdown, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is interacting with people.


"In my business life, travel and interactions have made my business life interesting…It's not been yachts, manors, and huge estates; it's been a wonderful experience of interacting with people that stand for the same ideas as you do…that’s something I've come to miss,” Mr. Tata said.


Calling the coronavirus pandemic one of "the worst crisis" the human race has faced, Mr. Tata added, "We must fight this with a spirit of solidarity, resolve, empathy, and understanding. We must unite to win the battle against COVID-19."


Expresses deep anguish over industry-wide layoff  amidst coronavirus 


Mr. Ratan Tata expressed deep anguish over the industry-wide layoffs that have taken place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 


“The initial tendency when the virus hit (was) lay off people, thousands of people. Is that going to solve your problem? I don’t think it is, that’s the knee-jerk reaction that you had from the traditional workplace, lay off people because the business is gone. But you have a responsibility to those people,” the 82-year-old doyen said.


Mr. Tata also spoke out about the condition that migrant workers and daily wagers found themselves in amidst the pandemic. 


“That labour force which was huge, one day was just told, ‘there is no work for you, we don’t have a way of finding means for sending you home’. You are just there, you don’t have food to eat, you don’t have a place to stay. Not wishing to blame anybody but that was the traditional view, that view has changed now to ‘who are you to do that?’"  


“These are the people that have worked for you, these are the people who have served you all their careers so you send them out to live in the rain? Is that your definition of ethics when you treat your labour force that way?” Mr. Tata implored all business owners to contemplate.


Investing in startups has been a learning experience for me, says Ratan Tata


The industrialist and philanthropist, who took the Tata Group to new heights during his tenure as the chairman for 25 years, believes that investing in startups has been a “learning experience” for him.


“I have not brought any magic with me. I have chosen to support enterprises that seemed to attract me from a founder’s position on what the company is trying to do,” Mr. Tata said. 


Over the last few years, Ratan Tata has invested in over two dozens of startups across India. Despite being one of India’s most successful investors, he famously said he became an investor “by accident”.


Watch the full conversation on YourStory Leadership Talk series here:



Ratan Tata on how empathy played a huge role in overcoming challenges


Ratan Tata recalled the tough times he faced when Tata Motors acquired Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) in the UK way back in 2008.


“In Coventry, where the plant was located, there were rumours that we were going to close down the factory and convert it into a tandoori chicken restaurant,” said Mr. Tata while speaking about one of the toughest challenges he faced in his over two-decade long corporate career, and how he overcame it.


Speaking on the role he played, Ratan Tata said, “I registered confidence in the people.”


Addressing the employees, Mr. Tata had said: “I really do not know what we will do, but I can assure you we do not wish to close down. We should work shoulder-to-shoulder and revive the two brands and the glory they had at one stage.”


Ratan Tata also recalled another major challenge he faced after he took over as the chairman of Tata Group. There was a major strike at the Tata Motors plant, which turned violent, with workers beaten up and managers stabbed.


“I stayed for four days at the plant to say that we are together. We overcame the strike and started to work again,” he said.


Chasing profits is not a bad thing, but it must be done ethically, says Ratan Tata


“Business is not just about making money — one has to do right by their customers and stakeholders, and they have to do that ethically,” the veteran industrialist said.


Mr. Tata said he always advises business leaders to evaluate themselves and their decisions at the end of the day, and question if they made sound choices, even if they were hard. 


"We may make mistakes, and that's okay — you have to do the right thing at every point, and take the good with the bad, but you don't have to run away from difficult decisions," he advised.


"A company is traditionally viewed by the profits it makes, and that covers, shields, protects, and camouflages what's inside the company. It could be a happy, worthwhile environment, but it could also be a nasty environment. The financial and the business segment, unfortunately, more often than not look at the profit and the numbers and view a company on that basis, rather than take a holistic view of whether employees are happy to work for the company, if the managers are being fair to employees," Mr. Tata added.


Out of this pandemic will come revolutionary solutions, says Ratan Tata


Speaking about the current unprecedented global crisis, Mr. Tata said,


 “We are in an arena we are not familiar with...We tend to be more innovative and creative to find solutions.”


“We are currently in such a situation where there is no hiding or running away. There is no escape from COVID-19,” he further added.


Mr. Tata also stated that whatever your reasons may be, you have to change in terms of what you consider fair or good or necessary in order to survive. 


“This is not the time when we can isolate ourselves and continue doing what we do,” he said. “I am proud of the fact that we have a group of innovative and creative people who make successes of their young lives. I just wish to see the day when India really becomes the economic powerhouse, driven by the creativity and the ethical behaviour of its young population.

(Edited by Javed Gaihlot)

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