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Interview with Ratan Tata

Aired April 13, 2011 - 06:32:00   ET



SARA SIDNER, ANCHOR (voice-over): It's a surname synonymous with business in India. Almost everywhere you look you can see the name that has become one of the country's biggest conglomerate companies.

It's humble beginning in 1868, the Tata Company has been responsible for India's first steel plant, first luxury hotel and first domestic airline.

Since then, it continues to pioneer different markets and made a name for itself around the world. The man currently at the helm of this growing business empire with $67 billion in revenue last year is Ratan Tata, the great grandson of the company's founder.

He's further globalized operation and secured some big named international acquisition including Jaguar, Land Rover and Hetley Tea. But unlike many other Indian business power houses, the Tata is feared, but majority owned by its chairman.

Ratan Tata holds just 1 percent of the company while more than 66 percent is controlled by Trust, a charitable organizations that support a wide range of educational and cultural institutions across India.

This week on TALK ASIA, we're in Mumbai where a rare interview with the media shy never married business baron as he opened up about succession, the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and share some very surprising stories about his private life.


SIDNER: You and your family have a fascinating history. What is it about the Tata family that has brought so much success in a country of more than a billion people?

RATAN TATA, CHAIRMAN, TATA GROUP: Well, I guess, success is to be judge by others, but I think the one thing the family has done is that it created a lot of industries in the early days prior to independence, which were national industries infrastructure in the form of power, steel, et cetera.

And then gave also with the way in philanthropic grants and that's been something that's been carried on by their successors through peers.

SIDNER: And you're one of the successors -

TATA: And I'm one of the successors, but I've done very little compared to what they did.

SIDNER: You really believed that? You've grown the Tata conglomerate 12 fold?

TATA: Yes, but - you know, they - they did much more sort of earth breaking and missionary things, which today is a different - more difficult to do something that's really out in time. But I've tried to do whatever I could and I have I think more importantly tried to do - unfolding values and the ethics that they've set.

SIDNER: Your company - you have about 98 companies in your conglomerate, 395,000 employees across the world.

TATA: Yes.

SIDNER: You've bought Hetley Tea, Core Steel, Jaguar, Land Rover, how do you keep up with all of these?

TATA: I would say that I'm blessed with a very - very good executive team that - that operates reasonably autonomously each of the companies.

We have a review system. I'm the non-executive chairman of nine or so major companies and on the nine companies, it's a little trying because you jump from one industry to another as the case might be.

But one had the reasonable knowledge of those nine activities and it's been an exciting job.

SIDNER: Where do you get the strength and the stamina to deal with all these different entities that you have to make sure do well? People are looking at you. They're watching you.

TATA: I think that's the excitement of the job. That's been part of the adrenalin that gives you.

SIDNER: Are you an adrenalin junky?


SIDNER: But you like a little bit of kick?

TATA: Yes, I do. Yes. One needs it once in the way and one needs to be able to get away from it also.

SIDNER: I've been in India for just three years so I'm a new be, but if you ask the average Indian about corruption, they will complain to you that it touches their lives every day. Do you think in order to do business here that you have to play this game, give tip, kickbacks, bribe?

TATA: No, we have succeeded in growing in the manner we have without in fact partaking in this. We have also been -- I would say that we could have grown faster and could have prospered more as a group. But we have never - we have never in fact partake in this kind of activity.

SIDNER: There have been things sad recently because of this bandwidths scandal.

TATA: Yes.

SIDNER: About you, about one of the Tata companies. Did you - anyone in your company or any lobbyist for the company do anything inappropriate or illegal?

TATA: I could say with my hand to my heart that we have not in fact partake in any - like (Kleinstein) activity. I am hopeful that the investigations that are underway will - will truthfully bring out the position and that the truth will be on the table before - before too long.

SIDNER: When it comes to corruption, do you think the government has been doing the right thing? Have they done what needs to be done?

TATA: I think what's happening now - in terms of things being before the court say I hope will put things in the right perspective. I hope that it doesn't become a nation of scandals and allegations as they are.

I think more importantly, the media has to be more circumspect and be careful that they malign or allege or convict people before they have had a fair trial.

SIDNER: Is it hard to be an honest businessman in India?

TATA: I think there are many honest businessmen. There are many that have been and happy that I have not been (inaudible) dishonest because I have not been.


SIDNER (voice-over): Coming up, we get a guided tour of Ratan Tata's rebuilt Taj Hotel. The scene of Mumbai's terror attacks in 2008.




SIDNER: This close to an - 16 hours, 20 hours later -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All in all it was just a horrible event that I never thought we would ever see in India.


SIDNER: This hotel has a special place in a lot of people's hearts after what happened in 2008. I was standing just - just outside with a lot of other journalist from around the world.

TATA: Yes.

SIDNER: Listening to the sound of grenades. Listening to the gun fire, seeing the fire, what was your first thought? How did you find out about what was happening inside this hotel?

TATA: Somebody called my home and said that there were shootings here. I called the exchange in obviously, but there is no reply. So - I was also outside that first night and - I knew quite fast that it would - the police came and said it was a gang war.

And it became quite clear with grenades and automatic gunfire that it was not and then it became clear that we were under some kind of attack not necessarily - that we were under terrorists attack not where they came from or who they were. That picture emerged the next day.

SIDNER: During that 60 hours or so, what were you doing? What were your frustrations?

TATA: We're not allowed to enter here because it was taken over by the commandos. So - actually it was a difficult time because the next day I thought it was all over because there were low periods.

The first night was - and then the commandos came in and I issued a press statement basically saying that, you know, this would break us down. But then it went on for two more - two more days or three more days.

SIDNER: You were able and gracious enough, you spoke with our Fareed Zakaria -

TATA: Yes.

SIDNER: During that time and you said some things to him about law enforcement. You were very upset.

TATA: Yes.

SIDNER: Have things change any since then?

TATA: I don't know enough to answer that honestly. It's not - one thing I do know is they're better equipped today than they were then in terms of arms and in terms of logistics, et cetera.

But training is an important part of being prepared and being trained to deal with these - these situations is an important part of total preparedness and I don't know whether that is happening or not.

And I have no way to know. I hope - I hope I don't need another way to know.

SIDNER: Do you have any regrets either from before, the days before the attacks happened? Do you have any regrets about how you or your company handled it?

TATA: No, I feel very proud of the way the staff dealt with the situation. To me, it has meant more than anything else because if you were a group of independent people, some waiters, some chefs, some porters, all of whom put their own lives, you know, after that of the guests and the well being of the guests and -

And in many cases lost their lives to - to the bullets of these terrorists, but succeeded in - in serving their - their guests with pride and a great cause to themselves.

SIDNER: How much time, effort and money has it taken to restore this since the attack?

TATA: It took over a year because we had to rebuild some of the floors. We have to go through most of the structure because of water damage through the fire department.

And we really did more to undertake a renovation that presumably skin deep. So we really did a total renovation and ironically a few years after we had renovated this whole wing.

SIDNER: It must been heart breaking to see what has happened to your hotel?

TATA: It was. We're very lucky that it wasn't more. There's a great pride in the place and - and in some ways I'm glad we re-did this plot better than what it was. That the other places like the restaurants, et cetera, walled and repaired this differently so you don't walk into restaurant and say, I remember it's different.

SIDNER: I have to say, I remembered the scene from the security cameras.

TATA: Yes. This is the same. It hasn't been changed and our intention was to rebuild it the same way. I mean, the rooms are better that what they were and the restaurants are different. They are - they don't give you the sense of nostalgia.

SIDNER: Both (inaudible) though - do you ever hear from your guests that it also gives them a bit of sadness just knowing what happened?

TATA: Yes. We do have some very grateful for how they survived in the - were supported in those hours of crisis. Muslims were sad that what happened, happened and -

SIDNER: Are you proud of this? I mean, the restoration is impeccable?

TATA: I am proud of what they did and really proud to have been a part of - of the hotel as it was in the spirit that existed. The day we reopened, this whole staircase was full of employees. The whole staircase was employees (inaudible) shouting with great spirit on - on the fact that we were reopening again.

SIDNER: This is a difficult question. This is one of the ones that my mother would be a little worried about me asking.

TATA: Yes.


SIDNER: Your family has been likened to the Rockefeller's in America. Do you think you would have been as successful has you not been born into this dynasty?

TATA: I think there are similarities in the sense the Rockefeller's had given so much to - to the United States and done so much for the poor segments and done so much for the arts and - and the sciences.

That there are great in similarities in terms of what we believe we should support. The - the early Rockefellers made their wealth from being in certain businesses and - and remained personally very wealthy.

Tata's were different in the sense the future generations were not so wealthy. They - they were involved in the business, but most of the family wealth is put into trust and the family did not in fact enjoy enormous wealth.

SIDNER: I have to ask you this and I know you've been asked this a million times.

TATA: Yes.

SIDNER: Who will succeed you? Because you have no heir and a lot of people are used to companies especially family-run companies in India having the heir take over the company?

TATA: There's a committee that's been established. That committee is mandated with looking at internal candidates, external candidates, Indian expatriates and they have a short list of people that they're examining today and meeting.

And I've stayed away from that committee because I think that committee should operate independently without the force of someone who is looking over their shoulder and I hope that by first of half of this year, we'll be able to define a suitable candidate with whom one can overlap a short period of time before I move away.

SIDNER: What are the chances that that person does not have the last name Tata?

TATA: See I'd have to say that that's something I wouldn't like to comment on. My stepbrothers, one of the - one of the candidates that is being considered and I don't think it's my lot to say whether - it's 50 percent, 90 percent or 10 percent so -

SIDNER: Will that cost them the strife? Do you guys talk about this?

TATA: No, I don't think - it may - I have no way to know.

SIDNER: What do you want your legacy to be? How do you want to be remembered?

TATA: What I would like to do is to leave behind a sustainable entity of a set of companies that operate in an exemplary manner in terms of ethics, values and continue what our ancestors left behind.

Not my legacy alone, but a continuation of the legacy that extends through the last over 100 years and I hope my successor will - will be as committed to that as I have tried to be. My only regret is that I am not 20 years younger because I think India's going through very exciting period in its history.

SIDNER: This is a difficult question. This is one of the ones that my mother would be a little worried about me asking. Have you even been in love?

TATA: Yes.

SIDNER: How many times?

TATA: Seriously, four times.

SIDNER: Can you tell us anything about that?

TATA: Well, you know, one that was probably the most serious was when I was - working in the U.S. and the only reason we didn't get married was when I came back to India and she was to follow me and that was the year of the - if you might - the Indo-Chinese conflict.

And in true American fashion this conflict in the Himalayas and the snowy uninhabited part of the Himalayas was seen in the United States as a major war between India and China. And so she didn't come and finally got married in the U.S. thereafter.

SIDNER: So now I have to ask you since you did bring up the word married.

TATA: Yes.

SIDNER: Why have you never gotten married?

TATA: I - when you ask whether - love - I came seriously close to getting married four times and each time, it got close to the air and I guess, I backed up in fear or one reason or another. Each of the occasions was different.

But in the hindsight, when I looked at the people involved maybe it wasn't a bad thing that I - I did it. I think it may have been more complex had the marriage taken place.

SIDNER: Were any of the people that you were in love with here or are they still here in the city?

TATA: Yes.


TATA: Yes.

SIDNER: You're being very coy. Are you going to tell us?

TATA: Well, certainly - because of the people that are in here and of course, this may be aired in the U.S. so I'll be in trouble with whatever I do. So I think I better stop here.

SIDNER: OK, thank you so much.

TATA: Thank you.