Founder of India’s largest conglomerate, the Tata Group, this extraordinary entrepreneur infused into it humanism, one of the hallmarks of the Tatas. His pioneering efforts went a long way in India’s industrialisation.
Born on March 3, 1839 in Navsari, Gujarat, Jamsetji was the only son of Nusserwanji and Jeevanbai Tata. Even though Nusserwanji belonged to a family of Parsi priests, he became the clan’s first member to try his hand at business. He set up an export trading firm in Bombay. As a boy, Jamsetji inherited his father’s entrepreneurial acumen at a very young age.
His parents discerned young Jamsetji’s exceptional arithmetic abilities and wanted to give him a secular education. Therefore 14-year-old Jamsetji was sent to live with his father in Bombay, where he was enrolled at the Elphinstone College. He attained the level of a ‘green scholar’, equivalent to the present-day graduate and, at the age of 20, joined his father’s firm.
At a time when India was still recovering from the Revolt of 1857, Jamsetji helped in taking his father’s business abroad by setting up branches in Japan, China, Europe and the United States.
He launched a trading company in 1868 with a capital of R 21,000. Soon, he realised that Indian companies could make a foray into textile industry which was then dominated by the British. In 1869, he acquired a dilapidated mill in Chinchpokli, Bombay, renamed it as Alexandra Mill and began producing cotton fabrics. He later sold it and used the profit to set up his own mill in Nagpur. He floated an enterprise named the Central India Spinning, Weaving and Manufacturing Company in 1874 with a capital of R 1.5 lakh. At age 37, he went on to launch Empress Mills. Later, he founded mills in Bombay and Coorla (present-day Kurla), leading to the formation of the present day Tata Group.
Jamsetji married Hirabai Daboo and had two sons — Dorabji Tata and Ratanji Tata. The latter took over the Tata Group after his father’s death.
Jamsetji’s enterprises were known not only for their profitability and efficiency, but also for a humane outlook and labour-friendly policies. He believed that the only way to lead India out of poverty was through disciplined industralisation. He set himself four goals: to establish an iron and steel company; set up a world-class learning institution to tutor Indians in the sciences; to build a unique hotel and set up a hydro-electric plant.
He established the JN Tata Endowment in 1892 to help Indians regardless of caste and creed to pursue higher studies abroad. The trust provides merit-based scholarships till date. He realised another of his visions in the Taj Mahal Hotel, Bombay, in 1903. He donated land for a research institute in 1898, drew up a blueprint for it and solicited the support of the likes of Lord Curzon and Swami Vivekananda. Eventually, the Indian Institute of Science came into being and is counted among India’s finest institutes of its kind.
While on a business trip to Germany in 1900, Jamsetji became seriously ill there and passed away on May 19, 1904 in Nauheim. He is remembered for forming the Tata Group which was founded in 1868 presently has over 100 companies including Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Power and Tata Chemicals.
1 Jamsetji was always sensitive to the welfare of his employees. He laid out plans to have a conducive workplace, shorter working hours and employee benefits such as provident fund and gratuity.
2 His visions had also included a planned city with a lot of greenery. The city, which is now located in Jharkhand, was borne out of his vision, and therefore is now appropriately called Jamshedpur.
3 The Taj Mahal Hotel held a special place in Jamsetji’s heart. He was denied entry into a city hotel because of his Indian identity. This prompted him to build an equally grand place for Indians.
4 This is how India’s then Prime Minister and leader, Jawaharlal Nehru had described pioneering industrialist, Jamsetji Tata’s leadership: “When you have to give the lead in action, in ideas — a lead which does not fit in with the very climate of opinion, that is true courage, physical or mental or spiritual, call it what you like, and it is this type of courage and vision that Jamsetji Tata showed.”
Sources: Tata.com, Britannica, tatasteel100.com