JN Tata: The Man Who Touched Tomorrow

“History tells us that powerful people come from powerful places. History was wrong! Powerful people make places powerful

Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata the man behind the Tata group was not only an entrepreneur, but people also remembered him as the father of Industrialization. He was a patriot whose ideals and vision helped India to take his place in the league of industrialized nations.

  • Jamsetji was born and raised in Navsari Gujrat, completed his education as a “green scholar”, and joined the business with his father, a merchant and banker at the age of 20.
  • At the age of 30, he acquired a ramshackle and bankrupt oil mill in Chinchpokli, in the industrial heart of Bombay, renamed the property Alexandra Mill and converted it into a cotton mill.
  • Jamsetji sold the Alexandra Mill to a local cotton merchant, and after that, he visited England for an exhaustive study of the Lancashire cotton trade.

The quality of men, machinery and products that Jamsetji saw during this journey was impressive, but he was certain he could replicate the story in his own country.

Mill That Beat The Colonial Masters at Their Game

In that era, Bombay was the place to set up the new project, but Jamsetji choose the road less travelled, he figured that the way of success goes through 3 crucial points:

close proximity to cotton-growing areas, easy access to a railway junction, and plentiful supplies of water and fuel.

He chooses Nagpur and in 1874 he started the firm with a seed capital of Rs. 1.5 lakh. In 1877 the mill was named Empress Mill after Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.
It was at Empress Mills that Jamsetji pioneered worker welfare initiatives, unheard of at the time. This mill was not only the very first company started by Tata Group but it also helped India to regain its position in the Textile Industry.

Pittsburgh Of India

On his trip to manchester, the iron and steel idea got sparked into his mind and by the early 1880s he had set his heart on building a steel plant that would compete with the best in the world, this gigantic task had many obstacles that include government policies, issues with government officers and last but not least a place that will fulfil certain criteria.

Do you mean to say that the Tatas propose to make steel rails to British specifications? I will eat every pound of steel rail the Tatas succeed in making”.

Sir Frederick Upcott, chief commissioner of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway

The steel factory is only a small part of his greater idea, he believes in the idea that “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder in business but is in fact the very purpose of its existence.” he assured shorter working hours, well- ventilated hospitals, provident fund and gratuity long before they became a part of modern India. In the letter, he wrote to Dorab five years before even a site for the enterprise had been decided he spelt out his concept of a modern township. He said & I Quote…

Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety,” the letter stated. “Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches.”

JN Tata in the Letter
Mumbai’s Landmark !! Wah Taj

It’s said that once Jamsetji was Invited by a foreign friend to dine at one of the city hotels named Watson’s Hotel, Jamsetji Tata walks in with his host, only to be rudely accosted by the supercilious English hotel manager with that ignominious line, “We don’t allow Indians in here.” Jamsetji took this insult as an insult to country and countrymen and replied it by building one of the finest hotels in the world at a site facing the magnificent ocean with the help of the world’s leading architects

His friends and business associates were not sure, whereas his sister told Are you really going to build a bhatarkhana [eating house]?” Jamsetji was determined, he spent more than Rs. 4 crores and India witness the first building in Bombay which is equipped with electricity, the first to have telephones in every room, electric elevators and an ice-making machine! It also was the first to have American fans, German elevators, Turkish baths and English butlers. This iconic hotel after independence became the landmark of Mumbai and India.

Nurturing Brilliant Minds

What advances a nation is when you give a platform to it’s best and most gifted personalities to showcase their talent, and this part is played by IISc Banglore, i.e. The Indian Institute of Science that has produced Nobel laureates, trained many of India’s greatest scientists and helped nurture some of the country’s finest scientific institutions.

“I am not aware of any project at once so opportune and so far-reaching in its beneficent effects has ever been mooted in India… The scheme grasps the vital point of weakness in our national well-being with a clearness of vision and tightness of grip, the mastery of which is only equalled by the munificence of the gift that is being ushered to the public.”

Swami Vivekananda wrote in 1899

In 1911, the Maharaja of Mysore laid the foundation stone of the institute and, on July 24 that year, the first batch of students was admitted in the departments of general and applied chemistry, organic chemistry and electro-technology. During past decades, Nobel laureate CV Raman, Homi J Bhabha, Vikram S Sarabhai, JC Ghosh, MS Thacker, S Bhagavantam, Satish Dhawan, CNR Rao and many others who have played a key role in the scientific and technological progress of India have been closely associated with the Institute. Since then, IISc has grown into a premier institution of IIScc research and advanced instruction, with more than 2,000 active researchers working in almost all the frontier areas of science and technology.

  • By the time the institute broke ground, Jamsetji Tata had passed away and the initiative was being driven by his sons.
  • At its inception, the institute was run jointly by the Tatas, the Government of India and the Government of Mysore (now Karnataka), marking the first example of a public-private partnership in the country.
  • It was here that Homi Bhabha visualised the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).
  • The institute enabled scientist CV Raman (the institute’s first Indian director who also initiated the Physics department in 1933) to undertake research in light scattering, which eventually won him the Nobel Prize in 1930.
Philanthropy Principles

Charity and handouts were not Jamsetji’s way, his philanthropic principles were rooted in the belief that for India to climb out of poverty, its finest minds would have to be harnessed.

In whatever he did, Mr Tata never looked for self-interest. He never cared for any titles from the government, nor did he ever take distinctions of caste or race into consideration. The Parsis, Muslims, Hindus — all were equal to him. For him, it was enough that they were Indians. Though he possessed unlimited wealth, he spent nothing from it on his own pleasures. His simplicity was remarkable. May India produce many such Tatas!”

Mahatma Gandhi wrote in 1905 Indian Opinion, after demise of JN Tata.

In 1892 that’s why he created JN Tata Endowment, that helped Indian students regardless of their religion and caste to pursue higher studies in England, this attempt later converted into Tata Scholarships, which was extended till 1924 and helped many Indians, two out of every five Indians coming into the elite Indian Civil Service were Tata scholars.

Money is like fire, an element as little troubled by moralising as earth, air and water,” said the American essayist Lewis H Lapham. “Men can employ it as a tool, or they can dance around it as if it were an incarnation of God.” Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata employed the wealth he created to enrich India and her people.

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