The Brand Custodian: My Years with the Tatas by Mukund Rajan – Review

Book: The Brand Custodian: My Years with the Tatas

Author: Mukund Rajan

Publisher: HarperBusiness

Pages: 264 pages

Price: Rs.599

The book is a brilliant attempt by Mukund Rajan, to sum up two decades of service with Tatas. The back story format that the author follows, encourages you to keep going. There are some aspects in the book that leave you with heavy heart. While he talks about the journey of Tata companies, it also raises a question about its future as changing times needs different approach.

At the end of the book, the author raises valid questions which a company like Tata will have to examine. The group of companies, which was once involved in nation building, has to now look at its role in job creation; the way to differentiate mandated CSR activities with other community building activities; good governance; talent churning; corporate purpose; leadership challenges innovation, etc.

The book has many interesting tales. The most-talked and controversial topics, like the ‘Radia Tapes’ (involving Niira Radia) and Ratan Tata-Cyrus Mistry spat, also find a place in the book. The author has made a conscious effort to refrain from projecting a rosy picture of the group, by writing about the impact the Ratan Tata-Cyrus Mistry spat had on the company. The author neither sides with Ratan Tata nor Cyrus Mistry, and stays committed to the title as the Brand custodian. He does not shy away from pointing out the mistakes made in dealing with this situation.

The author openly admits his disagreement with his former colleague at Tatas but the author doesn’t try to impose his view on the readers about the executive.

As the author puts it in his book (and also accepted by many in India), service with Tatas have been synonym to working with Indian government services (sans the corruption and other negatives of the bureaucracy), which he proves in some areas. Like an IAS officer, TAS (Tata Administrative Service) employees also move from one company of Tata to another. This flexibility was something that worked in the favour Rajan. If Rajan was stuck in just one role or just few roles in Tatas, he would not have been able give that overview of modern Tatas in the book.

While the author mentions about the effect of the 2008 Mumbai attack at The Taj Mahal Palace on Ratan Tata, he fails to describe it in detail (as I was expecting something there). I would have liked to know what Tata Sons or Tata Trusts did in that situation and what can corporates do in such situations. I think the attack was a new-age threat it faces. The book does touch up on the ULFA controversy the group landed in; and some political decisions and its implications on Tatas.

Quite an engaging read, I must say. It can be The Guide Book for any talent considering working with Tatas. This could work towards attracting talent to the company too. Through the book, the author is  writing his professional journey that starts with Tatas but doesn’t end with it.

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