Father of India's aviation industry, and no fan of Nehru: JRD Tata was born 118 years ago

Father of India's aviation industry, and no fan of Nehru: JRD Tata was born 118 years ago

Upon his death, the Indian Parliament was adjourned in his memory – an honour not usually given to persons who are not members of parliament

FPJ Web DeskUpdated: Thursday, July 28, 2022, 07:39 PM IST
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Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata once started a business. That business is now called Air India |

An Indian aviator, industrialist, entrepreneur and chairman of Tata Group?

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata was all of these things.

Born on July 29, 1904 to a to a non-resident Indian Parsi family in Paris, France. He was the second child of businessman Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and his French wife, Suzanne "Sooni" Brière. His father was the first cousin of Jamsetji Tata, a pioneer industrialist in India. He had one elder sister Sylla, a younger sister Rodabeh and two younger brothers Darab and Jamshed (called Jimmy) Tata.

Apart from leading the Tata Group for over 50 years, Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata was a businessman, aviation pioneer, art connoisseur, philanthropist, skier and letter writer.

He was not just passionate about steering the Tata Group into becoming India’s largest industrial empire, but was also committed to India’s development. Under his tenure, the Tata group’s assets “climbed from Rs. 620 million in 1939 to over Rs. 1,00,000 million in 1990.”

The Tata group started from 14 companies, but over the course of his leadership, the group turned into a “conglomerate of 95 enterprises valued in billions of dollars”: chemicals, automobiles, tea, information technology and more.

At the age of 34, he took over as the chairman of the Tata Group and rebranded Tata Airmail Service to India’s first domestic carrier, Tata Airlines. In 1953, much to his dismay, Tata Airlines was nationalised and transformed into Air India, but still his passion knew no bounds.

In his book The Tata Group: From Torchbearers to Trailblazers, Shashank Shah reveals, “If he saw a dirty airline counter, he would shame everyone by requesting a duster and wiping it himself. On one occasion, he rolled up his sleeves and helped the crew clean a dirty aircraft toilet. From the inside décor to the colour of the air hostess’ saris; from wordings on Air India hoardings to the availability of toilet paper in lavatories on-board, J.R.D. set high benchmarks in hands-on leadership.”

Opposed to nationalisation, Tata expressed his disapproval in a meeting with then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Shah explains in his book: “All along, J.R.D’s contention was that the new government of India had no experience in running an airline company, and nationalisation would mean bureaucracy and lethargy, decline in employee morale and fall in passenger services.”

Tata didn’t like Marxists.

Tata died in Geneva, Switzerland on 29 November 1993 at the age of 89 of a kidney infection. He said a few days before his passing: "Comme c'est doux de mourir" ("How gentle it is to die").

Upon his death, the Indian Parliament was adjourned in his memory – an honour not usually given to persons who are not members of parliament. He was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

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