By Shahnawaz Alam
We are celebrating Sir JN Tata’s 184th birth anniversary in steel city with a theme “Greennovation” targeting zero. He was born on 3rd March 1839 at Navsari, Gujarat, to a Parsi family. His father was Nusserwanji Tata and his mother was Jeevanbai Tata. He was the first child and the only son of Nusserwanji Tata. Nusserwanji was the first member of the family who broke the tradition of joining the priesthood and tried his hand at business. Jamsetji was raised in Navsari and joined his father in Bombay when he was 14 years of age. He enrolled at Elphinstone College and passed in 1858 as a ‘green scholar’, the equivalent of today’s graduate. While still a student Jamsetji Tata married Hirabai Daboo. After completing his graduation, he joined his father’s export-trading firm and helped establish strong branches in Japan, China, Europe, and the United States. In 1868, at the age of 29, after gaining experience of about nine years of working with his father, he started a trading company with a capital of Rs 21,000 and later it evolved into a Tata Group. In 1869, he brought a bankrupt oil mill at Chinchpokli and converted it to a cotton mill and he renamed it, Alexandra Mill. Two years later, he sold the mill for a profit. In 1874, he had floated a fresh enterprise, the Central India Spinning, Weaving and Manufacturing Company, with a seed capital of Rs 1.5 lakh. After three years, his venture was ready to realise its destiny. On 1 January 1877, Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India, and Empress Mills came into existence in Nagpur. Jamsetji also embarked on the first of his fantastic odysseys at the age of 37. In 1886, he purchased the sick Dharamsi Mills (then the largest in the Bombay Presidency) despite expert advice to the contrary. He rechristened it the Svadeshi Mills to mark the beginnings of the Swadeshi movement. Long before India’s Swadeshi Movement kicked off in 1905, Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata had found his own ways to further the cause of ‘India for Indians’. It was in 1892 that Jamsetji established the J N Tata Endowment that helped Indian students to pursue higher studies abroad. The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore was also conceived with similar focus where Jamsetji assured Rs. 30 Lakhs from his personal fortune. He also donated land for a research institute in Bangalore (Bengaluru) in 1898 and his sons ultimately established the Indian Institute of Science there. No doubt, the Tata family became the most important private funder of technical education and scientific research in India. Jamshedji also refocused his efforts on the science institute he wished to establish. In 1898, he wrote Swami Vivekananda a letter.
His key visions were to set up an iron and steel company, a world-class learning institution that would tutor Indians in the sciences, and a hydroelectric plant. None of these would materialise while he lived but he laid the seeds.
His enterprises were known for efficiency, for improved labour-protection policies, and for the introduction of finer grades of fiber. He planned for Bombay-area hydroelectric power plant that became the Tata Power Company in 1906.
He began organising India’s first large-scale ironworks in 1901 and six years later these were incorporated as the Tata Iron and Steel Company (now Tata Steel). The Tata Iron and Steel Company became the largest privately owned steelmaker in India under the direction of Jamsetji Tata’s sons namely Sir Dorabji Jamsetji Tata and Sir Ratanji Tata.
In a letter to his son Dorabji Tata, Jamsetji had expressed his desire of a well-planned township with wide roads and shady trees, every alternate one of them being the quick growing variety, ample place for gardens and lawns, play grounds and children’s parks, temples for Hindus, mosques for Muslims, churches for Christians and other prayer places for people of other religions. He had a vision for care of community along with industrialization he says “In a free enterprise, the community is not just another stakeholder in business, but is in fact the very purpose of its existence.”
The nucleus of the group of companies not only produces textiles, steel, and hydroelectric power but also chemicals, agricultural equipment, trucks, locomotives, and cement. Other commercial ventures of Jamsetji included the Taj Mahal Palace, the first luxury hotel in India.
On 19 May 1904, he died in Bad Nauheim. But to date, he is a source of motivation and inspiration for entrepreneurs all across the world.
When India’s first prime minister Jawahar Lal Nehru inaugurated Jublee Park at Jamshedpur in 1958 he called Sir J N Tata as a ‘One Man Planning Commission’ did not live to see his dreams flower, Jamshedpur continues to remain and flourish as the pride of an architect’s concept and visualization.
(Author is Vice President, Tata Workers Union. The views expressed are personal.)