Jamsetji Tata was an Indian pioneer industrialist, who founded the Tata Group, India’s biggest conglomerate company. He is regarded as the legendary “Father of Indian Industry”.
He was so influential in the world of industry that Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Tata as a One-Man Planning Commission.
Nehru once said about Tata, “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. It is right that we should honour his memory and remember him as one of the big founders of modern India.”
Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata was born to Nusserwanji and Jeevanbai Tata on 3 March 1839 in Navsari, a city in the south Gujarat.
His father, Nusserwanji, was the first businessman in a family of Parsi Zoroastrian priests. He broke the tradition to become the first member of the family to start a business when he started an export trading firm in Mumbai.
Unlike other Zoroastrians, Jamsetji Tata had a formal Western education because his parents saw that he was gifted with special mental arithmetic from a young age. However, in order for him to have a more modern education, he was later sent to Bombay.
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.
He was married to Hirabai Daboo while he was still a student.
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.
Tata regularly travelled to China in order to become educated with the trade business in opium, that was bustling at the time within a small colony of Parsees and was tightly closed off to outsiders.
When Tata traveled around China, he began to realize that trade in the cotton industry was booming, and there was a chance of making a great profit. This influenced his business career, where he invested the most in cotton mills throughout his lifetime.
Tata worked in his father’s company until he was 29.
Later he founded a trading company in 1868 with ₹21,000 capital.
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.
Due to this unconventional location, the people of Bombay scorned Tata for not making the smart move by taking the cotton business up in Bombay, known as the “Cottonopolis” of India. They did not understand why he went to the undeveloped city of Nagpur to start a new business. However, Tata’s decision of choosing Nagpur led to his success.
In 1877, Tata established a new cotton mill, “Empress Mill” when Queen Victoria was proclaimed as the Empress of India at 1 January 1877.
He had four goals in life: setting up an iron and steel company, a world-class learning institution, a unique hotel and a hydro-electric plant.
Only the hotel became a reality during his lifetime, with the inauguration of the Taj Mahal Hotel at Colaba waterfront in Mumbai on 3 December 1903 at the cost of ₹11 million (worth ₹11 billion in 2015 prices). At that time it was the only hotel in India to have electricity.
It is said He was denied entry into a city hotel because of his Indian identity. This prompted him to build an equally grand place for Indians.
His successors’ work led to the three remaining ideas being achieved:
- Tata Steel (formerly TISCO – Tata Iron and Steel Company Limited) is Asia’s first and India’s largest steel company. It became world’s fifth largest steel company, after it acquired Corus Group producing 28 million tonnes of steel annually.
- Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, the pre-eminent Indian institution for research and education in Science and Engineering.
- Tata Hydroelectric Power Supply Company, renamed Tata Power Company Limited, currently India’s largest private electricity company with an installed generation capacity of over 8000MW.
In addition, in 1885, Tata floated another company in Pondicherry for the sole purpose of distributing Indian textiles to the nearby French Colonies and not having to pay duties; however, this was a failed attempt due to insufficient demand in the fabrics.
This led to him buying the Dharamsi Mills at Kurla in Bombay and later reselling it to buy the Advance Mills in Ahmedabad. Tata named it Advance Mills because of the fact that it was one of the most high-tech mills at the time.
Tata became a strong supporter of Swadeshism, and he represented these same principles throughout the time he was alive.
Tata named his new cotton mill built in Bombay the “Swadeshi Mill”
Tata wanted to produce cloth of quality comparable with that of Manchester cloth in an attempt to reduce the number of imports coming from abroad.
Tata had a vision for India to become its own primary manufacturer of all kinds of cloth and eventually become a large exporter. He wanted India to be the sole maker of these fine cloths that the primitive weavers of India were famous for.
Tata started to experiment with various ways to improve the cultivation of cotton grown in different parts of India. He believed that adopting the method of cultivation used by the Egyptian ryot, who were famous for their soft cotton would allow for the cotton industry of India to reach these goals.
Tata was also the first to introduce the ring spindle into his mills, which soon replaced the throstle that was once used by manufacturers.
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 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.
Tata Group was founded in 1868 presently has over 100 companies including Tata Steel, Tata Motors, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Power and Tata Chemicals.
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.
While on a business trip to Germany in 1900, Jamsetji became seriously ill there and passed away on May 19, 1904 in Nauheim.
“No Indian of the present generation had done more for the commerce and industry of India.” —Lord Curzon, the viceroy of India, following Tata’s demise.