Doing Well and Doing Good
Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year Ratan Tata links entrepreneurship and philanthropy
Ratan N. Tata ’59, B.Arch. ’62, chairman of Tata Sons, spoke
about India’s economy, the opportunities entrepreneurship opens
up to give back to society, and his upcoming retirement when he
was honored as Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 at the first
Cornell Entrepreneurship Summit in New York City, Oct. 12.
In the dialogue between Tata and Cornell President David Skorton
that headlined the summit, Skorton noted Tata’s accomplishments:
20-plus years at the helm of 84 companies and transforming
that group into a modern, streamlined corporation with revenues
that have grown 12-fold. In response, Tata pointed to the winds of
change in India’s economy during his leadership that unveiled many
opportunities for innovation.
Tata has been at the helm of Tata Sons, the holding company of the Tata Group, since 1991. He is also chairman of the major Tata companies, including Tata Motors, Tata Steel, Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Power, Tata Global Beverages, Tata Chemicals, Indian Hotels and Tata Teleservices. The companies employ more than 400,000 people in India, and under Tata’s leadership, annual revenues have grown to around $100 billion. The company has received much publicity in recent years for its development of the Tata Nano, a compact car with a $2,500 price tag, which makes it affordable for India’s growing middle class.
Since its founding, the Tata Group’s mission has included returning wealth to the communities in which it operates. Two-thirds of Tata Sons is owned by philanthropic trusts that were founded about 100 years ago. Tata is chairman of Tata Trusts, two of the largest private-sector-promoted philanthropic trusts in India. He is also a member of the Indian Prime Minister’s Council on Trade and Industry, as well as president of the Court of the Indian Institute of Science, and chairman of the Council of Management of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. In June 2012, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Rockefeller Foundation for his innovative approach to business and philanthropy. At Cornell, Tata is a member of the board of trustees.
Tata recalled some of the more challenging moments in his career, such as when he faced criticism for his decisions, including a move to streamline operations and acquire auto and steel businesses: “We’re not astrologists. There was no way we could know what would happen. While steel still suffers, Jaguar and Land Rover, after going through a dip, have emerged stronger than ever before.”
Following their talk, Skorton presented Tata with the Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year award. Cornell and Entrepreneurship@ Cornell give the award annually to a graduate who exemplifies entrepreneurial achievement, community service and high ethical standards.
“Cornell has benefited from Ratan’s enormous generosity,” Skorton said. “He has committed $50 million to establish two projects that benefit India as well as the university: the Tata Scholarship Fund for Students from India and the Tata-Cornell Initiative in Agriculture and Nutrition — each at $25 million a trust.” Skorton said the university is proud to enroll 23 Tata scholars.
In addition to giving back to advance education, Tata’s entrepreneurial history includes many business decisions aimed at addressing poverty and malnutrition of India’s youth. When Tata retires in December 2012, “not surprisingly, he won’t be simply relaxing,” Skorton said. “In his role at the helm of Tata Trusts, he plans to continue efforts to benefit India’s poor, with a focus on rural development, water conservation and child nutrition.”
Reprinted with permission, and with modifications, from stories published in the Cornell Chronicle