Ratan Tata - Jaguar

It's like a royal visit here at Jaguar's Corprate Headquarters at Whitley, England. Men in sharp suits stride around purposefully checking and re-checking schedules. A chauffeur-driven XJ murmurs quietly, waiting to whisk the VIP onto the next engagement where a line of people is eager to meet him.
Ratan Tata has led the Tata Group, his family company, to the forefront of Indian and world business, and to a commercial success that has been achieved with a sense of fairness and compassion.
Jaguar’s workforce will be meeting a man who is not only charming, but who has a deep passion for cars and engineering. His father, Naval Tata, was one of five people in India who took delivery of a new Jaguar XK120 in the late 1940s.
The archivists at the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust have found the original delivery papers for the car. “I remember the XK with great nostalgia,” says Ratan. “I particularly remember the instruments on the dashboard and how stylish they looked. I was driven in an XK today and the memories came flooding back.”
Talking to Ratan, you realise that he has done far more than added the name Jaguar to his company’s portfolio. He has acquired a new passion.

  • What do you hope to bring to Jaguar?

    "First of all I want to provide inspirational leadership that encourages, nurtures and supports creativity. We must create a platform where management can make fundamental decisions, but not in a hierarchical way. This management also needs to be nimble footed and able to make decisions swiftly and confidentially.
    "It's a great mistake to try and remotely run a company like Jaguar. It needs passion to create great cars. I'm determined to create an environment in which we all share ideas and interact. If we don't, then I’ll feel that we will have failed to provide Jaguar's staff with the right conditions for success."

    What is your vision for the company?

    "We need to create an aura around our cars. Then we will have an exciting car company. Great Jaguar sports cars and sporting saloons should underpin the strength of our brand. Developing these exciting cars is something that I’m going to enjoy very much. As well as driving them, of course.
    "The future of Jaguar also rests on developing technology to reduce fuel consumption and emissions. At Tata Motors [a subsidiary of the Tata Group] we will soon launch an electric version of our Indica small car. I'm not saying that we’ll be following this route at Jaguar, but we'll be looking at many different technologies. It's an area that really excites me, so I'm very much looking forward to the future."

    How will Jaguar fit in with Tata Motors, because the two companies make very different products?

    "I've never seen Jaguar and Tata Motors as a fit. Both companies are famous for what they do. Tata Motors builds revolutionary small cars such as the Nano, and Jaguar makes luxury cars. I'm keen to keep the two brands separate, but exploit the great number of synergies that exist in engineering and design.
    "I find the example of luxury hotels fits well when discussing brands. Take Ritz-Carlton Hotels: you can have a Ritz-Carlton hotel in one city that is owned by a large multinational company with varied business interests and you can have another one, in a different city, owned by a prince. They are a totally different type of owner, but the customer sees the same quality of service regardless. That's how it will be with Tata Motors and Jaguar."
    What do you think needs to change at Jaguar?

    "There needs to be more interaction between all of us. We need to share information and ideas. What immediately impressed me about the company is the procedural system that plays such a big part in creating high-quality cars. I hope to add an inspirational, entrepreneurial spirit that will create a culture at Jaguar that gives a fertile environment for fresh ideas. Both of these will make for a very strong business. But this transformation can't happen overnight."

    When and why did you become interested in purchasing the Jaguar marque?

    "Quite simply, the banks came to the Tata Group and told us that Jaguar (and Land Rover) was available. We were immediately interested due to the attractiveness of the brands. First, as Tata Motors is the number two SUV builder in India, owning [Land Rover] the gold standard of SUVs would be an enormous benefit to us. Second, to own a luxury brand with an immense history and heritage such as like Jaguar is a virtually irresistible opportunity."

    Do you have specific ideas for Jaguar's model line-up? A 4x4 for example?

    "I can't see a 4x4 in the range as we have that covered with Land Rover. But there is no question in my mind that the Jaguar range has to be supported by great sports cars and sporting saloons. This is the company's history, going back to the C-type, D-type, E-type, Mark II and XJ. Jaguar needs modern versions of these cars that are affordable and set a new standard. And they need to be lighter and easier on fuel than their rivals."

    What management or business qualities will Tata Motors bring to Jaguar?

    "I think we have an understanding of how to get the best out of people by creating the correct environment. A few years ago, Tata Motors bought the Daewoo trucks division in South Korea. We have turned the company around using exactly the same workforce and suppliers. It's all down to the right human chemistry. We need the management at Jaguar to have a human chemistry of management that's compatible with ours."

    Do you find the automotive industry the most interesting in your portfolio of businesses?

    "Absolutely. I spend most of my time within the automotive business. The Tata Nano is a good example. That was a project that I personally felt passionate about and involved myself in deeply.
    It was the same with the Tata Indica [India's first car designed and built in-house] in the late 1990s."
    The Tata Group was one of the first companies in India to contribute to employees' pensions and to apply an eight-hour working day. Also, the Group contributes millions of pounds to charitable causes every year.

    The Tata Group has a reputation as a caring employer. How has this come about?

    "Many of these things go back to the turn of the century and the beginnings of the company. The feeling that if you look after the people working for you then they will always give their best is deep within the company’s culture and always has been. I can't imagine the Tata Group being anything different."
    Tell us about your passion for cars…
    "My real passion is for design. There's no set pattern to the cars that I own. For day-to-day travel I use a variety of cars, including small Tatas for city driving."

    What do you do for recreation?

    "I love being in the water. I used to scuba-dive regularly, but I punctured my eardrums too many times and have now had to give it up. I still swim a lot. I play golf, but my other mechanical passion is flying. I've got a type rating [a licence that allows the holder to fly specific aircraft] for the Falcon business jet, but lately I've been getting more and more into flying helicopters. I love the engineering in them and they're challenging to fly well.”

    Why didn't you pursue a career in architecture?

    "You'd also have to ask me why I didn't stay in America. I studied architecture at Cornell University and was planning to stay in the US permanently. Unfortunately, my grandmother was taken ill so I had to return to India. I needed to work, of course, and embarked upon an eight-year training course at the Tata Group – an apprenticeship, if you like. For years I wasn’t getting anywhere and was frustrated, then eventually life became more rewarding. If my grandmother hadn't been taken ill I'd have stayed in America and become an architect, although it might have been a bankrupt architect that I became."

    [Issue 2, 2008]

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