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Jamsetji Tata

More on Jamsetji Tata

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A man in full - Frank Harris

Jamsetji Tata – A Profile

A pioneer, a visionary, a seer - perhaps these adjectives are not enough to describe a man of such extraordinary caliber and stature who has secured a strong foothold in the map of industrialized nations of the world. The creative forces of his genius were harnessed to cater to the development of his own land and his dreams arising out of intense love of humanity. The same passion, ideals and vision went a long way in shaping an outstanding business conglomerate that, ever since, has been constantly nourished and nurtured to offer credence to this one man’s novel dream, dreamt more than a century ago.

An inclination to envision really big was recognized in Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata at a very young age. Born on March 3, 1839, in a small town of Gujarat, Navsari, he was the first child and only son of Nusserwanji Tata, the head of a family of Parsee priests.

It was only natural that Nusserwanji, would, as usual join the family priesthood, but the enterprising youngster broke the tradition to become the first member of the family to try his hand at business.

The entrepreneurial acumen of Jamsetji coupled with his nationalistic outlook, which led him to believe that the fruits of his business success would enrich the nation as a whole, made him truly unique. Completing his education as a ‘Green Scholar’ (equivalent of today’s graduate) from Elphinstone College, he joined hands with his father who ran a small firm. Jamsetji was only 20 then. The repression of the Indians in the hands of British rulers coupled with widespread poverty all across the nation at that time, was at the root of this entrepreneur’s philosophy. This is what precisely set the stage for the Enterprise to plough back profits into various social-development initiatives – a direct fallout of the empathy set in the founder’s philosophy of business.

An eager learner, Jamsetji soon became a skilful practitioner of various nuances of business. Armed with knowledge and experience of commodities and markets, trading and banking, in 1868, Jamsetji started a trading company with a capital of Rs 21,000. He was just 29 then and wiser for the experience garnered by nine years of working with his father.

Jamsetji's knowledge expansion happened through successive trips abroad, mainly to England, and other places that convinced him that there was tremendous scope for Indian companies to forge through and make a foray in the British dominated textile industry. Jamsetji set his foot into the textile industry in 1869, first acquiring a dilapidated and bankrupt oil mill in Chinchpokli in the industrial heart of Bombay, then renaming the property Alexandra Mill and consequently converting it into a cotton mill. He subsequently sold the mill at a remarkable profit to start in a bigger way with the best men and machinery so that he could overcome the colonial masters.

Jamsetji, chose Nagpur for setting up the mill, a destination close to three crucial raw materials: close proximity to cotton-growing areas, easy access to a railway junction, and plentiful supplies of water and fuel. He floated his enterprise, the Central India Spinning, Weaving and Manufacturing Company in 1874 with a capital of 1.5 lakhs, and consequently the Empress Mills at the age of 37 years.

Perhaps, this has been the most significant of all times in Jamsetji’s life as far as business development is concerned. From 1880 till his death in 1904, his entire being had concentrated solely on three missions of his life: setting up an iron and steel company, generating hydroelectric power, and creating a world-class educational institution that would enrich Indian minds in the filed of the sciences. Though none of his dreams were fully realized during his lifetime, but the seeds were laid, and the pathway made, for his successors to take up, fructify and give a glorious expression to each of his dreams.

Interest in iron and steel stirred Jamsetji when he attended a lecture by Thomas Carlyle in Manchester where he went to check out new machinery for his textile mill. By the end of the trip, he was sufficiently excited by the prospects of setting up a steel plant and by 1880, his dream of building a steel plant that would compare with the best of its kind in the world was steadfast. Not only was it a gigantic task, it was even intimidating, as the contemporary Indian political scenario was not too optimistic as well. The industrial revolution that had touched and transformed most nations of the West, by passed India and made it difficult for this pioneer to make any attempt towards modernizing and industrializing the East.

Steadfast in his determination, nothing was enough to deter this man with a mission. The motivation was strong enough to sustain the fruition of the steel project amidst a lot of adversity. In his tortuous journey, he had to suffer the scorn of people such as Sir Frederick Upcott, the chief commissioner of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, who promised to "eat every pound of steel rail [the Tatas] succeed in making".

Though Jamsetji had passed away by the time, the first ingots rolled out of the production plant in 1912, his spirit and efforts were carried forward by his zealous son Dorab and cousin R. D. Tata, in the later years.

The enormity of Jamsetji’s vision was apparent in the entrepreneurial quality of the man. Even long before the steel plant was established, Jamsetji had thought about the welfare of his employees. He was sensitive to the needs of his workmen, and laid out plans for them to have conducive workplace, shorter working hours and employee benefits such as provident fund and gratuity – long before they were made statutory in a work place the world over. Not only did he envision a contended and productive work force, he also envisioned a planned city with a lot of greenery around. The city thus born out of his vision in the later years, under the aegis of Sir Dorabji Tata aptly came to be called Jamshedpur.

The humanitarian, charitable and humble principles that the industrialist followed made him believe that it was essential to nurture the fine brains of Indians in order to bring them out from the puddle of poverty. Jamsetji could never make his heart to believe in hands on charity. Therefore, he established the JN Tata Endowment in 1892 that helped Indian students to pursue higher studies abroad. One such success was followed by another and yet another until such a time when two out of every five Indians coming into the elite Indian Civil Service were Tata scholars. The Indian Institute of Science was established with similar focus where Jamsetji assured Rs 30 Lakhs from his personal fortune. But it was not before long years of wait that tangible results came out of the effort.

Amongst the various projects that Jamsetji had initiated but could not survive to bear the fruits of its success were the hydroelectric power plant project and the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. The Taj Mahal Hotel is believed to have held a special corner in the entrepreneur’s heart. If stories are to be believed then the root of the Taj Mahal project are beached on an incident where Jamsetji was denied entry into a city hotel for being an Indian. The incident left such deep scars on Jamsetji’s heart that he decided to construct a place equally luxurious and lavish for all fellow Indians. By the time the Taj Mahal Hotel was completed in 1903, it was the finest luxury hotel and the first building in Bombay that used electricity. Endorsed with supreme luxury items from across the globe, Taj Mahal Hotel boasted American fans, German elevators, Turkish baths, English butlers and whole lot of other innovative delights that the Indians were deprived of.

The true Indian that resided within the great industrialist shrouded an amazing assortment of passion and commitment that carried him along his pathway to success both in his personal and professional life. Nurturing his fascinating life, was Jamsetji’s quest for knowledge that invariably bred in him a love for travel, which he passionately sought till he left for his heavenly abode in Germany in 1904.

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