IndiaGBnews.com special correspondent Aline Dobbie reflects on a recent talk given by Dr David Landsman OBE, executive director of Tata Ltd.
At the Asia Scotland Institute held in the University of Edinburgh on 7th March we had the good fortune to hear David Landsman speak about Tata, the world famous Indian group. But first let me fill you in as to David Landsman’s credentials and why therefore his words were so valuable…
Dr David Landsman OBE is executive director of Tata Limited, a UK-registered subsidiary of Tata Sons, the Tata group promoter company. Tata Limited represents the group in Europe and is responsible for business development, corporate affairs and a range of commercial and other services. It provides support to the 19 Tata companies across the UK, including Tata Steel, Jaguar Land Rover, TCS, Tata Global Beverages (including Tetley Tea), Tata Chemicals and Taj Hotels.
Dr Landsman joined Tata Limited from a career in the British Diplomatic Service. He served in several positions in London and overseas, including as ambassador to Albania and, until January 2013, as ambassador to Greece. He also spent two years on secondment as international affairs advisor at De La Rue Identity Systems.
In 2017, the Confederation of Indian Industry announced the appointment of Dr Landsman as the new chairperson to take over as the UK prepares to leave the European Union, they will be fully engaged in working to enhance the bilateral economic relationship.
Having established Tata Limited in 1907 to represent it in Europe, the group has grown to comprise 19 companies and a 60,000-strong workforce.
Five core values — integrity, understanding, excellence, unity and responsibility — are woven into the fabric of Tata and its brands, and are fundamental to its success across the globe.
In 1868, Jamsetji Tata started the Tata Group and the distinguished founder is buried in Surrey in England. When the company first came to the UK in 1907 it was primarily sourcing products to take back to India to enhance its various interests in the country. But that was a long time ago and now it is Tata from India who has invested very substantially in the United Kingdom.
David Landsman spoke with conviction about the fact that the 21st century is the century of Asia, that India is going to grow hugely and that Tata is one of the country’s largest business groups with worldwide revenues of $100 billion. He politely pointed out that there is a tendency in countries like the UK to look back, but that India and Tata are looking forward, building on the strength of the past.
He went into some detail about meeting steelworkers at Port Talbot in Wales when Corus was subsumed into Tata. The workers welcomed the new owners as they remarked that Tata had a long history of producing steel in India and knowledgeable owners are far more constructive than people without the background and knowledge of a product.
Tata Steel is the second largest producer of steel in Europe. I was reminded of this very recently when walking over and taking photographs of the famous Howrah Bridge in Kolkata, built during WW2. The bridge does not have nuts and bolts but was formed by riveting the whole structure. It consumed 26,500 tons of steel, out of which 23,000 tons of high-tensile alloy steel, known as Tiscrom, were supplied by Tata Steel.
Tata Consulting Services operates throughout the UK. It provides the technical know-how for many big banks and institutions, and is widely sought for its expertise in the digital field.
Tetley, the second-largest tea brand globally, with a heritage of more than 180 years, joined the Tata Global Beverages family in 2000. Since then, the brand has gone from strength to strength, with a brand presence in over 40 countries and millions of cups of tea enjoyed every day.
Very often the high-end shoes men wear here in the fashionable, corporate world have had a component made in Madhya Pradesh in India. As for Jaguar Land Rover, well this is a brand that is now synonymous with Tata, which bought the firm in 2007 and is a great success despite having been bought at a time of global recession. In the summer of 2007, before Tata Motors Ltd took over Jaguar Land Rover, Ratan Tata and Ravi Kant embarked on a trip through the US. Their objective was to gauge whether the legendary British marques still evoked enough passion in the biggest market for the vehicles to justify the acquisition. They evidently did.
David Landsman has a serious point about success being all-important naturally, but that failure must be examined, and the lessons learnt. He quoted from his own writing:
“I suppose a majority of business books explain how to do something. It makes sense. But it can also be useful to reflect on how not to do things. It’s easy to watch others and criticise, but we can often learn as much from a bad example as from a good one, especially if we try to empathise and understand the root causes of the mistakes we all make.
Of course, things will always go wrong. And here are six ways in my experience we actively help them go wrong. And they can all be found in the public sector, in business and doubtless everywhere else too.
- Judging by our own standards: the great insight of the behavioural scientists is that people (employees, customers, just fellow human beings) don’t necessarily want what we think it’s rational for them to want. We can spend all our time complaining that they’re not rational, but that makes sense only if we don’t care about the outcome. Better to try to understand.
- Keeping bright ideas private: leaders are often chosen because they have good ideas. But good ideas can only be as effective as the communication to those who have to help realise them. People need to know both what’s expected and why. Internal communication can’t just be corporate cheerleading.
- Ignoring the incentives elephant: having worked in government, I know at first hand that people don’t always choose the option that maximises income. But incentives, financial or otherwise, always matter. People are often willing to “go the extra mile” without obvious reward, but it’s perverse to expect anyone to do one thing if at the same time they’re being incentivised to do something else which is mutually exclusive. So always keep a focus on aligning the personal incentives with your vision of “what success looks like”.
- Letting the public face blind us to candid (self-) analysis: whatever you’re selling (goods, services, policies), you have to accentuate the positive – and, of course, it has to be sincere to work. But, at the same time, you must keep committed to ruthlessly honest private self-examination while continuing enthusiastically with the “glass full” public line.
- Doing something badly when someone else could do it better: everyone respects a leader who admits their weaknesses and empowers others to do what they’re best at. So why do we sometimes refuse to delegate? I wish I knew, because I’m sure I’m guilty too.
- Groupthink – In my view, this is the worst risk factor of all because it’s a multiplier for all the others. In part, it can be a dominant leader or culture (perhaps unwittingly) silencing dissent, or simply a lack of diversity. But, paradoxically, it can be a case of being surrounded by too many committed “experts”. If your company sells widgets, should everyone on the board be a veteran of the widget industry? Better look for the intelligent outsider who can ask the stupid questions.”
Dr Landsman talked too of the famous Taj Hotel Group; this is where I have some personal expertise and I reflected how I had first been a guest at the legendary Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai when a tiny child. I also reflect that it was that very special man of India, Mr JRD Tata, who ran Air India and made it into a global success in the 1950s and early 1960s…. that success has eluded it since it was taken into national ownership.
He pointed out that whereas in the past all young aspiring Indians concentrated their attention on the USA and attempted to go there to further their careers, it is now perfectly reasonable for young western graduates and professionals to go to India to see how business is accomplished in this vast country.
He also reiterated there are huge opportunities for the UK and India to mutually benefit in business and the Indian government has realised it has to enable ease of doing business. This has hitherto been a significant challenge. Equally, the UK government must realise that visa restrictions on genuine Indian students and qualified young people are holding back both countries and alienating the younger generation. At a time when the USA is in an immensely ‘ambivalent position’ with their current president and his approach, it makes perfect sense for the UK and India to seriously find the synergy between them.
Simplification, synergy and scale remain very important to the Tata Group under their new chairman, Natarajan Chandrasekaran. Jamsetji Tata’s values of being part of nation building, his thoughts of long ago are evergreen today: Society is not just a stakeholder but the very purpose of good business and progress for a nation.
Aline Dobbie is one of the UK’s foremost authorities on India. Born in India to Scottish parents she spent the first 16 years of her life in the sub-continent. An acclaimed travel writer, Aline is the author of a celebrated trilogy of books on India, including The Peacock’s Call – www.thepeacockscall.co.uk