Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata (J.R.D. Tata) was a non-resident Indian entrepreneur, industrialist, aviator, philanthropist and former chairman of Tata Group. He is the man who has many firsts attached to his name. He was the first licensed pilot who laid the foundation of India’s first international airline known as Air India. He was a visionary personality who saw the potential of industrial growth and took relevant initiatives to achieve it. Under his leadership, the Tata Conglomerate grew from 14 to 95 enterprises. He is the founder of many successful ventures under the TATA Group, including Tata Motors, Tata Salt, Tata Consultancy Services, Voltas, Air India and Titan Industries.
On Friday, 29th July 1904, Tata was born in Paris in a wealthy Indian family. He was born to non-resident Indian parents and was their second child. His mother was French, so he spent his childhood in France, and French was his first language. In 1909, his father bought a new house on the Hardelot beach in France. Here, J.R.D. grew up fascinated with aviation that he learned about from neighbour Louis Bleriot, an Aviator. He enjoyed his first aeroplane ride when he was 15. During 1909 – 1917 his family shifted between Paris and Bombay. That is when he studied at the Cathedral School in Bombay. In 1923, after the death of his mother, his father sent him to England for higher studies. He studied in four countries including France, India, Japan and England.
Enthronement of the Tata Legacy
Since he was a citizen of France, he had to serve in the French army for at least a year. After this, he returned to India to take over his responsibilities as the successor of TATA in 1925. In 1926, he was in Jamshedpur when his father died in France. That was the time when he became the Director of Tata Sons. Three years later, in 1929, he gave up his French citizenship and became the first Indian to hold Private License No. 1.
First Indian Pilot License received by JRD Tata
In 1932, he established a courier service connecting Madras (now Chennai), Karachi, Ahmedabad and Bombay (Mumbai). He piloted the first flight of this service from Karachi to Bombay. This service was named Tata Air Mail. In 1938 he graced the Chairman position of Tata Sons. The Tata Air Mail was renamed Tata Airlines a few years later, becoming India’s first domestic airline. Later in 1946, it was named the present-day Air India. After that, J.R.D. Tata worked hard for the success of Tata’s existing business verticals. This included Tata Steel, power and hotels. He further invested in diversification and laid the company’s foundation in automobiles, chemicals, financial services, information technology and pharmaceuticals. In 1953, Air India was nationalized, but Tata remained as its chairman until 1978. In 1991, he stepped back from his leadership in Tata Sons, and that is when the annual revenue of Tata Group was about US$4 Billion, and its asset valuation reached US$5 Billion from US$100 Million.
J.R.D. Tata as young chairman of Tata Group
Contribution to National Developments
He took the initiative to establish a series of institutions for promoting medical, educational, scientific and artistic developments in India. In 1944, he established the J.R.D. Tata Trust and participated in the foundation of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1945. These institutions were Tata Memorial Hospital, Tata Institute of Social Science, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, National Centre for the Performing Arts and National Institute of Advanced Science. He was one of the wise men who initiated promoting family planning. He was the founder of the Family Planning Foundation, which was established in 1971. He invested in grooming talent to support the business domain and created Tata administrative services and staff college. In later years of his life, he even sold his apartment in Bombay and most of his shares to lay the foundation of J.R.D. and Thelma Tata Trust, which works for disadvantaged women’s welfare in the country. J.R.D. Tata once said,
I do not want India to be an economic superpower. I want India to be a happy country.”
Parents & Siblings
JRD Tata was born in a Parsi family to Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and Suzanne Sooni Brière. He was the second child of his parents, and his siblings were Jimmy, Rodabeh, Sylla and Dorab.
J.R.D. Tata with his parents, grandmother and elder sister
Wife & Children
J.R.D. Tata fell in love with Thelma Vicaji and married her in 1930. The couple had no children.
J.R.D. Tata loved Air India from his core, and he worried about it more than any of his founded businesses. When the Nehru Government decided to nationalize Air India, J.R.D. Tata tried his best to fight the decision. Air India was nationalized in the end, but the government insisted J.R.D. Tata for heading his founded Airlines, which he did till 1977.
Awards, Honours, Achievements
J. R. D. Tata not only introduced multiple business advancements but also did a series of philanthropic works for human welfare.
- In 1930 he came second in the Aga Khan Aviation Race to fly an aircraft from India to the United Kingdom.
- In 1983 he became the Commander of the French Legion of Honour.
- In 1957 he was awarded Padma Vibhushan.
- In 1974 he graced the position of Air Vice Marshal, which is the third highest active rank in the Indian Air Force.
- In 1975, he received the Sir Jehangir Ghandy Medal for Industrial peace.
- He received several international awards for aviation, including the Tony Jannus Award (1979), Gold Air Medal (1985), Edward Warner Award (1986).
- In 1988 he received the Daniel Guggenheim Medal for aviation and the Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Award.
- He received the United Nations Population Award in 1992.
- He also received Bharat Ratna in 1992 for his contribution to Indian industrialization.
J.R.D. Tata receiving Bharat Ratna
He passed away on 29th November 1993 in Geneva, Switzerland and was buried at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris.
- He is also known as the father of civil aviation in India.
- Since its inception, he was a trustee of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, which established Asia’s first cancer hospital.
- J.R.D. Tata wrote over 40,000 letters in his entire life, which always unfolded with beautiful handwriting.