Twenty-ninth book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.
Read as an accompaniment to Beyond the last blue mountain by R.M. Lala.
The family history of the Tatas has been deeply entwined with the history of an industrial India ever since Jamsetji Tata started out as an entrepreneur. That means that the history is of almost 130 years!
It’s obviously quite difficult to cover almost 130 years of Industrial presence in just about as many pages. So, this isn’t a book that covers the history in great detail. But in providing a summary of what the Tatas have done over the years in India and abroad; and in providing succinct descriptions of the interpersonal relationships of the chairmen over the years and their style of working and influence over the employees, the book excels tremendously.
There are some really startling revelations about the hardships that some of the ventures had to face and it is indeed heartening to see how the other sister companies stepped up and helped the ones who lagged behind to catch up. While we have often heard that the Tata group is a family, the actual structure of this family and the nature of their relationship is not so well-known. This book explores that aspect and gives great insight into it.
With just about 200 pages, the book is a crisp and light read for anyone who is even mildly interested in knowing about the histroy of the Tata empire. And for someone with a scholarly interest in the subject, this is a great starting point because R.M. Lala had tremendous access to the company archives and compiled the data at a time when digital records were not the norm. So, much of what he has gathered might not even be available today.
Moreover, Lala was quite close to J.R.D. Tata and had the privilege to question him directly about many aspects of their business, especially during his time as the chairman, which at more than 50 years, is quite an extensive period. This has given the book a wealth of anecdotes like the circumstances that gave birth to Lakme and the story of immense resilience at the Mithapur plant of Tata Chemicals. Each character who features in the book has been made to stand out by the description of their dominant traits, which could not have been possible without the access and insight that Lala was privy to.
The only complaint that I have with the book is the same that J.R.D. Tata himself had – it is slightly in favor of the Tatas. As a result, the objectivity is slightly lost. The chronological order of the book is also slightly off, but I guess with a subject matter so vast as this, that is bound to happen.