J. R. D. Tata

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J. R. D. Tata
J.R.D. Tata (1955).jpg
Tata at an event in 1955
Born(1904-07-29)29 July 1904
Died29 November 1993(1993-11-29) (aged 89)
Net worth£200 million (1990)[1]
Spouse(s)Thelma Vicaji Tata
Parent(s)Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata
Suzanne "Sooni" Brière
RelativesSee Tata family
AwardsBharat Ratna

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata (29 July 1904 – 29 November 1993) was an Indian aviator, industrialist, entrepreneur and chairman of Tata Group.

Born into the Tata family of India, he was the son of noted businessman Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and his wife Suzanne Brière. His mother was the first woman in India to drive a car and, in 1929, he became the first licensed pilot in India. He is also best known for being the founder of several industries under the Tata Group, including Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Motors, Titan Industries, Tata Salt, Voltas and Air India. In 1983, he was awarded the French Legion of Honour and in 1955 and 1992, he received two of India's highest civilian awards the Padma Vibhushan and the Bharat Ratna. These honours were bestowed on him for his contributions to Indian industry.[2]

Early life[edit]

J. R. D. Tata was born as Jehangir on 29 July 1904 into a Parsi family. He was the second child of businessman Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and his French wife, Suzanne "Sooni" Brière.[3] His father was the first cousin of Jamsetji Tata, a pioneer industrialist in India. He had one elder sister Sylla, a younger sister Rodabeh and two younger brothers Darab and Jamshed (called Jimmy) Tata. His sister, Sylla, was married to Dinshaw Maneckji Petit, the third baronet of Petits. His sister's sister-in-law, Rattanbai Petit, was the wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who later became the founder of Pakistan in August 1947. Jinnah and Rattanbai's daughter Dina Jinnah, was married to Neville Wadia, a notable businessman.

As his mother was French, he spent much of his childhood in France and as a result, French was his first language. He attended the Janson De Sailly School in Paris.[4] One of the teachers at that school used to call him L'Egyptien. [5] Tata also served for one year in a Spahis regiment during the Second World War.[6][7] After he left the service the whole regiment perished on an expedition in Morocco.[6][8]

He attended the Cathedral and John Connon School, Bombay. Tata was educated in London, Japan, France and India.[9] When his father joined the Tata company he moved the whole family to London. During this time, J. R. D's mother died at an early age of 43 while his father was in India and his family was in France.

After his mother's death, Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata decided to move his family to India and sent J. R. D to England for higher studies in October 1923. He was enrolled in a Grammar school, and was interested in studying Engineering at Cambridge. Just as the Grammar course was ending and he was hoping to enter Cambridge, a law was passed in France to draft into the army, for two years, all French boys at the age of 20.

As a citizen of France J. R. D had to enlist in the army for at least 1 year. In between the Grammar school and his time in the army, he spent a brief spell at home in Bombay. After joining the French Army he was posted into the regiment called Spahis (The Sepoys). Upon discovering Tata could not only read and write French and English,[10] but could type as well; the squadron Colonel had him assigned as a secretary in his office.

Tata was once again transferred to the more luxurious office of a colonel. After a 12-month period of conscription in the French Army he wanted to proceed to Cambridge for further education, but his father decided to bring him back to India and he joined the Tata Company.

In 1929, Tata renounced his French citizenship and became an Indian citizen, and started working at Tata. In 1930 Tata married Thelma Vicaji, the niece of Jack Vicaji, a colourful lawyer whom he hired to defend him on a charge of driving his Bugatti too fast along Bombay's main promenade, Marine Drive. Previously he had been engaged to Dinbai Mehta, the future mother of The Economist editor Shapur Kharegat.

While Tata was born to a Parsi father, and his French mother converted to Zoroastrianism, JRD was agnostic. He found some Parsi religious customs like their funeral rites and their exclusiveness irksome. He adhered to the three basic tenets of Zoroastrianism, which were good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, but he did not profess belief or disbelief in God.[11]


When Tata was in tour, he was inspired by his friend's father, pioneer Louis Blériot, the first Man to fly across the English Channel, and took to flying. On 10 February 1929, Tata obtained the first pilot license issued in India.[12] He later came to be known as the father of Indian civil aviation. He founded India's first commercial airline, Tata Airlines in 1932, which became Air India in 1946, now India's national airline. He and Nevill Vintcent worked together in building Tata Airlines. They were also good friends. In 1929, J. R. D became one of the first Indians to be granted a commercial pilot's license. In 1932 Tata Aviation Service, the forerunner to Tata Airline and Air India, took to the skies.[citation needed] That same year he flew the first commercial mail flight to Juhu airport, in a Puss Moth.[13]

The first flight in the history of Indian aviation[clarification needed] lifted off from Drigh Road in Karachi with J. R. D at the controls of a Puss Moth.[when?] J. R. D nourished and nurtured his airline baby through to 1953, when the government of Jawaharlal Nehru nationalised Air India. It was a decision J. R. D had fought against tooth and nail.[citation needed]

He joined Tata Sons as an unpaid apprentice in 1925. In 1938, at the age of 34, Tata was elected Chairman of Tata Sons making him the head of the largest industrial group in India. He took over as Chairman of Tata Sons from his second cousin Nowroji Saklatwala. For decades, he directed the huge Tata Group of companies, with major interests in steel, engineering, power, chemicals and hospitality. He was famous for succeeding in business while maintaining high ethical standards – refusing to bribe politicians or use the black market.

Under his chairmanship, the assets of the Tata Group grew from US$100 million to over US$5 billion. He started with 14 enterprises under his leadership and half a century later on 26 July 1988, when he left, Tata Sons was a conglomerate of 95 enterprises which they either started or in which they had controlling interest.

He was the trustee of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust from its inception in 1932 for over half a century. Under his guidance, this Trust established Asia's first cancer hospital, the Tata Memorial Centre for Cancer, Research and Treatment, in Bombay in 1941. He also founded the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS, 1936), the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR, 1945), and the National Center for Performing Arts.

In 1945, he founded Tata Motors. In 1948, Tata launched Air India International as India's first international airline. In 1953, the Indian Government appointed Tata as Chairman of Air India and a director on the Board of Indian Airlines – a position he retained for 25 years. For his crowning achievements in aviation, he was bestowed with the title of Honorary Air Commodore of India.

Tata cared greatly for his workers. In 1956, he initiated a programme of closer 'employee association with management' to give workers a stronger voice in the affairs of the company. He firmly believed in employee welfare and espoused the principles of an eight-hour working day, free medical aid, workers' provident scheme, and workmen's accident compensation schemes, which were later, adopted as statutory requirements in India.

He was also a founding member of the first Governing Body of NCAER, the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi, India's first independent economic policy institute established in 1956. In 1968, he founded Tata Consultancy Services as Tata Computer Centre. In 1979, Tata Steel instituted a new practice: a worker being deemed to be "at work" from the moment he leaves home for work until he returns home from work. This made the company financially liable to the worker for any mishap on the way to and from work. In 1987, he founded Titan Industries. Jamshedpur was also selected as a UN Global Compact City because of the quality of life, conditions of sanitation, roads and welfare that were offered by Tata Steel.[14]

Support of emergency powers in 1975[edit]

Tata was also controversially supportive of the declaration of emergency powers by Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, in 1975. He is quoted to have told a reporter of the New York Times, "things had gone too far. You can't imagine what we've been through here—strikes, boycotts, demonstrations. Why, there were days I couldn't walk out of my office into the street. The parliamentary system is not suited to our needs."[15]

Awards and honours[edit]

Tata on a 1994 stamp of India

Tata received a number of awards. He was conferred the honorary rank of group captain by the Indian Air Force in 1948, was promoted to the Air Commodore rank (equivalent to Brigadier in army) on 4 October 1966,[16] and was further promoted on 1 April 1974 to the Air Vice Marshal rank.[17] Several international awards for aviation were given to him – the Tony Jannus Award in March 1979, the Gold Air Medal of the Federation Aeronautique International in 1985, the Edward Warner Award of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Canada in 1986 and the Daniel Guggenheim Medal in 1988.[18] He received the Padma Vibhushan in 1955. The French Legion of Honour was bestowed on him in 1983. In 1992, because of his selfless humanitarian endeavours, Tata was awarded India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna. In the same year, Tata was also bestowed with the United Nations Population Award for his crusading endeavours towards initiating and successfully implementing the family planning movement in India,[19] much before it became an official government policy. In his memory, the Government of Maharashtra named its first double-decker bridge the Bharatratna JRD Tata Overbridge at Nasik Phata, Pimpri Chinchwad.[20]

Death and legacy[edit]

Tata died in Geneva, Switzerland on 29 November 1993 at the age of 89 of a kidney infection.[21] He said a few days before his passing: "Comme c'est doux de mourir" ("How gentle it is to die"). [22]

Upon his death, the Indian Parliament was adjourned in his memory – an honour not usually given to persons who are not members of parliament. He was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

In 2012, Tata was ranked the sixth "Greatest Indian" in an Outlook magazine poll, "conducted in conjunction with CNN-IBN and History18 Channels with BBC."[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shyam Swaraj: "Happy Birthday J.R.D Tata: I The Father Of Indian Aviation", dazeinfo.com, July 29, 2015. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  2. ^ A report in Vohuman.org Amalsad, Meher Dadabhoy. "Vohuman". Retrieved 11 April 2007.
  3. ^ "J. R. D. TATA". Tata Central Archives. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  4. ^ Pai 2004, p. 3.
  5. ^ Pai 2004, p. 7.
  6. ^ a b Pai 2004, p. 9.
  7. ^ "29 NOVEMBER 1993..." unitedstatesofindia.com. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  8. ^ Shafali. "Biography of jrd tata-Essay-Shafali". studymode.com. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  9. ^ Pai 2004, p. 6.
  10. ^ R.M. Lala : Beyond the last Blue Mountains, Life of J. R. D. Tata
  11. ^ Biswas, Ashit (23 November 2003). "For JRD, service was religion - Industry icon died 10 years ago, but legacy lives on". The Telegraph. Retrieved 24 November 2020.
  12. ^ "Bombay Flying Club First Annual Report". Flight Global. 1 August 1929. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  13. ^ "Juhu aerodrome: Is India's first civil airport set to rise again?". Yahoo News India. Retrieved 6 December 2020.
  14. ^ "The glory of J. R. D", UN Global Compact Cities Programme, retrieved 25 July 2013
  15. ^ Guha, Ramachandran (25 July 2013). The glory of J. R. D (2007 ed.). India: Pan Books. p. 110. ISBN 978-0-330-54022-3.
  16. ^ "Part I-Section 4: Ministry of Defence (Air Branch)". The Gazette of India. 15 October 1966. p. 634.
  17. ^ "IAF confers honorary Group Captain rank on Tendulkar". The Hindu. Special Correspondent. 23 June 2010. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 24 June 2020.CS1 maint: others (link)
  18. ^ Sachin in IAF blues (23 June 2010). "Blog: Honorary commissions in the IAF". StratPost. Retrieved 7 October 2015.
  19. ^ "Industrialists:JRD Tata – Made Tatas the largest Business House in India of his times". ewritersportal.com. 20 November 2010. Archived from the original on 13 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014.
  20. ^ "Deputy CM to inaugurate flyover today | Pune News - Times of India". The Times of India. 15 February 2014. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  21. ^ Pai 2004, p. 32.
  22. ^ LALA, R. M. (1993). Beyond the last blue mountains. India: Penguin Books India. p. 1. ISBN 0140169016.
  23. ^ Sengupta, Uttam (20 August 2012). "A Measure Of The Man". Outlook. Retrieved 11 February 2021.


  • Pai, Anant (2004). JRD Tata: The Quiet Conqueror. Mumbai: India Book House. ISBN 8175084200.

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