World Business Leaders: Jamsetji Tata

Jamsetji Tata
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Jamsetji Tata started the huge industrial company 'Tata'. Steve Myersco and Marina Santee tell the story of how his industry helped India towards its goal of independence.

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Voice 1

Hello and welcome to Spotlight. I’m Steve Myersco,

Voice 2

And I’m Marina Santee. This programme uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3

“When you must be a leader in actions and ideas... When you must lead in a direction that does not fit with common opinion... That takes true courage. It is this kind of courage and imagination that Jamsetji Tata showed.”

Voice 1

This is the way Pandit Nehru described Jamsejji Tata. Nehru was the was the first prime minister of India. And he was talking about a man who changed the history of India. Jamsetji Tata started the great Indian industrial group that still has his name, Tata. The company is huge today with many different kinds of business. By building this company, Jamsetji Tata helped to make India a strong industrial nation.

Voice 2

Today’s Spotlight is all about the man that people called “the father of Indian industry”. It is one of a short series of Spotlight programmes about world business leaders.

Voice 1

Jamsetji Tata was born in 1839. He was born in the town of Navsari in Gujurat. Jamsetji’s father was a wealthy man. He was a merchant banker, lending money for trade. The young Jamsetji studied at Elphinstone College in Bombay. He was a very good student. When he reached the age of 20, he was ready to work in his father’s bank.

Voice 2

Tata learned fast. He travelled to Hong Kong and China. He helped his father to set up trade deals in England. At the age of 29 he set up his own trading company. The profits from this company were the start of his success in industry.

Voice 1

At this time, India was part of the British Empire. The Empire was ruled by Queen Victoria. The British enjoyed the riches of India. Tata felt strongly that this was wrong. But he did not believe in fighting wars for independence. He believed that India had to build up its own industry or it would never be truly independent. He used to say, ‘Let the Indian learn to do things for himself.’

Voice 2

The first business he was involved with was cotton. He learned about the cotton mills in England. These factories were making cloth. He thought that workers in India could do the same job at a lower cost. So he started a cotton mill in Bombay. Then he started a much larger one, the Empress Mills, in Nagpur. In 1886, he opened a factory in Bombay called the Svadeshi Mill. The name means ‘local products for local people.’ In India, the name represented the desire of Indians to have their own industries.

Voice 1

Tata believed that India needed to become strong in three main areas. These areas were scientific knowledge, electric power and steel making. He devoted the rest of his life to these three things. He travelled to the United States, Germany and Japan. He learned about the progress of industry in these countries. He established the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. This was a place for teaching the newest methods in science and engineering. It was the first of many similar places of learning that opened in India in the 20th century.

Voice 2

One of the things that was different about Tata’s companies was the way he managed them. He did not like the traditional idea of a family business. At the Empress Mills in Nagpur, he tried a new management structure. He had a managing director. He also had a board of directors. This group of people were responsible for the managing director. The idea of spreading power down an organisation is known as delegation. Delegation helps good managers to develop and improve.

Voice 1

Like many rich businessmen, Tata spent time thinking about what it means to have great wealth. He did not feel any shame about his wealth. He supported and encouraged the rights of people who create wealth. But he also believed that serving the community was the main purpose of a business. He gave money to many projects to help the poor. Once, there was a terrible sickness in Bombay. It was the bubonic plague. Tata supported the work of a Russian doctor in making vaccines. These vaccines protected people from infection. And Tata gave money to a Christian group, the Salvation Army. They worked with poor women and prisoners in Bombay.

Voice 2

Tata did not favour one religion over another. For example, he wrote to his son giving some rules for the building of a town for his workers. That town is Jamshedpur. It still stands today. Tata wrote that the town should be a beautiful place for people of all religions to share.

Voice 4

“Plant every kind of quick-growing trees. Be sure that there is plenty of space for grass and flowers. Set aside large areas for sport, such as football and hockey. And give land for the building of mosques, Hindu temples and Christian churches.”

Voice 1

Some of Tata’s dreams did not come true until after his death in 1904. In 1910, the Tata company built a large electricity generator near Bombay. It used water power to supply electricity to the cotton mills of Bombay. And soon after his death, Jamsetji’s sons set up the Tata Iron and Steel company. By the time of the Second World War it had become the largest steel company in the British Commonwealth.

Voice 2

Today Tata is a huge international group of companies. It contains many different businesses. These include a steel company, a car company, a tea company, and many more. The Tata Group is now worth about 60 billion dollars. It employs over 300,000 people.

Voice 1

However, Jamsetji Tata’s influence remains in the Tata company today. The company says that it spends about 30 percent of its profit each year on community projects. And Tata still supports teaching and research. We will end this Spotlight programme with the words of JRD Tata. JRD Tata led the business for over 50 years from 1938. He said:

Voice 5

“The wealth gathered by Jamsetji Tata and his sons is only a small part of the amount by which they enriched the nation. The whole of that wealth is held in trust for the people. The wealth is used only to help the people. The circle is therefore complete; what came from the people has gone back to the people many times over.”

Voice 2

This writers of the programme were Peter Laverock and Steve Myersco. The producer was Steve Myersco. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. You can hear more Spotlight programmes on our website at The programme is called ‘World Business Leaders: Jamsetji Tata.’ Remember to listen out for more programmes in this series. Thank you for listening. Goodbye.

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Who is the most famous business leader from your country? What business do they do?


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said on January 10, 2011

Tata was a very great man.
I would like to follow him.

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said on January 16, 2011

This is the first time I hear about tata, But I think
this person have very interestingly thought.

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said on February 22, 2012

let’s work for the community and for life.

Avatar Spotlight
said on February 23, 2012


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Vương Quỳnh Trang
said on February 25, 2012

thank guys

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D Nguyen
said on February 27, 2012

To be a great entreprenuer like TaTa or Bill Gates is my dream, I know that wealth does not equal riches or money, the more you do for your community, your country, the wealthier you are.

Avatar Spotlight
said on June 14, 2019

That is the problem! Brazil was a colony of Portugal and the Portuguese who come to Brazil never thought to make Brazil his new country. The central idea ever was to explore the land the most possible; gather a large amount of money, and retired to Portugal, to enjoy a sweet and rich retirement.
So, then, the feeling of aggrandizing the country has never been established in our collective unconscious and that remains to this day.
The great industries surged disappeared with the globalization and I have no hope that this situation changes one day…