Born:July 29, 1904
Died: on November 29, 1993
Achievements: He had the honor of being India’s first pilot; was Chairman of Tata & Sons for 50 years; launched Air India International as India’s first international airline; received Bharat Ratna in 1992.
JRD Tata was one of the most enterprising Indian entrepreneurs. He was a pioneer aviator and built one of the largest industrial houses of India.
JRD Tata was born on July 29, 1904 in Paris. His mother was a French, while his father was Parsi. JRD’s full name was Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and he was popularly known as Jeh to his friends. JRD’s father Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and Sri Jamsetji Tata shared their greatness from the same great-great-grandfather, Ervad Jamsheed Tata, a priest of Navsari.
JRD Tata was the second of four children. He was educated in France, Japan and England before being drafted into the French army for a mandatory one-year period. JRD wanted to extend his service in the forces but destiny had something else in store for him. By leaving the French army JRD’s life was saved because shortly thereafter, the regiment in which he served was totally wiped out during an expedition in Morocco.
JRD Tata joined Tata & Sons as an unpaid apprentice in 1925. He has great interest in flying. On February 10, 1929, JRD became the first Indian to pass the pilot’s examination. With this distinctive honor of being India’s first pilot, he was instrumental in giving wings to India by building Tata Airlines, which ultimately became Air India. His passion for flying was fulfilled with the formation of the Tata Aviation Service in 1932.
In 1938, at the age of 34, JRD was elected Chairman of Tata & Sons making him the head of the largest industrial group in India. He started with 14 enterprises under his leadership and half a century later on July 26, 1988, when he left , Tata & Sons was a conglomerate of 95 enterprises which they either started or in which they had controlling interest.
JRD was the trustee of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust from its inception in 1932, which remained under his wings for over half a century. Under his guidance, this Trust established Asia’s first cancer hospital, the Tata Memorial Center for Cancer, Research and Treatment, Bombay, 1941. It also founded the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, 1936 (TISS), the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, 1945 (TIFR), and the National Center for Performing Arts.
In 1948, JRD Tata launched Air India International as India’s first international airline. In 1953, the Indian Government appointed JRD as Chairman of Air-India and a director on the Board of Indian Airlines-a position JRD retained for 25-years. For his crowning achievements in Aviation, JRD was bestowed with the title of Honorary Air Commodore of India.
In 1956, JRD Tata initiated a program 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.
JRD Tata cared greatly for his workers. In 1979, Tata Steel instituted a new practice; a worker is deemed to be “at work” from the moment he leaves home for work till he returns home from work. The company is financially liable to the worker if any mishap takes place on the way to and from work. Tata Steel Township 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.
JRD Tata received a number of awards. He received the Padma Vibhushan in 1957 on the eve of silver jubilee of Air India. He also received the Guggenheim Medal for aviation in 1988. In 1992, because of his selfless humanitarian endeavors, JRD Tata was awarded India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna-one of the rarest instances in which this award was granted during a person’s lifetime. In the same year, JRD Tata was also bestowed with the United Nations Population Award for his crusading endeavors towards initiating and successfully implementing the family planning movement in India, much before it became an official government policy.
JRD Tata died in Geneva, Switzerland on November 29, 1993 at the age of 89. On his death, the Indian Parliament was adjourned in his memory-an honor not usually given to persons who are not Members of Parliament.