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The social gene

“Delivering return on investment is a necessity if you want to keep your job as a CEO of a publicly traded business. Serving the collective good, well, that’s something for idealized socialist theory," writes Peter Casey in The Greatest Company In The World? The Story Of Tata. In the book, Casey looks at the Tata group—the steel to technology consultancy and cars conglomerate—through the filters of working for the good of society, staying profitable and being a good employer.

Casey, founder and executive chairman of the US-headquartered recruitment agency Claddagh Resources, uses data as well as anecdotes. In a chapter titled “The Importance Of Passion", Casey
retells the story of how Jamsetji Tata’s obsession with recruiting the right people took him outside India. Edited excerpts:

Steve Jobs was passionate about creativity and innovation, a combination he parlayed into Apple, which has designed revolutionary products. Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, was passionate about cosmetics as a means of making women feel good about themselves. George Eastman, consumed with photography from a very young age, founded Eastman Kodak Company. Jamsetji Tata was also passionate, but his passion stemmed from a deep desire to change his part of the world. It was his life’s mission.

Unlike most entrepreneurs, Jamsetji started a business as a way to make other things possible, not because he was particularly inspired by cotton or textiles. He was passionate about excellence, however, which he applied to every aspect of his life. It was a passion that drove him to build the best business possible, providing the best care and opportunities for employees and generating the most revenue possible—ultimately to benefit the surrounding community. The same level of passion was also evident in J.R.D. Tata, who found a way to merge his love of flying with his family’s growing enterprise. Founding an airline that provided a mail service and then a passenger service connected India in a way that had not been possible before. His passion fuelled a new type of travel as well as the expansion of the Tata empire.

‘Ratan Tata is passionate about what he believes in,’ Tata Sons executive director R. Gopalakrishnan says. Where previous leaders had outside interests, Ratan was more focused on doing what is best for the company. He was passionate about his work, reliant on his capable staff, and known for his decisiveness. According to his staff, few of his decisions ever required more than forty-eight hours to make.

Cyrus Mistry is also passionate and has begun making hard decisions about how to improve performance at some of the Tata units.

An air of excitement

Entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they invest their time in stand out. Their enthusiasm for their work is evident in how they walk, how they talk, the expressions they use, and how engaged they are with others. Their enthusiasm is contagious, even when they are discussing subjects unrelated to their business. They have about them an air of confidence and positive energy.

It is clear that the leaders of Tata were passionate about their work—not how they made money, but how they used the money they made to serve those around them. Stories continue to circulate about how Jamsetji Tata approached experts to ask for their help in bringing about major changes in India. One such anecdote involves Charles Page Perin, an American metallurgical engineer tapped by Jamsetji to help build a steel plant in India. In describing their first meeting, Perin recalled, ‘I was poring over some accounts in the office when the door opened and a stranger in a strange garb entered. He walked in, leaned over my desk and looked at me fully a minute in silence. Finally, he said in a deep voice, “Are you Charles Page Perin?" I said, “Yes." He stared at me again silently for a long time, and then slowly he said, “I believe I have found the man I have been looking for. I want you to come to India with me, to find suitable iron ore and coking coal and the necessary fluxes. Mr Kennedy will build the steel plant wherever you advise and I will foot the bill. Will you come to India with me?"

‘I was dumbfounded, naturally,’ Perin admits. ‘But you don’t know what character and force radiated from Tata’s face. And kindliness, too. “Well," I said, “yes, I’d go." And I did.’

Jamsetji had that effect on people. His passion for his life’s work radiated from him, drawing others to him in support of his work. Much the same can be said of the Tata leaders who succeeded him. Their personal commitment to their work attracted others who supported their altruism and philanthropy. Who, after all, could argue with a man who wanted only what was best for his nation and its people?

The book releases on 4 August.

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