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A record publishing deal for Ratan Tata's authorised biography

Tata Sons chairman emeritus Ratan Tata. HarperCollins has won a keenly contested global auction to publish Tata’s authorized biography (Photo: Mint)Premium
Tata Sons chairman emeritus Ratan Tata. HarperCollins has won a keenly contested global auction to publish Tata’s authorized biography (Photo: Mint)

The book is authored by a former senior bureaucrat and retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, Thomas Mathew, who received access to the private papers, correspondence and photographs of Ratan Tata over the past few years

An authorized biography of Tata Sons chairman emeritus Ratan Tata, one of India’s best-known industrialists and philanthropists, has set a record in non-fiction publishing in India, with HarperCollins winning a keenly contested global auction, according to three people familiar with the development who asked not to be named as they are not authorized to speak to the press.

The book is authored by a former senior bureaucrat and retired Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, Thomas Mathew, who received access to the private papers, correspondence and photographs of Ratan Tata over the past few years.

It’s an authoritative biography with rich details about the childhood, college years and early influences of Tata, one of the people cited above said, adding that it also carries previously unreported details about more recent episodes such as Tata’s Nano project, Tata Steel Ltd’s acquisition of Corus and the ouster of former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry.

The winning bid for the worldwide rights of the print, ebook and audiobook formats is learnt to be upwards of 2 crore. Rights for over-the-top (OTT) and film have been retained by the author, who is represented by Anish Chandy of Labyrinth Literary Agency.

HarperCollins India declined to comment. Mathew did not respond to text messages.

“The book saw a lot of interest. It’s definitely the biggest non-fiction deal from India," said a publisher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Book publishing is an opaque business in India, and deal figures are closely guarded, making objective comparisons across time difficult. Playing it My Way, Sachin Tendulkar’s 2014 biography, is another non-fiction book that witnessed a bidding war.

Publishers typically pay an advance to acquire the rights to a book from an author. Once they recoup that sum from the book’s sales, the author starts to receive royalties—a percentage ranging from 5-15% of the sale price. .

Mathew, who retired as additional secretary to former President Pranab Mukherjee after serving in different ministries, has authored two other books—The Winged Wonders of Rashtrapati Bhavan and Abode Under the Dome. He is also a regular op-ed commentator.

Born in 1937, Ratan Naval Tata, now 84, joined the company in 1964 and succeeded his uncle, J.R.D. Tata, as chairman of the group in 1981.

Under his leadership, the group acquired London-based Tetley Tea, the truck manufacturing operations of the Korean company Daewoo Motors, steelmaker Corus Group Plc and Jaguar Land Rover and more.

It’s been a year of books on the Tata group, which marked its 150th anniversary in 2018.

In June 2021, Penguin Random House India published #TataStories, a collection of inspirational stories about the group, written by the company’s brand custodian, Harish Bhat.

This was followed in July by Harvard University Press’s Tata: The Global Corporation That Built Indian Capitalism, authored by Mircea Raianu.

In August, Penguin Random House released the authorized biography of the Tata family, The Story of Tata: 1868 to 2021, by Irish-American businessman Peter Casey.

A book from Westland, published in July 2021, The Tatas, Freddie Mercury & Other Bawas: An Intimate History of the Parsis by Coomi Kapoor, also dwelt in detail on the industrialist family and their feuds.

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