The wait for Ratan Tata's biography gets longer

Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons Limited.
Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons Limited.

Summary

  • According to sources people close to the Tata Sons chairman emeritus, continue to consider the material that should finally go in print.

The long wait for the biography of India’s foremost businessman and philanthropist has become longer. And even uncertain.

The authorized biography of Ratan Tata by former bureaucrat Thomas Mathew is in limbo, two executives privy to the events said, two years after Harper Collins bagged its publishing rights for a record 2 crore, or 10 times what authors typically get paid for non-fiction work. According to these executives, people close to the Tata Sons chairman emeritus, including some Tata family members, continue to consider the material that should finally go in print.

Mathew had shared the manuscript with Tata in January 2022, and Harper Collins had initially planned to release the book, titled Ratan Tata-A Life on 7 November 2022. The release date was deferred to 30 March 2023, and further to 5 February this year. The book has not come out yet, and Harper Collins does not have a date when it will release the book either.

“Family members of Mr Tata are considering what things he initially spoke (with the author) should be shared in public," said the first executive, declining to share details.

“Less than half a dozen people know the real reason behind this delay," said a second executive. “All I can say is that a man of his stature needs time to process all that should be published. But before you conclude on what parts are being objected (to), please appreciate that this is an authorized book and the author and the publisher will not have any objection to removing any content as asked by Mr Tata."

“We can confirm that the publication of Ratan Tata: The Authorised Biography by Dr Thomas Mathew has been delayed," said a spokesperson for HarperCollins. “We will share the revised publication date as soon as we are able," said the publisher, adding that it does not have anything more to share.

Emails sent to Tata’s office and Mathew remained unanswered.

“The writing process had its share of highs and lows," said the second executive, saying the book details Tata’s childhood and personal life and unreported events that led to the ouster of former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry.

After training to be an architect at Cornell university in the US, Tata joined the group in 1962 which was then led by his uncle Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata. After becoming chairman of Tata Sons in 1991, Tata led the group through a journey of growth, consolidation and acquisitions, lifting its revenue by over 100 times, from $5.9 billion to $100 billion, until he stepped down as chairman in 2012. Some of Tata group’s notable acquisitions during his stewardship of the group include Corus Steel (now Tata Steel UK), Jaguar-Land Rover and Tetley.

Tata, now 86, was also the group’s interim chair between October 2016 and February 2017, when he entrusted Natarajan Chandrasekaran as the boss.

The Tata group, the country’s largest conglomerate, counts 29 listed companies, together valued at more than $360 billion, attracting the attention of rival business groups, analysts, journalists and authors. More than two dozen books in English have been penned on the Tata group, Ratan Tata and his uncle J. R. D. Tata, more than any other business group.

The authorized biography has been branded as the “only comprehensive, definitive and authorized account of Mr Tata’s life and times". This was because of the access Mathew had, including being given private papers, confidential correspondences, and multiple meetings with Tata over two years.

This suspense as to when the Tata biography will hit the stands underscores the challenges faced by writers of business biographies. Many authorized biographies turn out to be hagiographies while independent and critical analyses of business leaders are often shunned by publishers, fearful of defamation lawsuits.

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