Home / Opinion / Columns /  The man I knew: Padma Bhushan Dr Jamshed J Irani
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On Tuesday morning, I woke up to the sorrowful news of J.J. Irani’s demise. He was someone I always deeply admired from afar, but having had the privilege to know him intimately over the past three decades, the pain of no longer having an exceptional mentor and—dare I say—wise old friend, feels all the more acute. My family and I offer our deepest condolences to his wife Daisy Irani, his three children, Zubin, Niloufer and Tanaaz and his loved ones.

This column is far too constrained a space to capture Irani’s entire legacy and, more personally, the impact his life had on mine. Sir J.J. Irani, as he was given an honorary knighthood in 1997 by the Late Queen Elizabeth II, was a towering personality in Jamshedpur, my home constituency. He was associated with Tata Steel and Jamshedpur for more than four decades. It is a smile-inducing quirk that his name is quite literally a large part of the city named Jamshedpur.

Twenty-eight years ago, while Jamshedpur was still part of Bihar and reeling under mafia terror, it was Irani, then managing director of Tata Steel, who requested the Bihar government to bring in an officer who could cure the problem in the Steel City. And as fate would have it, I had the pleasure of serving my wonderful city and interacting closely with the man who commanded such a presence within the city and the state.

I did not know it then, but it was the first time that Irani’s actions had such an indelible impact on my life. It was hardly the last, though. Over my tenure as Superintendent of Police in Jamshedpur, I received immense support from him on numerous fronts. He was endlessly generous with his time and his resources if it would help the city that he loved so dearly.

I still remember his characteristic ‘Ok Ajoy’ to my various requests - from allotment of company quarters for town out-posts (TOPs), to assisting with installation of traffic lights at every junction. Irani’s aim was to have a safe Jamshedpur, and he supported me and the entire administration in trying to ensure that ‘Safe Jamshedpur’ was not a pipe dream.

Thus, it brought me great joy when my colleagues and I managed to change Jamshedpur from a “city of crime" to the “city of joy and peace". This was, in no small measure, thanks to the efforts and contributions of Irani. His impact can be seen all over Jamshedpur, be it the roads, sports facilities, the hospital, schools, or the bridges (for example, the Mango Bridge) spread across the city. Much like Jamshedpur on a sunny day, it is near impossible to find a part of the city where his impact on the city does not shimmer.

Later, I also had the privilege of working with Irani at Tata Steel, the organization that gave him the platform to earn the nickname of the Steel Man of India. During my time with the Tatas, I remember his constant support in helping me acclimatize to the corporate world. He displayed many of the characteristics analogous to the metal that he is so dearly associated with, namely his steely determination and malleability to take into account a perspective that may be at odds with his. This was exactly what Tata Steel required after the passing of Russi Mody, when Tata Steel faced several challenges including a changing global landscape and falling profitability. However, under Irani’s stewardship, Tata Steel was able to reinvent itself with a focus on quality and customer satisfaction and under his leadership, Tata Steel posted a 31% increase in net profit despite trying circumstances.

Other than the qualities that I briefly outlined above, the one quality that I admired the most in Irani was his integrity. No wonder then that he was selected to chair the central government’s expert committee on corporate governance and company law. I can think of no better choice for such a task. As demonstrated in his own life, his perspective was that when it came to a company or any organization, good corporate governance and an appetite for growth were not incompatible, but instead were different elements that together formed a stronger alloy.

Irani will be missed dearly but as I read recently in a wonderful book, “Death ends a life, not a relationship" and so, I can only be grateful for the relationship we were able to foster during his time here. We will miss you, Dr. Irani.

Ajoy Kumar is a former IPS officer and a member of Parliament from Jamshedpur.

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