Ratan Tata was born in Bombay, now Mumbai, on 28 December 1937, and is the son of Naval Tata
(born in Surat). His biological maternal grandmother had been the sister of Hirabai Tata,
wife of group founder Jamshedji Tata. His biological grandfather, Hormusji Tata, had
belonged to the broader Tata family; Ratan therefore was a Tata by birth. Parents Naval and
Sonoo separated in 1948 when Ratan was 10, and he was subsequently raised by the widow of
Sir Ratanji Tata, his grandmother, Navajbai Tata, who formally adopted him through the J. N.
Petit Parsi Orphanage. He has a half-brother, Noel Tata (from Naval Tata's second marriage
with Simone Tata), with whom he was raised. His first language is Gujarati.
He studied at the Campion School, Mumbai till the 8th class, followed by Cathedral and John
Connon School, Mumbai and at Bishop Cotton School in Shimla, and, in 1955, graduated from
Riverdale Country School in New York City. In 1959, he then received a degree in
Architecture from Cornell University, and in 1975, attended the seven-week Advanced
Management Program of Harvard Business School — an institution which he has since endowed.
Promoted to management during the 1970s; he then endured trial by ordeal and was able to
turn Group company National Radio and Electronics (NELCO) around, only to see it collapse
during an economic slowdown. In 1991, J. R. D. Tata stepped down as chairman of Tata Sons,
naming him his successor. When he settled down into the new role, he faced stiff resistance
from many companies heads, some of whom had spent decades in their respective companies and
rose to become very powerful and influential due to the freedom to operate under JRD Tata.
He began replacing them by setting a retirement age, and then made individual companies
report operationally to the group office and made each contribute some of their profit to
build and use the Tata group brand. Innovation was given priority and younger talent was
infused and given responsibilities. Under his stewardship, overlapping operations in group
companies were streamlined into a synergised whole, with the salt-to-software group exiting
unrelated businesses to take on globalisation.
During the 21 years he led the Tata Group, revenues grew over 40 times, and profit, over 50
times. Where sales of the group as a whole, overwhelmingly came from commodities when he
took over, the majority sales came from brands when he exited. He boldly got Tata Tea to
acquire Tetley, Tata Motors to acquire Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Steel to acquire Corus.
All this turned Tata from a largely India-centric group into a global business, with over
65% revenues coming from operations and sales in over 100 countries. He conceptualised the
Tata Nano car. In 2015, He explained in an interview for the Harvard Business School's
Creating Emerging Markets project, the development of the Tata Nano was significant because
it helped put cars at a price-point within reach of the average Indian consumer.
Ratan Tata resigned his executive powers in the Tata group on 28 December 2012, upon turning
75, appointing as his successor, Cyrus Mistry, the 44-year-old son of Pallonji Mistry of the
Shapoorji Pallonji Group, the largest individual shareholder of the group and related by
marriage. On 24 October 2016, Cyrus Mistry was removed as the chairman of Tata Sons and
Ratan Tata was made interim chairman. The decision went through intense media scrutiny that
made many scrutinize the root causes of the sudden removal, and the resultant crisis. A
selection committee was formed to find a successor. The selection committee consisted of Mr.
Tata, TVS Group head Venu Srinivasan, Amit Chandra of Bain Capital, former diplomat Ronen
Sen and Lord Kumar Bhattacharya. All of them, except Mr. Bhattacharya, were on the board of
Tata Sons. On 12 January 2017, Natarajan Chandrasekaran was named as the chairman of Tata
Sons, a role he assumed in February 2017.
Tata invested personal savings in Snapdeal – one of India's leading e-commerce websites
–and, in January 2016, Teabox, an online premium Indian Tea seller, and CashKaro.com, a
discount coupons and cash-back website. He has made small investments in both early and late
stage companies in India, such as INR 0.95 Cr in Ola Cabs. In April 2015, it was reported
that Tata had acquired a stake in Chinese smartphone startup Xiaomi. In October 2015, he
partnered with American Express, investing in Bitcoin venture Abra. In 2016, he invested
in Nestaway an online portal to find fully furnished flats for bachelors which later
acquired Zenify to start family rental segment and online pet care portal, Dogspot. Tata
Motors rolled out the first batch of Tigor Electric Vehicles from its Sanand Plant in
Gujarat, regarding which Ratan Tata said, "Tigor indicates a willingness to fast-forward
India's electric dream. The government has set an ambitious target to have only electric
cars by 2030."
Tata Sons vs. Cyrus Mistry
In one of the most dramatic developments in the recent past, the board of directors of Tata
Group on 24 October 2016 voted for the removal of its chairman Cyrus Mistry with immediate
effect and made Ratan Tata the interim chairman, and in February 2017, Mistry was removed as
a director for Tata Sons. The National Company Law Appellate Tribunal(NCLAT) had decided in
December 2019 that the removal of Cyrus Mistry as the Chairman of Tata Sons was illegal and
that he should be reinstated. India's Supreme Court heard an appeal by the $111-billion
conglomerate to quash the NCLAT order that directed the Tata group to rehire the man it
fired as chairman. Ratan Tata is personally leading the charge in the case, and filed a
separate petition challenging the ruling in the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has stayed
the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) order that allowed Cyrus Mistry to be
reinstated as Tata Sons chairman in January 2020.