Written by 12:02 pm Great Indians

JRD TATA: The Man Behind India’s First Flight and Great Business Heights


The man who gave India a pair of wings and the first flight- a visionary, idealistic, and an enterprising industrialist who established a conglomerate that has built a legacy over the years…a man who had business on his mind and philanthropy in his heart… the legendary business baron- JRD Tata.

Early Life: The Dawn of a Bright Future

JRD Tata
JRD Tata

Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata was born on July 29, 1904, in a wealthy Parsi family in Paris, France. His father was a Parsi while his mother was French. As a result, he spent many years of his early life in France and spoke French more fluently than English. While spending his childhood days in France, he once met Louis Bleriot- the aviation pioneer who was the first to fly solo across the English Channel.

As a young child, JRD Tata was hugely influenced by this meeting and was instantly fascinated by the world of aircraft and flight. The seeds of aviation were perhaps sowed at an early age, which blossomed later with age and time. During the difficult times of the First World War, his father Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata decided to move his family to London. However, soon after shifting to London, JRD Tata lost his mother and the family decided to move back to their roots in India.

A Rising Star: In the Spring of Life

On returning to India, JRD Tata joined the family business as an unpaid apprentice at a young age of 21. He was young, ambitious, and full of ideas. He had dreams and a vision to steer his family business and make it big in the world establishing it as one of the largest industrial houses in the country. He was a futuristic man and to give shape to his dreams he gave up his French citizenship at the age of 25 and took up Indian citizenship. Thus began the journey of a young man full of dreams in his heart and a business model in his head that would revolutionize the Indian industry for years to come.

Spreading Wings in the Indian Skies: The Father of the Indian Aviation Industry

A young JRD’s meeting with the aviation pioneer way back in France had left an impeccable mark on his mind. Perhaps it was then that he had decided that he would one day make it big in the aviation industry. As a young lad, he was intrigued by aircraft and was determined to touch the skies as a skilled pilot. He had to wait for many years to accomplish this dream.

In 1929, he was one of the very few who were granted a commercial pilot’s license. His dream journey finally took off. The next year, 1930 was another landmark year for the young Tata. He tied the knot with Thelma Vicaji Tata affectionately called ‘Thelly’ who joined him in his eventful journey of life as his better half.

Often hailed as the ‘Father of the Indian Aviation Industry’, JRD Tata took some exemplary steps to build and nurture the aviation business in India. In 1932, he established the first Airmail services connecting Bombay to Ahmedabad and Karachi. In 1934, when JRD Tata took over as the Chairman of the industrial group, he renamed his brainchild-the Tata Airmail Services as Tata Airlines which emerged as India’s first domestic carrier.

The great visionary had taught India not just to fly in the open skies but also how dreams come true with sheer hard work and determination. Years later, in 1953 Tata Airlines was nationalized as Air India. By then his venture had been reshaped by national bureaucratic policies, yet his passion and foresight in establishing the first air services in India shall always live along.

Steering the Journey of the TATA Group of Companies

‘Jehangir’ or the ‘Conqueror’ as his name stands for, truly exemplifies his character and deeds. Starting as a humble apprentice in the company, he went on to head the Tata group of companies for over 50 years and establish it as a brand that brought India to light on the industrial map. He played a pivotal role in the expansion and diversification of the company venturing into unchartered areas like iron and steel, chemicals, locomotives, textiles, luxury hotels, mobile phones, apparels, watches, jewellery, tea and even the common salt. There is hardly any Indian household that is untouched by a Tata product. Such was the Midas touch of JRD Tata that he accomplishedevery dream that he saw.

JRD Tata’s contribution to the Tata group can be gauged from the fact that when he took reins of the company it was a conglomerate of just 14 companies with an annual sales turnover of 280 crores. He relentlessly steered the group with his outstanding vision and hardwork and built an empire that later boasted of 50 or more odd companies churning an annual turnover of over 15000 crores. Only a man with an astounding dream and undeterred determination could have achieved this feat.

JRD Tata was not just a businessman with sharp acumen, he was a ‘People’s man’.  He always said “I do not want India to be an economic superpower. I want India to be a happy country.” True to his words, he always treated his staff as his greatest assets and practised management techniques which were far ahead of his times. He is known to have nurtured some of the best managers and business leaders in his conglomerate who later contributed and took the group to advanced heights under his guidance.

Giving Back to the Society: Business Beyond Profits

Besides engineering valuable efforts in building India’s civil aviation industry, JRD Tata is also widely known and remembered for his philanthropic deeds. He was a great patron of science, medicine, sports and the performing arts. The Tata Thelma Trust, the Tata Memorial Hospital, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and the National Centre for the Performing Arts are all valuable initiatives started by JRD Tata and carried forward by his predecessors.

jrd tata sports complex
JRD TATA sports complex

Building on the dreams of his forefathers, JRD Tata actively promoted sports especially in the TATA Iron and Steel township in Jamshedpur. The JRD Tata Sports Complex and Training Academy is a testimonial to this fact and is the breeding ground for young and talented sportspersons from across the country.

JRD TATA: An Unparalleled Legacy

There is no doubt that JRD Tata was highly instrumental in building one of the largest industrial conglomerates of his times that only grew in size and stature over time. His efforts and endeavours in enhancing India’s business capabilities were widely recognized nationally and globally. The Indian government bestowed him with the highest civilian award the Bharat Ratna in the year 1992 years after the French government honoured him with the Legion of Honor in 1983.The United Nations acknowledged his efforts in social welfare and in spreading awareness about family planning in India, by awarding him the United Nations Population Award.

The business tycoon and the stalwart of Indian industry breathed his last on 29 November 1993 but what he left behind was a deep and profound legacy of hard work, sheer determination and an extraordinary vision that continues to encourage and guide not just his heirs but every budding business mind who dreams of making it big one day.

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