The Amazing Story of How Ratan Tata Built an Empire

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He's packing his bags -- again. December 2012, when he turns 75, is the third scheduled retirement for Ratan Tata.

The Tata Group has been at this inflection point twice earlier, and stepped back both times. In 2002, when Tata was to retire at 65, the Tata Sons board promptly redesignated him non-executive chairman, which meant he could continue for another five years.

Three years later, the board upped the retirement age of non-executive directors to 75. The message is clear: Ratan Tata is indispensable.

And it's not just the board that feels that way. There were loud cries of support from shareholders at the Tata Steel AGM in August, held soon after the announcement that Tata Sons had created a panel to find Tata's successor.

"We can't lose our ratan (jewel)," said one shareholder, while others asked him to stay on as chairman emeritus.

Whether or not he acknowledges it openly, Tata must be feeling vindicated by this public recognition of his worth. When he took over as Tata Group chairman on March 25, 1991, critics were loud and unrestrained in their disapproval and scepticism.

Ratan Tata was considered to have gained his position purely on the strength of his surname; he was incompetent, raged opponents both within and outside Bombay House, and he didn't possess an iota of the charisma of his uncle and predecessor, JRD Tata.

Nearly 20 years later, Ratan Tata has achieved almost everything on his 1991 agenda. At Rs 3.46 lakh crore (Rs 3.46 trillion), Tata Group revenue is 40 times the 1991 level, while net profit has gone up four times.
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