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Tata tells it as it is

Mumbai, Dec. 28: Ratan Tata hung up his boots in the same measured and decorous manner in which he had presided over a conglomerate for 21 years, not balking at warning of harsher times but taking care to remember some of the most gut-wrenching moments the Tata Group went through.

In a farewell note addressed to the group’s 4.5 lakh employees, Tata forewarned: “The difficult economic environment that we face in the current year will most likely continue through most of the next year. We will probably see continued constraints in consumer demand, over-capacity and increased competition from imports.”

Tata, who turned 75 today and will be succeeded as chairman by Cyrus Mistry tomorrow, listed the tasks facing the group — which can also be termed as a things-to-do list for corporate India.

“There will, therefore, be great pressure on our companies to reinvent themselves in terms of business processes and to dramatically reduce costs, to be more aggressive in the market place and to widen our product range to better address consumer demands. We will also need to contain our borrowings and work hard to retain our margins. This environment would once again call on you for your support, your commitment and your dedication to achieve success in these somewhat difficult times,” his farewell letter said.

If Tata stuck to his style and steered clear of theatrics and purple prose that often mark such milestones in family-run businesses, he did express optimism about a turnaround in the letter that he wrote “the last time… to you prior to my retirement as the chairman”.

“This seemingly gloomy picture, however, will be a passing phase. I feel confident that the robust growth that India has shown over the last several years will be re-established and the strong fundamentals in the country will result in India once again taking its place as one of the economic success stories of the region,” he added in the letter.

He catalogued the accomplishments of the group in the past 20 years to suggest that “we have every reason to feel proud and feel confident in facing the challenges ahead”.

Tata spent his last day as chairman at the Tata Motors factory in Pune, skipping Bombay House, the group headquarters.

“At the request of the union, I spent the day — my last day prior to retirement, in the Tata Motors’ various manufacturing facilities at Pune to say farewell to my shop-floor colleagues. We have been together in good times and bad and have gained closeness based on mutual trust,” tweeted Tata, an architect who had spent considerable time at the plant when Indica, the first passenger car from the group, was being conceived.

Tata, who will be chairman emeritus of the group, did not forget to refer to some of the searing events that marked his term.

“I feel immensely proud of the manner in which the employees and the companies have come together in facing crises from time to time. These have included adverse market conditions, natural calamities like earthquakes and tsunamis and gruesome acts of terrorism,” he wrote, without making a direct reference to 26/11 when the Taj Mahal hotel was attacked and its flaming towers captured the trauma of one of the greatest cities of the world.

Tata briefly broke free of his professional demeanour to pay tribute to heroic acts then. “The memories of personal sacrifices, loyalty and individual acts of heroism will always remain in my memory, to reinforce the great sense of pride I have in having been a member of this,” he wrote.

He referred to the group’s ethical values, which many consider are one of its biggest assets. “The Tata Group will undoubtedly play an important role in the continued development of the country, providing leadership in various industrial segments in which they operate and living by the value systems and ethical standards on which our Group was founded.”

Tata then referred to Mistry and solicited the “same support” that he enjoyed from the other employees of the group. “The Tata Group will be led in the coming years by Cyrus Mistry. I am sure that he will receive from you the same support, the same commitment and the same understanding that I have enjoyed over the years.”

The outgoing chairman, who began the letter by wishing colleagues and their families, signed off by hoping the group “grows and shines in the coming years”.


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