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Jaguar in sight, Tatas growl at snooty hotel

Dec. 20: The Tatas looked all set on Thursday to acquire luxury car marques Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motor Company of the US, but their global ambitions also ignited an uncharacteristic war of words with reputed hotel chain Orient Express.

The deal with Ford Motor for Jaguar and Land Rover has been virtually wrapped up with an announcement expected as early as tomorrow, though some sources said the Tatas might have to wait until January.

But while Ford Motors and unions were ready to roll out the red carpet, the Tatas were embroiled in an intemperate slanging match with Bermuda-based Orient Express Hotels, which recently rebuffed their overtures for an alliance.

Orient Express president and CEO Paul White had referred to the Tata hospitality venture as a “predominantly domestic Indian” firm.

Last night, R.K. Krishna Kumar, the vice-chairman of Indian Hotels Company Ltd, demanded an apology from Orient Express for tarnishing the reputation of the “proud Indian company” through insinuations.

The battle with Orient Express has evoked memories of Lakshmi Mittal’s hostile bid for Arcelor, Europe’s largest steelmaker, in 2006. The then Arcelor CEO had said in derision: “They (the Mittals) make eau de cologne, we make perfume.”

The episode underscored the hostile attitude that Indians could expect to face when they try to either acquire or invade the boards of the world’s best-known companies.

Commerce minister Kamal Nath today waded into the battle and urged American business councils to condemn Orient Express and teach the super luxury hotel chain a lesson.

“Asia is known for hospitality and it is disappointing that people do not understand this,” Nath said. “I would urge the US government to enlighten Orient Hotels (the Bermuda group has big plans in America). They have to understand that today Indian entrepreneurs and intellectuals are respected worldwide and they should also do so.”

Nath had come out in strong support of Lakshmi Mittal when he launched his bid for Arcelor.

India has had a lot to crow about: last week, Vikram Pandit was picked to head troubled financial giant Citigroup.

Krishna Kumar ended his letter to Orient Express with a dire warning: he said the Tata group — who acquired Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus for $12 billion this year — would “persevere with its global expansion strategy”.

“We believe that those with a fossilised frame of mind risk being marginalised,” Kumar said in the letter to Orient Express.

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