By Vilasini Roy
THE STORY goes that the Taj Mahal Hotel was born during the British Raj when Tata Group founder Jamsetji Tata was refused entry into a European- owned hotel with a sign excluding ‘dogs and Indians’. Incensed, he vowed to build a luxury hotel open to Indians.
That story may not be true, but this one is: in the 1950s, a protectionist India banned import of foreign soaps and cosmetics. Since there was no domestic alternative, Indian women, led by Indira Gandhi, rose up in outrage forcing the government to seek JRD’s help. Could he also make cosmetics? And Lakme was born.
These are just two of the many delightful anecdotes that make up Tata: The Evolution of a Corporate Brand. This story is, in many ways, the story of India, and in writing about Tata, author Witzel charts the distance the country has covered in 140 years.
In the early 1990s, Tata was seen as a brand with a dated respectability. But under the leadership of JRD and then Ratan Tata, it has grown ambitious, codifying its norms and values, and marketing itself as an innovator. Remarkably, it did this in a competitive era, without compromising its reputation for ethical business.
At 256 pages, Tata… does not go into details. Witzel argues that while other companies espoused philanthrophy as an image-building exercise, in Tata’s ethos, it is in-built.