Date of Death: 29/11/1993
Wife: Thelma Wikczyk
Cause of Death: Kidney Infection
Some lesser known facts about JRD Tata
- Jahangir Ratanji Dadabhai Tata (JRD Tata) was an Indian aviator and industrialist. He is known as the father of civil aviation in India, who was also a philanthropist, entrepreneur and former chairman of the Tata Group. He was the first licensed pilot in India to create the first international airline in the country, now known as Air India. He invested in India’s potential for industrial development and founded several entities in the Tata group. He laid the foundations of Titan Industries, Tata Salt, Tata Motors, Voltas, Tata Consultancy Services and Air India.
- JRD Tata was born on 29 July 1904 in Paris, France. He belonged to a well-known business family in India and spent his early life in France. His mother was French and this was the reason why French was his first language.
- His father was Ratanji Dadabhai Tata, an Indian businessman and a first cousin of Jamsetji Tata. His mother was Suzanne Sooni Brier, a French woman. He had two sisters, Sayla and Rodabeh, and two brothers, Darab and Jamshed.
- His love for aviation developed when he moved with his family to a new home. The house was located on Hardlot beach in France and their neighbor was Louis Bleriot, an aviator. His fascination for aviation grew while watching him and was inspired to become a pilot when he took his first airplane ride at the age of 15.
- JRD Tata studied in a total of four countries, including France, India and Japan. He moved between Bombay and Paris with his family from 1909 to 1917. During this time he studied at the Cathedral School in Bombay. He also went to England to pursue higher studies after the death of his mother.
- JRD Tata held French citizenship and therefore had to serve in the French army for a period of at least one year. He did the same and came back to India in 1925. After returning to his homeland, he worked as an unpaid apprentice in the Tata Group. After the death of his father in 1926, JRD Tata became the director of Tata Sons. He renounced his French citizenship in 1929 and became the country’s first licensed pilot.
- He went on a trip to Paris and there he met Thelma Vikazzi. The two fell in love and got married in 1930.
- In the same year, he participated in the Aga Khan Aviation Race and finished second.
- He laid the foundation of India’s first airline by setting up a courier service called Tata Air Mail, which connected Bombay, Ahmedabad, Karachi and Madras (now Chennai). He also piloted the first flight of this service which was from Karachi to Bombay.
- It took them only a few years for their air mail venture to become a success and it became the first domestic airline in India to be renamed Tata Airlines. The name of this company was changed to Air India in 1946.
- He took major initiatives in expanding the business of the Tata company and did so by establishing Tata Steel, Tata Power and Tata Hotels. He took the initiative to diversify the company and established new entities in the automobile, pharmaceuticals, financial services and information technology sectors.
- JRD Tata’s company, Air India, was nationalized in 1953, the government insisted on him to remain as the chairman of Air India and he agreed. In 1978, he finally resigned as the chairman of Air India.
- In an interview, he talked about his love-hate relationship with his friend Morarji Desai. He said,
It was not a great experience but it was not unexpected. Morarji Desai was the Prime Minister of India. He was the person with whom I had loved and hated my whole life. We were friends and at the same time, it was pretty much impossible to deal with that guy.”
- Pt. Nehru was his good friend but their views on economic policies were always conflicting. JRD Tata talked about this in an interview and said,
You don’t argue with Jawaharlal. He didn’t want to discuss it. But the funny thing was that I was his good friend. He trusted me. He knew that I admired him. But he knew that I disagreed with all his economic policies, and I did not agree with his foreign policy either. I thought Krishna Menon and others like him were pro-Soviet. That’s why I was never able to discuss economic matters after that.”
- He also told how Pt. Nehru and his wife disagreed with his views. He said,,
Yes. Later he and Mrs Gandhi developed this little polite way of asking me to shut up. Jawaharlal, when I started taking up the topic of economic policy, I would look out the window. Mrs Gandhi did something else.”
- In 1957, he received the Padma Vibhushan for his service in the development of the economy.
- He assumed the rank of Commander of the French Legion of Honor in 1983.
- He left his leadership in 1991 after reaching annual revenues of $4 billion at Tata Sons. The asset valuation of the Tata Group increased from $100 million to $5 billion and a total of 95 companies were held under his leadership.
- JRD Tata was a philanthropist who worked for human welfare and laid the foundation of several institutions focusing on artistic, educational and medical development in the country. He founded the JRD Tata Trust in 1944 and was instrumental in starting the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in 1945. He also founded the Tata Institute of Social Science, the Tata Memorial Hospital, the National Institute of Advanced Science and the National Center for the Performing Arts. ,
- He was the one who started promoting family planning and established the Family Planning Foundation in 1971. He also came together with the Tata Administrative Services and Staff College to groom Indian talent to lead businesses.
- He received many international awards including Edward Warner Award (1986), Tony Janes Award (1979) and Gold Air Medal (1985).
- He also received Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Award and Daniel Guggenheim Medal for Aviation.
- Later, he also sold his Bombay apartment and a significant part of his shares to set up the JRD and Thelma Tata Trusts. This trust works for the underprivileged women in the country.
- He was a man who had a great interest in sports from the very beginning and used to devote a certain amount of time to exercise even in his 80s. He played tennis, golf also did weight training until the mid 70s.
- He also received the Bharat Ratna, the highest honor in 1992, for the chain of industrial development he had bought in the country.
- He frequently flew Air India flights and showed keen interest in the aircraft and every minute detail of the flight. Once on a flight with LK Jha, he also went to inspect the toilet and fixed toilet roll on the flight.
- JRD Tata was in Parsi when he was diagnosed with kidney infection. He died of this illness on 29 November 1993 in Geneva, Switzerland and was buried in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.