On 28-29 January 2020, the 11th edition of TiEcon Mumbai, an entrepreneurship conference organised by The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE) was held. Among the speakers featured at the conclave was the illustrious Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus, Tata Sons.
At the event, Tata was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by Narayana Murthy, co-founder of Infosys. In an unforgettable moment, Murthy bent down to touch Tata’s feet and express his reverence. A humbled Tata embraced his great friend as the room filled with applause at the heartwarming exchange that had just taken place between the two magnates.
The gesture was later lauded by people across social media platforms, full of awe and admiration for the two visionaries.
This momentous occasion causes one to reflect on the larger picture- the often-forgotten business ethics and corporate social responsibility these cultured gentlemen epitomise.
One of Narayana Murthy’s colleagues wanted Infosys to become India’s largest software company. Another wanted it to become the country’s biggest job creator. A third wanted it to become the software firm with the highest market capitalisation. Murthy, on the other hand, had a simple yet ingenious view in mind, “Why don’t we aim to be India’s most respected company?”
In an era when corruption, nepotism, and racketeering were the norm and conducting business ethically was virtually unheard of, Narayana Murthy created a corporation guided by its values, with integrity and transparency at its core.
A much-quoted incident from Infosys’ earliest days comes to mind. In February 1984, Infosys decided to import a super minicomputer so that the company could start developing software for clients abroad. However, when the machine arrived at the airport, the local customs official refused to clear it without a bribe. The only other option left to them was to pay a customs duty of 135%.
True to their commitment of conducting business ethically, the company did not pay the bribe and instead chose to pay the customs duty, effectively paying twice for the machine.
They did not have enough money to pay the duty and had to borrow it, but they would not allow their values to be compromised. Indeed, when we speak of India’s most admired companies today, Infosys is quintessential.
Ratan Tata is much more than a business tycoon- he is a luminary. As a young man working on the shop floor of Tata Steel, shoveling limestone and handling blast furnaces, he saw up-close the deprivations of the underprivileged. Fueled by his experiences, his resolve to make a difference has been a guiding force for the countless philanthropic ventures Tata Sons has been at the helm of.
He is the Chairman of Tata Trusts, the principal shareholder of Tata Sons. Under his leadership, Tata Trusts has undertaken innumerable charitable and humanitarian activities across the areas of education, healthcare, nutrition, social justice, skill development and disaster relief, to name a few. Most recently, the organisation has been focused on cancer care, malnutrition, provision of potable water and improving hygiene and sanitation.
From instituting educational scholarships that, every year, give numerous students a chance to pursue their dreams, to providing safe, affordable transportation in the form of Tata Nano, Ratan Tata demonstrates corporate social responsibility in its truest sense.
These luminaries so gracefully personify modesty, ethical values, a sustainable outlook and social consciousness. No wonder, they are looked up to as the country’s top business leaders, and a role model for budding businessmen and entrepreneurs.