- Ratan Tata through the eyes of his architect
Two months after he retired, Ratan Tata remains a personal enigma despite the millions of words written about him.
In this exclusive interview with Rediff.com's Vaihayasi Pande Daniel, architect Ratan Batliboi reveals Ratan Tata the caring, honest, funny, simple, man behind the legend.
Ratan Batliboi is a well-known architect who runs the Mumbai-based Ratan J Batliboi Consultants Private Ltd, one of India's top architectural firms (the Bandra-Worli Sea link, beautification of Marine Drive).
Batliboi got to know Ratan Tata really well when he helped design Tata's post-retirement home in Colaba, south Mumbai.
As he spent more and more time with Tata, who retired as chairman of the Tata group on December 28, Batliboi was bowled over by his charm, humility and honesty.
How did you first come in contact with Mr Tata?
We were doing the brand identity for the Tata group many years ago. We worked with a group called Wolff Ollins (a brand consultancy based in London, New York City and Dubai), who were the guys who actually created the mark (the Tata logo).
We were the local counterparts. So as the design office we were responsible for seeing that mark got into the mainstream and got applied.
We met with (Ratan Tata) because we were sort of designing the applications of the mark. This was about 1998 or 1999.
Before that there had just been (for me a general awareness of) the Tata group.
JRD (Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, the legendary chairman of the Tata group) used to stay up the road from where I lived. I would hitch a ride with JRD in his Mercedes.
I didn't know who he was till my dad one day saw me hitching a ride and said, "Ratan, hello, it doesn't work like this!"
(JRD) probably saw me many times before he finally stopped the car and said: "Who are you?" I said "I am Ratan." And he said: "I am Jeh."
As a bawa (an affectionate Mumbai term for Parsis) growing up -- Tata is Tata.
One knew that Ratan Tata was (now) in the saddle. One knew that he had a rough time settling into the shoes of The JRD. It was about eight or nine years of spiking and unpleasant peaking before he took charge of consolidating the group.
And that was also a tricky decision because when you are telling a Rs 10,000 crore company, at that time, that you are part of a Rs 30,000 crore conglomerate, the Rs 10,000 crore guy feels he is a big part.
Whereas Ratan Tata treated everybody as an equivalent part. It was an interesting time. We were designing the Telco showrooms. He wanted to see what was going on. He (Ratan Tata) is an architect, a qualified trained architect. He has practiced a bit. So he is very clear about what he does.
And he is a designer at heart. He is an instinctive designer.
My first interaction with him was at that time. We were trying to meet him since June and I think we met him sometime in November.
He came into the meeting and said, "Sorry, I am late." So I said, "Late from June? Or late by ten minutes?"
That's when he started showing his beautiful personality and his wit. It was lovely.
Then we went on to design his ( visiting) card and his letterhead. Everything that all his guys (advisors/assistants), around him, would say -- 'Mr Tata will never sign on this side and will always expect it's a square (the letter paper) and never have the mark (logo) on this side...
It was so easy because we said, "Mr Tata, this is how we designed it for the rest of the group. How would you like yours?"
And he said: "Exactly like the rest of the group." So I said, "You are the group chairman (so do you need anything different)." He said, "Yeah okay if it has to be, it has to be."
What were your first impressions when you met him?
I just loved the guy from day one.
He's just a very likeable guy. He's humble. He is beautiful. He is extremely articulate.
Says a little, but means every word. Extremely polite. Gets his work done, without shouting and screaming. That's the first impression clearly.
Also very astute in terms of his comments and things. Normally you sit with a client and the client is saying things for the sake of saying things or because you know you are asking him leading questions.
Here (in Ratan Tata's case) there were no questions asked and he sort of picked up the essence and commented on the essence, which made us relook at stuff we were doing very, very clearly.
Very single-focused ideas, which was great. Tremendous conviction.
And he was all there. Paying attention to every word.
There was no fiddling with his cell phone and trying to sms, trying to respond e-mails, take the phone and sign letters during the conversation. Nothing like that.
It was just dedicated time which is great fun
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