Born in Paris in 1904, J.R.D. Tata had his early education in France, Japan and India. He began his career as an Assistant with Tata Sons Limited in 1922. He was made a Director of the Company in 1926 on the death of his father, R. D. Tata, and in 1938 became its Chairman.
With his charismatic leadership, Tata has contributed to the industrial development of India for over 53 years. He passed on the Chairmanship of Tata Sons to his younger colleague, Ratan N. Tata, on March 25, 1991 and was unanimously elected by the Board of Tata Sons as Chairman Emeritus for life.
Till he passed away in Geneva on November 9, 1993, he was Chairman Emeritus and Director of Tata Industries Limited, The Indian Hotels Company Limited and The Tata Oil Mills Company Limited. He was also Chairman Emeritus of Tata Chemicals Limited and a Director on the Board of The Tata Iron and Steel Company Limited, The Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company Limited, Tata Unisys Limited, Tata Incorporated, New York and Tata Limited, London.
Widely recognised as the founder of civil aviation in India, J.R.D. was the first pilot to qualify in this country and held a Pilot’s License since March 1929. In 1932, he founded India’s first national carrier, Tata Airlines, renamed Air-India Limited in 1946 and personally piloted the Karachi-Bombay sector of its inaugural Karachi-Madras service on October 15. In 1948, J.R.D. founded Air-India International Limited as a joint venture with the Government of India to undertake long-range international operations, which he headed as Executive Chairman until it was nationalised in 1953. On his recommendation, the Government of India created two air corporations, Air-India and Indian Airlines, to run international and domestic operations respectively. He was appointed Chairman of Air-India, which position he held till February 1978. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Indian civil aviation, J.R.D. at the age of 78 re-enacted his inaugural flight of 1932 in a 50-year old De Havilland Leopard Moth on October 15, 1982 to instill a spirit of adventure among the younger generation. His simple minded devotion to every aspect of the airline was legendary.
J.R.D. Tata was the recipient of several awards for his contribution in the field of aviation. He was made honorary Group Captain of the Indian Air Force in 1948 and was elevated to honorary Air Commodore of the IAF in 1966. Several international awards for aviation were given to him - The Tony Jannus Award in March 1979, the Gold Air Medal of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale in 1995, the Edward Warner Award of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Canada in 1986 and the Daniel Guggenheim Award in 1988.
Millions regarded J.R.D. as a symbol of integrity and forth righteousness as the country’s most distinguished and adventurous citizen. In 1943, J.R.D. spelt out the structure of industrial relations in Jamshedpur. He felt that companies took greater care of their machines than of their men. This resulted in the establishment of the Personnel Department of Tata Steel and because of the partnership between labour and management at various levels.
When J.R.D. took over the Chairmanship of Tata Sons, the Group had 14 companies, and when he completed his half a century at the helm on July 26, 1988, there were nearly 95 enterprises which Tatas had either started or had a controlling interest in. Under his stewardship the Group has expanded to cover a range of power, engineering, hotels, consultancy services, information technology, consumer goods, consumer durables and industrial products.
J.R.D. has over the years crusaded with causes which he believed to be in the national interest, such as family planning and population control. His contribution in the sphere of population control received due recognition when he was given the UN Population Award in September 1992. He also firmly believed that through the rapid spread of literacy and education, particularly among women and children, would help in raising the standard of living of the people of India. He is Founder Chairman of the Family Planning Foundation.
His interest in science is reflected in the pivotal role he played in the establishment of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research of which he was the Chairman of the Governing Council. He has been a Member of the Atomic Energy Commission since its inception, and is President of the Court of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He was on the Governing Council and the Executive Committee of the Rajaji Institute of Public Affairs and Administration.
His broad concern for education is seen in the interest he took as Chairman of the J. N. Tata Endowment for the Higher Education of Indians and the Homi Bhabha Fellowships Council. He was the Chairman of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, the J.R.D. Tata Trust and the Jamsetji Tata Trust.
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