A trained pilot, philanthropist, startup investor: There's nothing Ratan Tata can't do

On his 82nd birthday, here a look at what makes him loved by millions of Indians.

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This picture was taken when Ratan Tata was a student at Cornell University. In his social media post, he said that he was heartened by the richness of experiences, opportunities and lessons he learnt during his time at the university.
A humble set of morals and an obsessive attention to detail, Ratan Tata has set a class for himself. From dedicating almost two-and-a-half decades as Tata Group Chairman when he first took over in 1991 to retiring at the age of 75 in 2012 on his birthday, the industrialist proved he does not want to cling to power and is keen on welcoming fresh blood into the group.

In 2011, he set up a new policy where the retirement age of non-executive directors was reduced from 75 years to 70 years to ensure a new beginning for his then successor Cyrus Mistry. He returned briefly for two-and-a-half months in 2016 before handing over the reins of Tata Sons to N Chandrasekaran, and was conferred with the title 'Chairman Emeritus'.

Now, he dedicates his time to philanthropy, and has taken up the full-time leadership role of Tata Trusts, the philanthropic arm that also own 66 per cent of the group holding company - Tata Sons.



While people at the office lovingly call him Boss, his assistant Shantanu Naidu thinks Tata is like a 'Millennial Dumbledore'.

On his 82nd birthday, here a look at what makes him the Man who is loved and appreciated by millions of Indians.

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The Heart Belongs To Dogs
Tata's love for dogs is an open secret and has been well documented. From raving about his pets on social media to bonding with people over his passion for dogs, the businessman has never shied away from showing his fondness for the canines.


According to a 2018 ETPanache report, a section of Bombay House 2.0 was allotted to stray dogs. The building that went through a nine-month-long restoration process and reopened last year was the home to stray dogs for many years, thanks to the chairman emeritus' love for them.

He not only invested in a startup - Dogspot, an online store for pet supplies, food, accessories and other products, but also offered the 27-year-old Naidu a job as his assistant after being impressed with his initiative of reflector-collars for stray dogs.

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​Ratan Tata posing with th 27-year-old Shantanu Naidu.
Ratan Tata posing with th 27-year-old Shantanu Naidu.
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While he admits not being much active on social media, he recently made his debut on Instagram. And, within two month of that, he has already uploaded two canine-related posts.

Flying High
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Tata is a trained pilot and holds a licence. In fact, he was the first civilian to fly F-16 (also called Fighting Falcon) in 2007 during the Aero India Show in Bangalore. He co-piloted the combat aircraft which belongs to the US Air Force's Bloc 50 for around 40 minutes. At 69 then, he also became the oldest Indian to fly the American-made aircraft, according to a Times Of India report.

Ratan Tata is the oldest Indian civilian to fly the American-made aircraft​.
Ratan Tata is the oldest Indian civilian to fly the American-made aircraft.

Moreover, he is a proud owner of Dassault Falcon 2000 private jet, which is estimated to be worth $22 million. Sometimes, he also likes to take his jet out for a spin.

He is also known to fly several aircrafts that are a part of Tata Group's fleet.

Spending It Right
With his money parked in over two dozen startups, Tata is known as one of the most successful investors of all time, but an accidental one in his own words.

In a 2019 October report by Economic Times, Tata said he became a startup investor 'partly by accident'. When he was working with the Tata group, the startup sector excited him, but he always thought they were untouchable because of conflict of interest with his company.

After he retired, he started making small token investments in he considered were 'exciting companies'. After talking risks for two-three years, 'it became a learning experience'. He was quoted saying, "this sector is very active and has the best minds." Some of his investments include Ola, One97 Communications (that owns Paytm), Snapdeal, Zivame, UrbanClap, Abra, Kyazoonga, FirstCry, Bluestone, Lybrate, Holachef, Ampere, GOQii, CureFit, ClimaCell, CarDekho, UrbanLadder, Lenskart, NestAway, Dogspot, among others.

​Ratan Tata trusts his intuition when investing in a startup.​
Ratan Tata trusts his intuition when investing in a startup.

What intrigued Tata the most about a certain startup projects was the founder's attitude, maturity, fire in the belly, ideas, solutions, and seriousness. He also trusts his intuition when investing.

He also believes Indians are entrepreneurs at heart, and need an opportunity to flourish.

While he carries out investments through his personal investment firm RNT Associates, he clarified that "contrary to common belief his pocket is not so deep".

Philanthropy Is The Middle Name
The phrase 'with age comes wisdom' stands true to Tata. After his retirement in 2012, he completely shifted his focus to philanthropy and continued to be a custodian for the philanthropic legacy set up by Jamsetji Tata who was keen on bringing a positive social impact.

The philanthropist at heart always wanted to give back to society, and passionately worked to help the poor and less privileged across the country. He started heading Tata's philanthropic arm at the same time he took over the responsibility of Tata Sons.


The Trust currently focuses on various sections like healthcare, nutrition, education, water conservation, improving livelihood, digital transformation, social justice, skill development, environment, disaster relief, among other things. The organisation also looks at boosting sports, art and culture, and provides scholarship to students to enable them have a better future.

The Trust is also working in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle diarrhoea, according to a Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR).

In conversation with SSIR, the octogenarian business leader also suggested the philanthropists to do a thorough research before getting involved. "Today, a large amount of philanthropy in India is deployed in traditional forms like building a temple or a hospital. India has to move into a more sophisticated form of philanthropy that is designed to make a difference rather than just building edifices," he was quoted.

Growing Along The Way
The Government of India honoured the second and third highest civilian honours - Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan - to Tata in 2008 and 2000, respectively. The London School of Economics and Political Science in 2007 and UK's Institution of Engineering and Technology in 2008 awarded him an honorary fellowship.

​Ratan Tata receiving his Honorary Doctorate​ from UNSW​, York University of Canada and Singapore Management University.
Ratan Tata receiving his Honorary Doctorate from UNSW, York University of Canada and Singapore Management University.

He also received the honorary doctorate in Business, Science and Law from renowned institutions such as Ohio State University in 2001, University of Warwick in 2005, University of Cambridge in 2010, University of New South Wales in 2012, York University of Canada in 2014 and Singapore Management University in 2014, among others.

The Singapore Government was also conferred with the Honorary Citizen Award in 2007 for his valuable contributions to the country's growth and development.

After finishing his education in Architecture from Cornell University in 1962, Tata completed the Harvard Business School's seven-week Advanced Management Program in 1975. Harvard has a building 'Tata Hall' named after the businessman. After India became republic, he was the first Indian to receive the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, one of Britain's highest civilian honours.

Bill Gates, Ratan Tata, Jack Ma: Business Leaders Who Accepted Their Biggest Mistakes
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(In pic from left: Bill Gates, Ratan Tata, Jack Ma)

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In July 2015, Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Trusts and former head of Tata Sons, said his greatest mistake was branding of the Nano car as the cheapest instead of the ‘most affordable’, which was the intention of the company. Branding the car as the cheapest created a negative impact on the market, he said. “Success comes i f one took decisions that one thinks are the right ones,” Tata said.

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In March 2018, Elon Musk participated in a Q&A at South by Southwest. While answering a variety of questions, the Tesla CEO said that the biggest career mistake he made was not being more involved with Tesla in its initial days. From 2004 to 2008, Musk was a lead investor in Tesla, but he was the CEO of SpaceX, a space exploration company. At the event, Musk said, “I think that was probably the biggest mistake of my career. Whenever you think you can have your cake and eat it too, you’re probably wrong.”

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In April 2016, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s founder and CEO Jack Ma spoke at the 20th St Petersburg International Economic Forum. At the event, Ma reportedly said, “My biggest mistake was I made Alibaba. I never thought that this thing would change my life. I was just trying to do a small business and grow that big [sic], take that much responsibility and got so much trouble. Every day is like as busy as a president, and I don’t have any power. And then I don’t have my life.” In January 2018, Alibaba became the second Asian company to break the $500-billion valuation mark.

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