JEH: A Life of J.R.D. Tata (Book review)

JEH: A Life of J.R.D. Tata

This is the worst most boring biography I’ve ever read. First of all, I prefer autobiographies to biographies because it gives you a glimpse of a great person. The only reason I had this in my possession, is because AKL  gave it to me as a gift before I left for the US. At that time I was reading Richard Branson’s, Losing My Virginity (this is a wonderful autobiography) and AKL wanted me to read about Indian businessmen and visionaries.

I have a couple of observations to make. You know how, once you have been through the system, and are reasonably ingrained in the system, you can can see how connections are made and how the underlying politics of the system work. Money pretty much governs and influences the majority of the decisions, (assuming basic criteria are met) in both industry and academia. Not to mention connections. I say that with a certain amount of conviction, because I have had the privilege of experiencing it first-hand.

So, to put it crudely, that’s what this is all about. Rich guy. Born in affluent family. Parents name him Jehangir or ‘Conqueror of the World’. Reasonably well-educated. Experiences various positions in fathers empire. Father has a stroke. The boy steps us and becomes THE MAN a.k.a. J.R.D. TATA. And then smartly leverages existing steel empire, political connections and vision to create an empire (basically his dad left him with 14 enterprises and he upped the ante to 95 enterprises under the Tata Group conglomerate). In comparison, Richard Branson, or Steve Jobs, started from scratch and made it equally big if not bigger.

Secondly, there is one cool thing that I realize. What you do is an outcome of your experiences. Let me explain what I mean. So, while JRD is a kid, the family spends their holidays on the coast of France, in a place called Hardelot. They have a villa there which they call ‘La Mascotte’ and guess who’s their neighbor ? None other than Louis Blériot himself. Now, here is where it gets super interesting. Louis Blériot is a French aviator and inventor who was the first the person to go across the English Channel in an aircraft and successfully build a monoplane (one set of wings compared to a biplane). Now, assume, you are fifteen years old, back in 1919, and lived next to a villa, in who’s beach hangar, planes landed and took off. This is 1919, remember. Barely after the First World War. Where flying was the luxury of a few. (It’s like living next door to Steve Jobs in 1970’s in the Silicon Valley. And playing with Macintosh’s when you were 15.) And then you come to India (where people have just heard of planes and seen them in pictures), as the big boss of the largest steel conglomerate. Why should it surprise me that you’d be the first ever person to be issued a flying license in India, first ever to own a plane in pre-Independent India and then start India’s first airline (Air India).

I’m not trying to down play the great man’s achievement. Hey, I would’ve been the happiest guy in the world if my dad was a billionaire. I just feel that it’s unfair to compare with these people. Look at the head-start he’s got. Plus he’s smart and surrounded by smart people. How in the world would you compete with a guy like him. So, if I dream of becoming the next Tata or Birla, then I know that it’s just realistically not possible. Not at least in one generation. There’s only one name that comes to mind when I think of this – Dhirubhai Ambani. I guess, his autobiography is the next I should read.

The most inspiring part in this book was his solo flight in a single engined Puss Moth from Karachi to Bombay in 1932. This is pretty much India’s first flight. That is the single most kick ass thing I’ve heard of.

Interesting and a very nice read, but, I would have still loved to read his autobiography. The biography just seems like one big schmooze-orgy to JRD Tata. Not a single mention of his failures or mistakes.

It’s like eating rice without salt. Bland.


“I wish, I were big enough, like Einstein, to do what he did on one occasion. A hundred-dollar-a-plate dinner was organised for him to speak, and leaders of America in all fields, particularly in the field of science, were invited to hear the great man. When his turn came, he rose and said:’I’ve nothing to say,’ and sat down. You can imagine the consternation, quite apart from the wasted cost of the dinner! Realising the frightful effect his remarks had on the audience, Einstein got up again and said: ‘When I’ve something to say, I’ll let you know.” ~ JRD Tata 


P.S. The next post is going to be a guest post by a very good friend of mine, Rishi Bhatnagar. He’s a med student at Stanford and one of the fastest runners I know. Stay tuned!

P.S.S. MC, I think you’ll like JRD. He seems to have your passion for flying. Also, you should listen to this podcast from NPR on Lincoln Beachey (another superstar pilot you’d never have heard of)

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8 Responses to “JEH: A Life of J.R.D. Tata (Book review)”

  1. Purnendu February 23, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    I must say this is the worst review of a biography I have ever read. Very biased and nothing like a review should be. 

    • Saad Bhamla February 23, 2012 at 10:33 am #

      Oops. Sorry to disappoint. Tell you what, you show me how it’s done and I’ll put it up here alongside mine. So, I learn how to write for future book reviews. 

  2. Moper Delux February 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    Great review SB, tell it like it is !

  3. Jumba March 28, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    Just as an aside, I find that my reading has gone up significantly since my purchase of a Kindle. I’ve read 5 books in the last 3 weeks. Its a combination of easy access and great weather :) Just saw that reading 12 books was one of your 2012 goals and thought I would share this advice. Cheers!

    • Saad Bhamla March 28, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

      Yeah. I’ve been toying with the idea of a kindle. So far, my library and has been my source.. but yeah, might make sense to invest in a kindle.
      which one do you have? Any recommendations.
      What about an iPad?

      • Jumba March 29, 2012 at 7:29 am #

        I have the basic Kindle (non-touch, ad-supported). Cheap and gets the job done brilliantly. I was considering a tablet (like the iPad or an Android tablet) at first, but then decided against it as I didn’t want to end up spending more time browsing the web or watching videos, which is what they are really good for. For plain old reading, the e-ink display (found in the Kindle, Nook etc.) is unbeatable.

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