India has established itself as a serious player in the global markets. With a high growth rate, strong labour force and bursting potential, we are one of the most promising developing economies in the world. This reputation and development has been hard-earned. It has taken years of investment and commitment to gain this high growth trajectory.
Every Indian has contributed to this position in small ways every day. All the decisions that we take, the choices that we make, culminate in an impact on the economy. Our small efforts all add up and find meaning on the aggregate. Apart from the efforts of each citizen, there are several pillars which have provided an incredible boost to the economy. These pillars mainly take the form of people and companies.
We are gathered here today, to talk about two of the biggest names in the Indian economy, namely the Tatas and the Ambanis. These two families are responsible for much of the reputation that the Indian economy has developed in the global markets. Their businesses generate wealth and employment galore for India, and their social initiatives have slowly brought up the standard of living enjoyed by the representative Indian.
Today, dear friends, I am going to compare the two great families, and find out once and for all, who is the richer one.
Let us get started then, shall we?
RISE OF THE TATAS: FROM HUMBLE PRIEST TO INTERNATIONAL INDUSTRIALIST
The beginning of the Tatas as we know it was with the birth of Jamsetji Tata.
Born in 1839 in Navsari into a family of Zoroastrian priests, Jamsetji was the first in his start his own business. In 1868, he invested Rs. 21,000 and started his own trading business. However, his real interest was in the textile business. He wanted to learn more about this so that he could enter the field with a reasonable chance of success.
Accordingly, Jamsetji spent some time in England, where he observed the functionings of the cotton mills there. He realised that in order to produce cotton of a truly superior quality, he would require specialised and expert workers. Armed with this knowledge, Jamsetji bought a bankrupt oil mill at Chinchpokli and converted it into a cotton mill. Two years later, he sold this mill for a profit, for his sights were set on something greater.
Jamsetji knew he wanted to emulate the roaring textile industry in England. He decided to step out of the business zone of Mumbai. Instead, he realised that Nagpur would be a better location and it would be much cheaper than Mumbai. Also, he would have ready access to raw cotton production, a bustling railway junction and an abundant supply of fuel and water. This decision ultimately led to his success.
What made Jamsetji a good leader was the fact that he really cared about his workers. He knew that the heart of a labour-intensive industry like textile revolved around the welfare of the workers. He started several initiatives to ensure the standard of living provided to the labourers. Jamsetji was one of the first people of his time to introduce the concept of a provident fund.
He had four main goals in his life: an iron and steel company, a world-class educational institute, a hydro-electric plant and a five-star hotel. However, in his lifetime, he could only complete the hotel. We are all familiar with his creation. The spectacular Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai is still one of the most premium destinations in India. In those days, this hotel was the first in the country to have access to 24-hour electricity. The remaining dreams were realised to completion by his son.
The inspiration for the hydro-electric plant came from his visit to the great Niagara Falls in the US. He envisioned creating something similar in the Lonavla Khandala area in Maharashtra. Accordingly, he laid the foundations for the project.
Apart from these business initiatives, Jamsetji did not lose sight of his original goal of social welfare. Once the profits from his many projects started pouring in, he established the JN Tata Endowment Fund in 1892 to encourage higher education. He also started the work on a premium higher education institution which today is known as the Indian Institute of Science.
In 1904, after Jamsetji’s death, his son Dorabji Tata took over as the Chairman of the Tata Group. If the above is any indication, Dorabji had huge shoes to fill as he began his reign. He more than rose to the occasion and completed many of his father’s lofty projects.
In 1907, Dorabji established the Tata Iron and Steel Company in Sakchi. In 1909, he inaugurated the Indian Institute of Science. In 1911, he established Tata Power, India’s first hydroelectric plant. Dorabji also completed his father’s vision of an entire township surrounding the Tata steel plant. This township was to provide comfortable accommodation for the workers along with provisions for relaxation and entertainment such as lawns, gardens, places of worship, etc. He named the township Jamshedpur to honour his father’s memory.
Apart from expanding the business, Dorabji also continued his father’s philanthropic efforts, with large donations for educational initiatives and social welfare initiatives. He was one of the main sponsors of India’s first Olympic team in 1920. He also established the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 1936, in order to bring focus to social work education.
After Dorabji’s death, the Tata legacy was carried forward by Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata. JRD Tata took over as the Chairman of the Tata group in 1938. Aged 34, he was the youngest Chairman in company history. When he started his term as Chairman, there were 14 companies under the umbrella of the Tata group.
JRD Tata was truly a gifted entrepreneur. With a brilliant combination of the right amount of risk, aggression and due diligence, he expanded the family business and took it to new heights. Known as the father of Indian civil aviation, he started Tata Airlines in 1932. He was one of the first pilots in India, and flew the inaugural flight from Karachi to Mumbai himself. The company was nationalised in 1946 and came to be known as Air India henceforth.
Under JRD’s leadership, the total assets of the Tata Group grew from $100 million to over $5 billion. When he retired from the company in 1991, the family business had grown to a conglomerate of 95 companies. Some of his most noteworthy contributions include Tata Chemical, Tata Tea, Tata Motor (TELCO) and TCS. With regard to his philanthropic contributions, he started the Tata Memorial Hospital in 1941 for affordable cancer treatment.
JRD Tata was succeeded by Ratan Tata as the Chairman of the Tata Group in 1991. He too, proved himself as a worthy successor. During the 21 years of his reign, he expanded the business rapidly, and ensured that revenues earned by the Tata Group grew over 40 times and the profit earned grew fiftyfold.
This is an incredible story, isn’t it?
Now that we have outlined the illustrious timeline of the Tata Group, let us take a look at the other prominent business family in India, namely, the Ambanis.
THE AMBANI’S: FROM HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT TO BILLIONAIRE STATUS
Dhirubhai Ambani was born in Gujarat in 1932. He was never interested in formal education and left after passing the tenth standard. He moved to Yemen for work in 1948. Here, he put his entrepreneurial skills to the test when he realised that the intrinsic value of the silver coins used in those days was much higher than the monetary value of the coin. He made a lot of money by melting down silver coins and selling it as pure silver.
In 1958, he moved back to India to try his hand at the textile business. Here, he started the Reliance Commercial Corporation in a small 350 square feet room with one table, three chairs and one telephone. Initially, the company was focussed on the trade of polyester and spices. Later on, he started focussing more on textiles. It was during this time that he launched the brand Only Vimal which sold materials for sarees, shawls, suits, etc.
Dhirubhai was a gifted businessman and he grew the Only Vimal brand immensely. His main superpower was the ability to convince people. He was passionate, committed and had a solid business plan. To top it off, he was a gifted speaker. Using this ability, he launched a successful IPO for Reliance in 1977-78. In fact, the IPO was so successful that it was oversubscribed sevenfold.
Once he gained success in the textile industry, Dhirubhai set his sights onwards and upwards. In 1985, he changed the name of the company from Reliance Textiles Industries to Reliance Industries. From here on, he started expanding the business and entering into other sectors.
In 1991-92, Reliance entered the petrochemical and refinery business. It soon established itself as a major player in this field not just in India, but also globally. It was the first private sector company in India to be rated by international credit rating agencies. In 1995-96, Reliance entered the telecom business with the launch of Reliance Telecom Private Limited.
One of the main reasons why Dhirubhai was so successful was the fact that he focused on quality and gave it more important than profit. He wanted to honour the promise he made to his shareholders and ensured that the businesses he built were all based on strong and stable foundations. In fact, his son Mukesh Ambani subscribes to the same principle.
Dhirubhai knew that he wanted his company to be trustworthy and honourable. In order to reward his shareholders, he ensured that the company declared regular dividends. Not only that, but he also held annual meetings for all his shareholders so that they may create a closer and a more personal relationship with the company.
In fact, when the Reliance IPO was launched, the annual revenue of the company was in the region of Rs. 70 crores. In 2002, when Dhirubhai passed away, the annual revenue of the company was over Rs. 75 thousand crores. Reliance was the first Indian company to be included in the Fortune 500 companies list.
After his death, the company was divided between his two sons, Mukesh and Anil.
Mukesh, like his father, is a gifted businessman. He was entrusted with the control of Reliance Industries Limited. Following in his father’s footsteps, Mukesh focussed more on quality rather than profit. Just like this strategy had worked for Dhirubhai, it brought immense success to Mukesh. He has expanded the purview of Reliance Industries to previously unimaginable heights. One of his most successful endeavours in recent times is Reliance Jio. His net worth, which was about $49 billion in 2007, has now grown to $60.8 billion, making him the richest man in India, and the 17th richest person in the world.
Anil, sadly, had missed out on the businessman gene that his father and his elder brother shared. Among his inheritance were the companies Reliance Power, Reliance Infrastructure and Reliance Communications. However, he was not able to manage these companies well. Some of the companies have even had to declare bankruptcy. His net worth, which was $45 billion in 2007, even dropped to zero valuation at one point.
This is the story of the Ambanis.
It, too, is no less illustrious than the Tatas, is it?
Even though Reliance Industries is much younger than the Tata Group, in a short span, it has grown to immense proportions.
THE ULTIMATE COMPARISON
Now that we have established a clear background and timeline for both the Tatas and the Ambanis, let us consider which of these two pillars are richer.
In terms of market capitalisation, Reliance Industries is in the region of Rs. 9 lakh crores. Out of this, Mukesh Ambani holds a 48% stake. On the other hand, the Tata Group is a true giant. They have a foothold in almost every major industry. 28 of the companies included in the Tata Group are listed on the Indian stock exchanges. Their market capitalisation is over Rs. 11 lakh crore. However, out of this, Ratan Tata’s personal stake is at less than 1%.
Thus we see that the Tata Group is bigger than Reliance Industries. However, Mukesh Ambani is richer than Ratan Tata.
In order to understand why, I will reference a quote. “Ambanis are true businessmen, however, Tatas are true industrialists”.
The Tata Group is not like its other contemporary companies. Their primary objective has always been the empowerment of the country. In fact, more than 66% of the company stake is held by the charitable organisations such as the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Tata Education Trust and others. If not for their philanthropic mindset, the Tatas could have become one of the most powerful families in the world, let alone India.
The Ambanis and Reliance Industries also have numerous charitable initiatives. However, like most other industrialist families, they donate a slight fraction of their wealth as opposed to the majority of it. In 2018, Mukesh Ambani donated a total amount of Rs. 402 crores, which amounts to 0.1% of his total net worth.
Thus ends the comparison between the Ambanis and the Tatas.
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