November 2015 | Richard Young

One hundred and eight years… and counting

Today, the group is combining that long heritage and its core values with ground-breaking innovation to create a regional powerhouse in Europe

With 19 companies and a workforce more than 60,000 strong across the continent, Tata isn’t short of representation in Europe. Major brands like Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Tata Steel and Taj Hotels make the group a prominent force across industry sectors and countries. So what exactly goes on at the office overlooking Buckingham Palace in London that carries the name ‘Tata Limited’ on a brass plaque at the door? It doesn’t seem to make or sell anything, or have any obvious customers.

But it’s a crucial part of the Tata group. European executive director Dr David Landsman has grown used to summing it up since he joined the group in May 2013. “My role is to represent Tata Sons and the group in Europe,” he says simply. “Brands such as JLR, Tetley Tea and Corus Steel have joined the group; each Tata company, whether a recent acquisition or not, is independently managed. But they are all part of the group. I treat them all as my customers. It’s our job to help them make best use of the benefits of being members of the Tata group. And there are many ways we can live the Tata values together, including through collaborating on our community programmes.”

Tata Limited’s mission includes branding, communications and public affairs for the group. “Our efforts are designed to encourage deeper understanding of the Tata brand, heritage and values and demonstrate the group’s long-term approach to building value for the communities in which we operate,” explains communications director Adam Barriball.

Tata has sponsored the iconic Hay Festival of literature; put on the Tata Reception at the Science Museum, a group-wide event showcasing Tata companies’ achievements for a large and distinguished audience; publishes a corporate magazine called Perspective; and has set up regional social media platforms to deliver outreach in every dimension. Tata Limited also provides support to the Tata Business Excellence Group, setting and maintaining standards of excellence across the group, from innovation to environmental sustainability. That’s already a reasonable agenda for the team, then.

Dr Landsman is clear that the overriding role for Tata Limited is to cement Tata’s position as a fundamental part of the European economy, not as an external acquirer, but woven into the fabric of Europe. “Tata has a long history here and I want us to be seen as part of the economic furniture,” he explains. “That is especially relevant in the UK, where Tata is among leading manufacturing employers, and can be an engine for growth, a source of incredible innovation and creativity. As well, of course, as a force for good.”

That was one reason for the assembly in 2014 of a small European public affairs team. “In Tata, we do think of the UK, in particular, as a second home market,” says Alexander Ehmann, head of UK Public Affairs. “Our work with policymakers and other influencers is partly about ensuring that they know those great businesses like JLR and Taj Hotels are part of the Tata family. But it’s also to give Tata here and globally a voice in critical debates around a number of issues.”

Connecting capabilities
The public affairs effort isn’t limited to the UK. “It’s important that we’re able to influence in Brussels [the Belgian capital is the seat of European Union policymaking] right now because the new European Commission has set some priorities that are right at the heart of Tata’s capabilities and interests,” says European affairs director Simon Meehan. “Jean-Claude Juncker is a relatively new president of the Commission, and his priorities are infrastructure investment, digital development and a stronger industrial base — all areas where Tata has a huge amount to offer.”

Guests at the inaugural Tata Reception enjoyed an inspiring setting at London’s Science Museum
Tata has invested heavily in industries that have not always had the easiest ride in Europe. Take Tata Steel, which bought Corus in 2007. Corus was itself the product of a merger, between Dutch steel producer Koninklijke Hoogovens and British Steel in 1999. Each business came with a legacy that was rich and created a sense of culture and expertise.

As Dr Landsman says, “Tata has shown in very tangible terms our commitment to the UK. No business can afford to stand still. To remain viable and to continue to be able to deliver on your values, you have to be prepared to change. Some of that change is exciting, sometimes it can be painful. What makes a difference is the careful deliberation with which decisions are taken, with proper regard for all stakeholders, including employees and communities.”

Dr Landsman says he often asks himself: what are we doing today to remain relevant to the communities in which we work, as well as to the wider society, not just for today but for the long-term? “It’s a question which, given our heritage, we must be able to answer,” he says. “Tata is fundamentally about investment for the long-term. This partly comes down to mind-set and its commitment to create value for all stakeholders.”

Although Tata companies support many worthwhile projects in Europe — from last year’s Invictus Games for wounded service personnel to the Tata Steel Chess Tournament — one of the key ways it lives up to the values of Tata globally is through the development of people and communities. Take, for example, the focus on skills. “At one end there’s the work we do to help our employees develop their own skills,” explains Dr Landsman. “Across our businesses, from JLR to Tetley, companies offer training courses and qualifications as well as e-learning opportunities. That falls squarely into the ‘enlightened self-interest’ category.

“But the more you look into it, the more the lines are blurred,” he adds. “Consider our volunteering programmes, which amount to some 15,000 volunteering days. Often, people will bring their ‘hard’ technical skills to a project but come away with enhanced ‘soft’ skills, from leadership to working with people with special needs, which can help them at work. And research shows how volunteering, far from distracting attention from the ‘day job’, can improve morale and performance at work.

Innovation and investment are a key part of the picture for Tata in Europe, and they’re also areas where the European operations live a ‘whole Tata’ principle. “Although we put a lot of effort into our internal platforms, online networks and events, it would be crazy to be purely inward looking about innovation,” says Dr Landsman. “So it’s also important to look well beyond our own walls, and beyond the current generation. Through our partnership with the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs, for instance, we offer a helping hand to young people who want to make real a brilliant, commercially viable idea.”

The practical at play
Outreach, communication and brand values are all worthwhile activities. But Tata Limited also delivers a range of practical functions for Tata in Europe and globally. For those well-informed about Tata, the year 1907 should ring bells other than just the London office opening. It was the year that Tata Steel was founded in India — and that’s no coincidence. Tata’s European foothold was designed, in part, to support that new steel business.

For Kamal Desai, manager of the purchasing department at Tata Limited, that role continues to this day, albeit now the London team handles much more than just steel. “Our main function is procurement in Europe for companies based in India,” he explains. “But we offer a range of services today, from shipment to order management, paying suppliers and negotiating terms. We process several thousand major orders each year.”

Desai started with Tata Limited 20 years ago, when the main forms of communication were letters and telexes. Now, a company in Birmingham can negotiate with India as easily as it can with one in Leeds. Hence Tata Limited’s focus on more value-added services. Supplier relationship management, for example, is now a big part of the team’s work. And the London office can act as a clearing house, ensuring that Tata companies in India benefit from standard European terms of supply that might not otherwise be available to non-European Union players.

“The other big change I’ve seen in my time is just how much bigger the Tata companies have become; they’ve grown ten-fold in most cases,” says Mr Desai. “That’s also changed how Tata is seen in the UK and Europe. Buying businesses like Corus and JLR has really changed what people think of the group as a whole.”

That scale — developed to cater to big internal clients like Tata Motors and Tata Steel — can also be a benefit to other Tata businesses. “We can coordinate cross-group buying and leverage economies of scale,” adds Mr Desai. “The smaller companies in the group can really get big benefits from working alongside the bigger companies, even just at the level of unit pricing, without considering the potential for preferential terms.”

The world is still changing, and it’s no longer sensible to simply work with your supply chain the way you always have done. Or, in fact, assume that your own internal customers will use you simply because they always have. “New sourcing options across Europe and the world are a great opportunity for us, through helping Indian companies uncover new possibilities,” says Mr Desai. “We can help more Tata companies exploit those opportunities and offer a door-to-door supply solution at the same time.”

Opening the European door to Tata globally isn’t simply about smoothing procurement. With a population of 500 million people and as home to some of the world’s biggest businesses, there are tremendous opportunities to create new markets in Europe, too, as business development director Aditya Khera is keen to point out.

Commerce and more
“Over the last few years, our leadership at Tata Sons has really strengthened the international offices,” he explains. “Our business development function looks for commercial opportunities, prospective clients, new markets, technology scanning, market intelligence — anything that could kick-start Tata’s efforts in building a presence in Europe.”

Khera cites the example of Tata Solar, which is keen to build a presence in the UK and looks to create and nurture relationships with multiple stakeholders in the solar value chain. “At Tata Limited we could see a whole set of connections that might help build that relationship, starting from big users of solar power, including Tata companies like Tata Steel and JLR, to local installers and developers”, he says. “So we were able to facilitate a much wider and more interesting discussion between Tata Solar and other stakeholders.” The result: 25 MW of solar panels shipped to the UK over the last 18 months!

But it’s not just about opening doors to European customers. The business development team also helps Tata companies with a hunger to learn new technologies and business techniques from Europe. “We forge connections with universities and innovative businesses,” says Mr Khera.

And there’s a crucial role in supporting projects between different Tata companies that could benefit from working closely together in Europe. “There is a definite intention both in specific regions, like Europe, and across the group as a whole to seek out more synergies and opportunities for collaboration between Tata companies,” says Dr Landsman. “All the chief executives of the European businesses meet three or four times a year, as do functional directors. While all the companies are independent in their operation, it’s exciting to seek out more synergies, to share knowledge among such a diverse group, to make the whole even greater than the sum of its parts.”

A reminder that for all the strength of the brands in Europe, for all the expertise and engagement that Tata can apply within the region, its principal strength comes from being part of a global group. Tata is most definitely an integral part of the European economy; it’s very much at home in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France and all the other countries where it has a presence. But it’s guiding light will always be the global Tata family.

Tata's European milestones

  • 1907: Tata Limited, the group’s first overseas office, set up in London
  • 1912: London School of Economics’ Sir Ratan Tata Department established
  • 1920: Dorab Tata funds the construction of a new site for the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge
  • 1975: Tata Consultancy Services starts UK operations
  • 1982: Taj Hotels acquires St James’ Court Hotel (later renamed Crowne Plaza London-St James)
  • 2000: Acquisition of Tetley, the world’s second-largest tea business, by Tata Global Beverages in one of the largest overseas acquisitions by an Indian company at that time
  • 2004: Tata Communications enters UK
  • 2005: Acquisition of INCAT Plc (now Tata Technologies) by Tata Technologies; Tata Motors European Technical Centre established; TCS establishes Diligenta, a UK FSA regulated subsidiary
  • 2006: Acquisition of Brunner Mond by Tata Chemicals
  • 2007: Acquisition of Corus by Tata Steel; later rebranded as Tata Steel Europe
  • 2008: Acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover by Tata Motors
  • 2010: Tata Chemicals acquires British Salt
  • 2012: Tata Communications announces global technology association with Formula 1™
  • 2013: Jaguar Land Rover celebrates 60 years of automotive innovation and 1,000,000 vehicles built at Halewood
  • 2014: Taj Group rebrands London hotels St James’ Court, A Taj Hotel and Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences
  • 2015: Cyrus Mistry and Ratan Tata lay the foundation stone of the new National Automotive Innovation Centre

Richard Young is editor of Perspective, the magazine for Tata in Europe.