November 2015 | Charles Orton-Jones
Putting people first
Caring for the community is part of the Tata ethos and this is reflected in the group’s approach in Europe, particularly with its environmental and education initiatives
The social programmes undertaken by Tata businesses in Europe vary as much as the businesses themselves. In the Netherlands, you find Tata Steel volunteers hosting sports events for disabled children. There is mentoring of university students; contributions to policymaking; and co-hosting of TEDx events. A new Ada Lovelace bursary — named after Lord Byron’s daughter, who wrote the first computer programme — supported by Tata Technologies, funds scholarships for women at Coventry University in the UK.
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The reasons are many. For Nick Sale, chief operating officer, Europe, Tata Technologies, there are rewards in acting for the greater good. “When I joined Tata in the mid-2000s, I heard R Gopalakrishnan [now the non-executive director of Tata Sons] talk about the Tata philosophy,” he explains. “The thing that resonated was the concept of sustainability. Not the modern buzzword version, but why companies exist for five or 10 or 50 or 100 years.
“Organisations that endure for a century or more,” he says, “are parts of the community in which they operate. The Tata Code of Conduct says that if you support the community, not just by providing jobs, but engaging in various aspects of development, then that will underpin the organisation in the long-term.”
Profit isn’t everything
Another benefit is staff members sticking around longer. “The people who work for us become more connected,” Mr Sale adds. “Even if we are commercially driven, knowing that profit isn’t the only thing that matters, changes the way people see us. I’m not saying purchasing agents will get dewy eyed and pick us over the competition just because we do the right things. But if there is any slack to be cut, we’ll get it, because they know the type of organisation we are.”
Yet Mr Sale is emphatic that the obvious rewards of CSR cannot explain all that goes on. “There isn’t always a clear connection between an activity and a dividend,” he says. “And business benefit is not the prime motive. Even if an initiative is self-serving, the important thing is that an organisation like ours can do good. And our culture means no one will be criticised in Tata for being altruistic. That is powerful.”
Often, there’s an implicit link between altruism and the creation of a sustainable, successful business. Take Tata’s work to encourage British students to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Engineering and other technical subjects are popular in India, but an alarmingly low number of British students, particularly from less affluent backgrounds, take STEM. A recent government enquiry revealed only 15 percent of British children would consider a career in manufacturing, 40 percent said they thought it “boring”, and more than half saw it as “dirty”. Only 12 percent of female final-year university students said they were interested in a manufacturing job.
That’s where Tata comes in. “Our mission is nothing less than inspiring an entire generation!” declares Yogesh Chauhan, director of corporate sustainability, Tata Consultancy Services. “There’s been an expectation that the UK’s future lay in finance and professional services. The result was a downturn in manufacturing and work shifting abroad.”
As one of the biggest manufacturers in the UK, Tata can correct those misperceptions. But it also needs engineering and science talent for its businesses. “There is a national shortage of 40,000 STEM graduates a year,” says Mr Chauhan. “So we go to schools and engage students face-to-face. Our community engagement initiatives reach 15,000 young people a year. We hold competitions with prizes like paid internships or an opportunity for work-placement at TCS. We inspire students into coding, app design, algorithms, Big Data and its relevance to their lives.” The response? “Incredible! Our before-and-after survey indicates a 60-80 percentage point increase in people saying ‘yes’ to industry jobs.”
Since 2007 the Tata - Kids of Steel triathlon series has given youngsters aged 8 to 13 the chance to swim, cycle and run in a mini-triathlon. More than 75,000 children in the UK have taken part. The events are inclusive, allowing children with disabilities to participate, too. In the Netherlands and Wales, youngsters run up to 5km in local community runs in the Tata - Kids of Steel programme.
The events foster children’s interest in sports and help them to experience the fun. Why is Tata Steel involved? Unlike the intervention around engineering, there’s no obvious commercial angle.
“We don’t do it to impress our business partners,” says Myra Rooselaar, head of corporate branding, Tata Steel, Europe. “There is no monetary motive, we just try to create a positive environment in our communities for our ‘future generations’, in which health, education and environment are key. That community focus sits in our DNA. The Tata - Kids of Steel programme is one of many events we hold to engage with communities that surround us.”
Part of this logic underpins the fact that Tata Steel has organised and sponsored the Tata Steel Chess Tournament for the past 77 years. The tournament is held in a picturesque Dutch coastal town of Wijk aan Zee. “It can get quiet here, out of the tourist season, so we hold the tournament in January, at the lowest period,” says Ms Rooselaar. “It brings in publicity and tourists, which helps local communities in the most challenging part of the year, as they depend on tourism.”
It also attracts the world’s chess elite. This year, Magnus Carlson, the world champion, returned to score his third championship victory. “Chess professionals love to come to our tournament because of its heritage,” Ms Rooselaar adds. “Amateur players play in the same room as the grandmasters. Since 2014, we introduced the concept of having two external play rounds outside Wijk aan Zee — at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, for instance — which offers great opportunities to invite our major playing and non-playing stakeholders. Like chess, steel making requires strategic thinking to find creative solutions to complex challenges our customers face.”
Strategic thinking about corporate responsibility, rooted in sustainability and connection to community, delivered with innovative flair. Tata Europe certainly aims to live up to the high standards set by the Founder of the group, Jamsetji Tata.
Tata in Europe’s green agenda
You find similar initiatives in Tata’s European businesses. Jaguar Land Rover, which was Business in the Community’s ‘Company of the Year’ in 2013 for its responsible business practices, has pioneered ‘environmental innovation’. Jonathan Garrett, CSR director at the company, says the concept is one of three company passions, designed to change the perception people have of brands, not historically seen as green.
One hallmark of a rooted and sustainable environmental programme is integration with the core business. CSR should draw on the specific skills of a business, demonstrate that it lives the values it espouses, contribute to performance and promote innovation in practices. That was the effect of Tata Communications’ drive to shrink its carbon dioxide footprint by avoiding business travel and using video-conferencing systems instead.
Tata companies in Europe, involved in heavy industry, are doing their bit. In 2010, Tata Steel Europe commissioned a £60m energy-efficiency scheme at its Port Talbot plant in the UK. A comprehensive energy-efficiency programme, introduced at its IJmuiden site in the Netherlands, identified €35m of energy savings a year. Tata Steel Europe is a member of ULCOS (ultra-low CO2 steelmaking), a pioneering partnership of 48 European organisations committed to reducing, by half, carbon dioxide emissions in steel production by 2050. Tata Steel Europe’s environmental activities are crucial to its business success.
Charles Orton-Jones is an award-winning journalist and a former editor of EuroBusiness magazine.