November 2014

'Service to the community is an important factor for our success'

In May 2013, Dr David Landsman was appointed director of Tata Limited, the representative office of Tata Sons for Europe. He is responsible for the oversight and coordination of the Tata group’s activities in Europe, a key international market with 19 operating Tata companies. He talks about moving from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Tata, elaborating on his role, and the challenges and opportunities facing the business in Europe.

How has the transition from government service to the Tata group been?
I’ve found it thoroughly enjoyable and a great learning experience. I have had to learn a lot about different sectors, even though this isn’t my first job in the private sector. I’m doing my best to keep up to speed, for example, by enrolling in a course organised by the UK Institute of Directors. My role includes a number of areas: government relations, business development, strategic communications and general management in geographically dispersed organisations. I’m convinced that what matters most is that people are people — wherever they live and whatever organisation or sector they work in. The fact that different people may use different ways of communicating can drive us towards stereotypes which get in the way of working together. For example, in the Foreign Office, you would normally read reports in densely written prose, whereas in business, it seems to be mostly PowerPoint. That doesn’t mean we’re different species! We’d all do well to focus on the similarities rather than the differences, and to encourage more interchange between the public and private sectors.

Could you give us a sense of Tata Limited’s role in Europe? What are your strategic objectives?
Tata Limited dates back to 1907 and has historically played an important role in procuring equipment for some of Tata’s biggest projects in India. We are modernising this business in order to provide better services to new and traditional customers. With the spread of Tata companies across the UK and mainland Europe, we are also a key part of the group’s new internationalisation strategy led from the group centre by Madhu Kannan, Group Executive Council member. Our team will help companies (particularly those without a base in Europe) to find new business opportunities; support global corporate affairs and our Europe-based companies with brand-building initiatives; and represent the group before governments and influencers across Europe as well as before the European Union in Brussels. I’d be interested in hearing from any group company which believes that we can help them develop their business in Europe.

In addition to heading Tata Limited, I also chair the Tata Network Forum (Europe). Our aim, working seamlessly with Tata Quality Management Services, is to promote networking and best practice sharing at all levels to help implement the new group-level initiatives announced at the Annual Group Leadership Conference on July 29, 2014. While the operational independence of each company is a fundamental part of the Tata way of doing business, I am a firm believer that we must make the most of our synergies to ensure that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Tata has made significant investments in the UK and Europe over the last decade. Could you tell us about the importance of Tata’s relationship with both?
Tata is recognised in the UK by the government and a wide range of stakeholders as a major investor. In particular, the success of Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has won huge respect for the group and Ratan Tata’s strategic vision. Beyond JLR, we are known as a significant player in a wide range of sectors through the acquisition of British household names such as Corus (now Tata Steel) and Tetley Tea, as well as through our “organic” businesses such as Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and the Taj properties in London.

The connection with France is also very deep with JRD Tata at its centre and Tata Steel and TCS being very active. Today, group companies make a major contribution to the economies of the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands and are present across the continent. But there is still plenty of work to do. Although people know of Tata in the UK, they don’t always know as much — our values, our global strengths in technology and innovation and our commitment to the communities we work in. We also have good relations with stakeholders in Europe. It’s important to remember that our interest in a country isn’t confined to our investments there. Even though the effects of the global financial crisis are still being felt, many group companies see very promising markets across Europe and we are working with several to find new opportunities.

What are the main challenges facing the group in the UK and Europe?
The UK is emerging strongly from the recession, though growth elsewhere in Europe remains weak. As we look globally for opportunities, if Europe is to get its share of investment it needs to sustain and enhance competitiveness. A group like ours is both about the cost of doing business — particularly taxes (such as those on energy) which disproportionately affects manufacturing — and the capacity to promote growth, which is about closing the skills gap, particularly in engineering. If we could address these two challenges, the prospects for long-term growth would be stronger.

How is the group addressing the skills deficit in the UK and Europe?
Across Europe, especially in the UK, there is a recognition, after the global financial crisis, that we need to “rebalance” our economies with a greater emphasis on manufacturing. The greatest obstacle is the lack of skilled engineers, which affects a number of our businesses. For the group, this is not just a business challenge, but also the area we’ve chosen to focus on in our service to the community because it’s such an important factor for our future success in the countries we work in. Our response fits into three parts.

The first is upskilling our own people, from funding university education and specialised training courses for staff to employee volunteering schemes.

Secondly, we invest in training the next generation — for example, Tata Motors European Technical Centre offers training opportunities for graduates of the new Warwick Manufacturing Group Academy; JLR and TCS offer significant graduate programmes and several companies offer university scholarships and apprenticeships. Finally, but equally importantly, several companies have promoted community initiatives designed to encourage young people into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). For example, the Jaguar Land Rover Maths in Motion Challenge for schools and Tata Steel’s Industrial Cadets programme. All these programmes will have a long-term impact.

Tata Limited recently sponsored a literary festival in the UK.  Tell us about that.
One of the challenges for us is to explain the group’s background and prospects to our stakeholders: as the communications specialists would say “moving from awareness to understanding”. It’s also the reason we accepted the invitation to be the lead sponsor of the Hay Festival, one of UK’s largest literary festivals. The programme at Hay is very diverse and goes well beyond literature into history, science and current affairs. We sponsored the event, as well as a series of videos, entitled the “Hay Levels,” which are intended for students about to take their school leaving exams. We decided that it would be an excellent opportunity for Tata as part of the UK’s “economic furniture” to support an important part of the country’s “intellectual furniture” and at the same time explain more about our group, our heritage and our values to the local audience.

What would you say to people thinking about joining the Tata group?
I’ve been with the group for over a year now and have had the privilege of meeting a large number of Tata people. Honestly, I’ve liked everyone I’ve met. Is that enough of a recommendation?