66% of Tata, founded by Jamsetji Tata in the 19th Century, has always been owned by charities – BBC News

February 3, 2015

Asia & Oceania

The men of steel with a softer side

Jamsetji Tata

Tata, the Indian company that owns Tetley Tea and Jaguar Land Rover, prides itself on its ethics – 66% of the business is owned by charities. Its unique character was shaped by the passions of its founder Jamsetji Tata and his successors.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, Indian businessman Jamsetji Tata walked into one of Mumbai’s most expensive hotels – but, so the story goes, he was told to leave because of the colour of his skin.

Legend has it that he was so incensed he decided to build his own hotel – a better one that would welcome Indian guests.

And so, in 1903, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel opened its doors on the waterfront in Mumbai. It was the first building in the city to have electricity, American fans, German lifts and English butlers. It’s still the height of luxury today.

Jamsetji was born in 1839 into a Parsi family – many of his forefathers had been Zoroastrian priests. He had made his fortune trading cotton, tea, copper, brass and even opium, which was legal at the time. He was well-travelled and fascinated by new inventions.

A view of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai circa 1920

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai circa 1920

Jamsetji had a vision for India summed up by the Hindi word Swadeshi, which means “made in our own country” – an idea that was part of the Indian independence movement of the early 1900s.

“What advances a nation or a community is not so much to prop up its weakest and most helpless members, but to lift up the best and the most gifted, so as to make them of the greatest service to the country,” he said.

Read the whole story of the remarkable man who willed a large conglomerate into existence in colonial-era India, and whose descendants have continued along the path he laid: running a commercial enterprise that has a soul – and a pride in its origin. TOLA.

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2015.  9:30 p.m. [GMT]

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