About Naval Hormusji Tata
Naval Hormusji Tata was born in Bombay on 30th August, 1904 in a middle class family.
Naval was only four years old when he lost his father in 1908. Naval’s father was a Spinning Master in the Advanced Mills at Ahmedabad. This tragic blow was crippling for the family, particularly for his brave mother. Those were the days before gratuity and provident fund and hardly any other source to sustain the dependents. It became an ordeal for the widow to support four growing sons.
The relatives from Bombay rallied round, provided relief for a few months thereafter, shelter was given in the humble family house at Navsari, the town where the founder of the industrial enterprise, Jamsetji Tata, was born.
The family finally settled down in Surat, and the modest resources were supplemented by the mother’s income from embroidery work. She excelled in it and her talent was well recognised.
Sir Dorabji Tata, a cousin of his parents, then came on the scene. Through his assistance, two of Naval's brothers were taken up as boarders at the J. N. Petit Parsi Orphanage. A year later, in 1916, came his turn. Since the two brothers earlier were paying boarders, Naval was accepted gratis as one of the Foundations students.
It was certainly a hard life for 300 poor boys supported on an extremely slender budget for food, clothing and health care. It was almost like a penitentiary, since the inmates had no chance to peep at the world outside. Their only glimpse of the outside was when they were taken to the Victoria Gardens once in three weeks in batches of a hundred each.
It is from this situation that the boy rose to an eminent position in the Tata organisation. The story is one of grit, determination, perseverance and a complex of rare human qualities that spelt success, and, of course, of Dame Fortune's crucial role in the life of a simple, trusting being.
Jamsetji Tata had married Hirabai, whose sister, Cooverbai, was Naval's grandmother. Jamsetji's two sons, Dorabji and Ratan, had no heir. Navajbai (Lady Ratan Tata) adopted Naval while he was still at the orphanage.
The adoption came about in unusual and somewhat sad circumstances. In 1918, Sir Ratan Tata, died in England at the early age of 47. At a family meeting, headed by Sir Dorab (Ratan's brother), it was decided that since there was no son for the Uthamna ceremony, an adopted son was necessary Naval’s mother was Sir Ratan’s favourite cousin. So Naval was chosen for adoption.
Navajbai accepted the family decision 'She played the role of Fairy Godmother for which I shall ever be grateful to her," said Naval.
She wanted him to be withdrawn from the orphanage; but the authorities refused this. Since he was a non-paying student of the Foundation, the rules did not permit his release. So, Naval had to continue as a paying boarder till he completed his matriculation.
Naval was 13 when he was adopted. Although the lad was suddenly elevated into one of the most affluent families in the country, he never forgot his past "I am grateful to God for giving me an opportunity to experience the pangs of poverty, which more than anything (else) moulded my character in later years of my life," he maintained.
Naval graduated from Bombay University in Economics and proceeded to London for a short course in Accountancy. On his return on June 1, 1930, he joined the Tata organisation as a despatch clerk-cum-assistant secretary on a monthly salary of Rs. 150.
Naval soon rose to be the Assistant Secretary of Tata Sons Ltd. In 1933, he became the Secretary to the Aviation Department and five years later, he joined as an executive in the Textiles Department.
Soon he proved his merit and in 1939 he became the Joint Managing Director of the textile mills run by Tatas. On February 1, 1941, he became a Director of Tata Sons Ltd. He took over as the Managing Director of Tata Oil Mills Co Ltd in 1948. He had already become Chairman of Tata Mills the previous year.
Thereafter, in quick succession over the years he became Chairman of the other textile mills and the three electric companies, till he became the Deputy Chairman of Tata Sons Ltd.
He was directly responsible for the management of the three Tata electric companies, the four textile mills and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust. Besides this, he guided the destinies of several companies of the group and various trusts.
The fact that he was occupying the topmost positions in management and had numerous honours bestowed on him during his illustrious career did not make him forget his humble beginnings. He once said: "If I have been able to do something in my long association with Tatas, it is simply because God gave me an opportunity—a rare one. And from that day, somehow or other, it became a mission in my life”.
Although overburdened with work, he retained his calm good manners and politeness even with his assistants. Once he needed some matter typed very fast. He gave it to his secretary, reminded him that the work needed was urgent, and pushed him to finish it at his earliest. Then he turned up at his secretary's table and said: "I am sorry to have already disturbed you twice. I don t want to trouble you, but I really need it fast. Kindly do it as soon as you can."
During his extremely busy schedule in Bombay House, Naval always found time to meet people from all walks of life. Personally, he felt that his role as an administrator of several charity trusts, including those established by Tatas, was more important than that of looking after the administrative and financial problems of the various Tata Companies he was in charge of for years.
Whenever an assistant or a colleague was unwell, he advised him to take care of himself. He often prescribed some remedy, or gave it from his collection even when it was just a minor cough.
That explains why he was so careful of his own health, and maintained himself well. Yet, he could not fight against cancer which crept on him surreptitiously. The irony is that he had served the Indian Cancer Society for over 30 years!
His politeness and consideration showed with strangers too. During his trips abroad, if anyone helped him (say, with his baggage), Naval thanked him warmly and took his address from him. On return to Bombay, he would write a warm letter of thanks.
Even at the end of a tiring day, he had the time to crack a joke or make a witty remark. To one letter writer, he once responded by saying: In your letter, you would have been more entertaining were you not so vitriolic."
Naval's broadmindedness was manifest in numerous ways. A fully ordained Zoroastrian priest, he was unorthodox, yet laid emphasis on the spirit of the religion rather than its rituals. His moral law related to teaching human beings how to behave decently with one another, and he had a cosmopolitan outlook towards all religions.
In reading, he did not confine himself to industrial relations, but was a keen student of world affairs. In fact, he was impressed by 'State of the World 1987", a report of the World Watch Institute, and many books on the I.L.O. and other U.N. agencies.
It surprised many to know that he was essentially a vegetarian, but tolerated eggs and fish. He avoided meat in any form.
The activities of Naval Tata were not confined to the enterprises he was associated with. He was President of the Employers Federation of India for several years. Having been associated with the organisation for four decades, on his retirement as its President, he was made its "President Emeritus".
His involvement with the International Labour Organisation for over three decades was very fruitful for India. As early as 1966, he had been appointed a member of the Labour Panel of the Planning Commission set up by the Union Government.
He contributed to sports, was associated with a host of other activities, and held senior offices in social, educational and welfare work. At one time, he was working with the Indian Institute of Science, the Bombay State Social Welfare Council, Swadeshi League, and the National Safety Council. He became Chairman of the Indian Cancer Society, President of the Auxiliary Forces Welfare Association and trustee of several philanthropic trusts.
Naval was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the President of India on Republic Day, 1969. The same year he was given recognition for his role in industrial peace and awarded the Sir Jehangir Ghandy Medal. He was conferred the life membership of the National Institute of Personnel Management.
He breathed his last on May 5, 1989.
Naval Hormusji Tata's Timeline
August 30, 1904
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
December 28, 1937
Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
May 5, 1989