Tata’s Top Executive Embraces Philanthropy

He is the most generous overseas donor to Harvard Business School to date, not to mention the chairman of the largest Indian conglomerate company, but Ratan N. Tata remains an understated man.

According to both American and Indian intellectuals, humility and integrity are the two distinctive traits of a man considered nearly as powerful as the greatest political leaders in India.

For instance, the Tata Group billionaire refuses to let others carry his bag for him, according to Harvard Business School Professor Krishna G. Palepu, who has worked with Tata personally.

“We’re talking about a businessman who the current Indian prime minister publicly praises—and the leader of a company that commands the respect of the country,” Harvard Business School Professor Karthik Ramanna says.

In his nearly 20 years as chairman of Tata Group—India’s largest conglomerate that boasts holdings of over 200 companies—Tata has expanded the industrial empire’s international and domestic reach without “playing the bribery game,” according to Fareed Zakaria, editor-at-large of TIME Magazine.

Zakaria, who has spoken extensively with Tata, says that the $50 million donation to the Business School is part of Tata’s general efforts at expanding the international scope of his conglomerate.

“Tata is ultimately a worldwide company, so the Harvard Business School is a natural place to make an impact,” Zakaria says. “There are lots of things that they do in India, but this was an unusual opportunity; this was a way to establish the Tata name in a global context.”

SIZEABLE SUM FROM AN ALUM

Tata’s $50 million donation to the Business School will be used to develop a new building called Tata Hall. The structure will house classrooms and residential space for the school’s executive education program, which trains professionals in an accelerated management program and is currently housed in MacArthur and Baker Halls.

Because of the global reach of the executive education program, from which Tata graduated in 1975, the benefits of his donation “extend far beyond HBS,” Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria says.

“Executives come to our programs here in Allston,” Nohria writes in a statement. “They learn from our faculty and one another, and then they return to their companies with new and improved skills.”

“Since this process will be repeated year after year, over time the benefits from the ripple effect will be enormous,” Nohria adds.

Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Lakshmi Ramarajan says she believes that Tata’s gift not only reflects the businessman’s relationship with the program as an alum, but also his role as a global leader and citizen.

“His gift has tremendous importance in understanding how he sees himself a global citizen,” Ramarajan says. “Charitable giving and many of these kinds of acts of generosity often have to do with how we see ourselves.”

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