From strength to strength
David Good, head of the Tata US corporate office, on the growth and gains after three years of operation
We now have Taj luxury hotels in three major US cities — New York, Boston and San Francisco; Corus manufacturing facilities in Ohio and Pennsylvania; Tata Business Support Services call centers employing hundreds of US citizens in northern Florida and in the heart of Appalachia; engineering work being done by TCS and INCAT for major automotive and aerospace companies; a massive undersea Tata Communications broadband cable network circling the globe; and Tetley, Good Earth Teas and Eight O'Clock coffee products in nearly every supermarket across the country. In fact, I am especially delighted when I pick up a Tetley Tea canister in my local grocery store and see "A Tata Enterprise" printed on its side.
None of this was true three years ago, and while I cannot and would not claim credit for any of it, I can claim the right to talk about it, and proudly so!
Our small office in the Washington area started with the mandate to create an "embassy" for the group, which could introduce Tata to Americans and represent the group to policymakers, regulators, the media and audiences interested in how and why Indian investment in the US has grown so rapidly. If you refer back to my article Good Tidings published on the Tata group website almost three years ago, you will see that I set out several objectives for the North America office.
The first objective was to help Americans understand that better US-India relations — both economic and political — would benefit both our countries. This is a two-way street, and I believe that both countries are better off for having traveled it. The highlight of our bilateral relationship has been the agreement to share nuclear technology — something that links the US and Indian energy industries. The agreement recognizes that India has behaved responsibly in protecting its nuclear know-how in spite of its decision to forge a nuclear program outside of the formal international non-proliferation networks. While the final coming-into-force of that agreement has been slowed down by politics in both countries, the fact that it was negotiated at all is inescapable evidence that India and the US have overcome their traditional wariness of one another and moved to levels of cooperation unheard of a decade ago.
Over the past three years I have said as often as I can and wherever I can that Indian companies are contributing to that new relationship, and that the Tata group in particular, by virtue of our size and diversity, is adding to the U.S. economy by the creation of jobs, by payment of taxes, through direct and indirect investments and by providing productivity boosts through our services companies.
A second objective was to support greater cohesion and interaction among Tata companies in the US, and here the job turned out to be bigger than we had imagined at the time, simply because our presence is so much larger than it was three years ago. Currently there are more than 20,000 Tata employees representing 16 different Tata companies in about 80 locations throughout the US and Canada. Many of these are newly acquired companies with thousands of new colleagues, operating in industries as diverse as coffee, hotels and steel. However, I am confident that we have achieved a collective sense of pride in being part of the Tata group. We have had two general meetings of North American Tata companies executives and we all agree that there is more to bind us together as Tata men and women than separates us as members of our own individual company structures.
It is very interesting to me to see the percentage of Indian faces declining as our workforce becomes more international and takes on the face of the countries where we operate. By the way, this internationalization is also a two-way street. Kapil Sharma — an American lawyer and former Capitol Hill staffer who started the North America office with me in early 2005 — has recently transferred to Bombay House, the Tata group headquarters in Mumbai. Kapil will take with him a healthy dose of US work experience, which will undoubtedly filter through in India the same way that Indian know-how and experience filters through the US businesses owned by the Tata group.
I am also happy to have Kapil's place taken by Niharika Chibber Joe, whose own specialization in Japan and Japanese adds to our office's international character. The third person in our office is Ashwini Umarji, who began with us in September 2005. We hope to add a fourth person in the office in early 2008 — more evidence of the growth of opportunities in the US.
Our third objective was the establishment of a corporate sustainability (CS) program — one that links most of the Tata companies in the US and reflects the dedication and seriousness with which the Tata group approaches CS.
All of our companies engage in some form of CS. Tata companies have contributed as good US corporate citizens in national emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina. The Tata group provided several significant donations directly to local charities providing assistance in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. TCS really stepped up to the plate by providing gratis around-the-clock service to the Government of Mississippi. The team worked a long weekend to design and develop a special program for the Department of Employment Security to get unemployment checks to needy recipients who had been affected by the storm.
Just recently, the Tata group formed a broad partnership with Washington-based NGO First Book, which donates books to underprivileged children in classrooms across the US Tata Interactive Services (an e-learning company) has worked pro bono with First Book to help them design a new national information technology net linking their donors and recipients. Additionally, Tata Sons, Eight O'Clock Coffee, Corus, Tata Communications (formerly VSNL International) and TCS made donations to First Book during the December 2007 holiday season, under a special matching program wherein the publishing company Simon & Schuster donated one book for every dollar raised. The total value of the Tata contribution was over a quarter of a million dollars. We are looking at how we can expand this partnership during the coming year.
We have also sought to contribute to the communities where we operate — including a donation to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston that facilitated the digitization and uploading of their world-famous collection of Indian miniature paintings on their website, and a grant to Harvard University which allowed 35 Harvard students to travel to South Asia for research and study.
This is just a sampling of the many activities that Tata companies engage in — from scholarships to research grants to cancer walks to clothing drives — and which reflect the deep traditional Tata commitment to contributing to the communities from which we derive our revenue.
Finally, we set ourselves to representing to the people of the US, the value that is being derived from the rapid expansion of Indian investment in the US. This aspect of my job has taken me to business groups, university campuses and think tanks around the US — an opportunity to travel to many parts of my own country, some of which I visited for the first time. I have found among Americans an intense interest in India and a strong shift from the picture of a mysterious land of exotic animals and customs, to an image of a rapidly developing country full of smart young men and women ready to compete in Tom Friedman's "flat world" economy.
When I describe to Americans who the Tatas are, the diversity of our business interests and our strong commitment to social responsibility, I can usually sense the "aha!" moment. That is when the benefits of this close economic relationship are realized and appreciated, even by those who had not heard of the Tata group previously. Interestingly, I have rarely come across anyone who is opposed to the closer bilateral relationship. Even when I encounter understandable worries about US job losses and growing competition, there is an appreciation that the Tata group represents the best of foreign companies and is a welcome addition to the US business scene.
As we enter our fourth year of operation, there is still much to be done here in the US. New opportunities for growth and expansion will have to be identified and analyzed, and we will have yeoman's work ahead of us to ensure that the Tata brand is more widely recognized and appreciated. I am acutely aware of how fiercely the Tata group protects its brand name and reputation. The challenge of maintaining the well-known Tata values embodied in the Code of Conduct while expanding more widely outside of India is one that will have to be met successfully.
There is also the growing concern over climate change and the environmental risk that will accompany rapid development in India, China and, in fact, everywhere in the world. Our Chairman Ratan Tata has mandated the Tata group to seek new and innovative ways to make our industries and facilities "greener." In fact, my office has been specifically charged to identify environmentally friendly technologies that can be brought to India to allow Tata businesses to grow in a way that is in harmony with the environment and not in conflict with it. The learning curve has been steep for me — a former government servant and foreign service officer turned business executive — but the journey has been made infinitely easier by the knowledge that I represent a company that in all its actions, seeks to give and not to take from the communities where it operates. I always keep in mind that the Tata-US relationship goes back more than a hundred years, and that this is only the beginning of what will surely be a much longer and ever more productive partnership.