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Sir Dorabji Tata – dedicated to the advancement of Indian industry and community



Sir Dorabji Tata gave concrete shape to the vision of his father Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the Tata Group. He established the Tata Group as an industrial giant while also supporting sport and a variety of charitable causes.

The elder son of Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata, Sir Dorabji was born on August 27, 1859. He attended the Proprietary High School in Bombay (now Mumbai). At 18, he attended Gonville and Caius College at Cambridge.It was in England that Sir Dorabji discovered his love for sports. At Cambridge, he distinguished himself at sports, winning honours for cricket and football. He also played tennis for his college, became an expert rower, won several sprint events and was a good equestrian.

He returned to Bombay in 1879 and joined St Xavier’s College, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in arts. Instead of including his son in his expanding business, Jamsetji encouraged him to broaden his experience with a stint in journalism, and later gave him independent charge of setting up a textile project in Pondicherry (today’s Puducherry). Soon after, Sir Dorabji was sent to look after the company’s flagship Empress Mills in Nagpur, India. At the age of 38, he married Meherbai Bhabha, the daughter of HJ Bhabha, inspector general of education of the erstwhile Mysore state.

Taking Industry Forward

The three great passions of Jamsetji’s life at this point were the Indian Institute of Science, which would prepare future generations of Indians to take full part in the scientific development of the country; a steel plant, which would establish India’s industrial credentials; and a pioneering hydroelectric plant near Bombay.

Sir Dorabji’s commitment to his father’s vision and values was so strong that he staked his personal fortune to save the steel venture, Tata Iron and Steel Company Ltd (TISCO) as it was known then, when in 1924 it slipped into trouble. His business sense and audacity had seen the company undertaking a five-fold expansion programme in the post-World War I period. Spiralling costs combined with transport and labour difficulties in the West upset Sir Dorabji’s calculations. At about this time, TISCO’s largest pig iron customer, Japan, was struck by an earthquake and steel prices tumbled.

It got to a point when there was not enough money to pay his workers’ wages. Sir Dorabji pledged his entire personal fortune worth, about INR 1 crore and his wife’s personal jewellery including the famous Jubilee Diamond, to obtain a loan. TISCOsecured support from several and it survived the crisis.

Sir Dorabji’s selflessness and devotion to TISCO has permeated through every generation of Tata Steel’s management and employees. The Company aspires to be the most respected and valued steel company globally. While there are metrics to assess valuation, respect is intangible. Small steps, however, can be taken that can incrementally add value to the total, taking the organisation in the direction it wishes to go. Building on the vision of its leaders like Sir Dorabji, Tata Steel has instituted a culture in which small improvements are institutionalised. More importantly, it has ensured that this culture of doing the right thing permeates every corner of the organisation.

Sporting Endeavours

Sir Dorabji had an enduring love of sport, trying his hand at different disciplines in his younger days and, later, becoming a strong patron and supporter of the Indian Olympic Association.

In fact, India owed its participation in the Olympic Games at Antwerp in 1920 in great measure to Sir Dorabji. As president of the Indian Olympic Association, he financed the Indian contingent that went to the Paris Olympics of 1924. He was also a member of the International Olympic Committee.

Sir Dorabji had the country scoured for sports talent. He arranged for the then director of the Young Men’s Christian Association to tour the country and bring home to the people of India the importance of the Olympic movement. He helped found, among other institutions in Bombay, the Willingdon Sports Club, the Parsi Gymkhana, the High Schools Athletic Association and the Bombay Presidency Olympic Games Association.

Inspired by his legacy, Tata Steel remains dedicated to championing Indian sports. The Company has established academies for football, archery, athletics, hockey and sports climbing – nurturing talent across disciplines.

A Trust for the People

Among Sir Dorabji’s most valuable legacies was the establishment of a substantial trust, into which he poured all his wealth, down to his pearl-studded tiepin. Like his father and brother before him, he believed that wealth ought to be put to constructive use. Less than a year after his wife’s death, Sir Dorabji put all his wealth into a trust which was to be used — “without any distinction of place, nationality or creed” — for the advancement of learning and research, the relief of distress and other charitable purposes. From this vision was the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust born.

The trustees of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust were empowered to sell his lands, shares, securities and jewellery, including the fabulous Jubilee diamond, but were not permitted to withdraw the shares Sir Dorabji had to his credit with Tata Sons. Through the trust, he sought to ensure the integrity of the parent firm his father, he and RD Tata had founded in 1887.

Sir Dorabji also set up a trust in his wife’s memory, the Lady Tata Memorial Trust, which he endowed with a corpus for research in leukaemia. The Lady Meherbai D Tata Education Trust was formed as a much smaller trust, partly from public donations, for the training of women in hygiene, health and social welfare.

On April 11, 1932, Sir Dorabji set sail for Europe expecting, among other things, to visit his wife’s grave in England. It was on this journey that he died, at Bad Kissengen, Germany, on June 3, 1932. A few days later, almost on the anniversary of his wife’s death, he was laid beside her at the Brookwood Cemetery in England.

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