From escaping a harrowing plane accident to his rise as the chairman of Tata Group — the legendary Ratan Tata shares it all in National Geographic’s Mega Icons Season 2 episode, which is set to air on September 27.
The plane that didn’t crash
Tata recalled the incident when he was 17 years old and had a pilot’s license as per the rules prevailing then. But he could not rent a plane all by himself, so he talked to his classmates about flying, and volunteered to fly them if they shared the cost. The trick worked. He was joined by three willing passengers set on a joy ride, but midway the engine failed. “First the plane shook like hell and then the engine quit,” Ratan Tata recalled, adding that the propeller stopped turning. They were without an engine and Tata’s job was to land the plane anyhow. And he did succeed.
Tata recalled how he was not really worried about the plane crashing. “It depends on how high you are, enough gliding time to pick a place to land,” Tata said. Even as the plane was about to crash, he remained calm and maintained his sense of balance. “You couldn’t get excited. ‘No engine! No engine!’” Tata concludes while laughing. All this while his co-passengers remained quiet and nobody spoke till the plane kissed the land.
How he became the chairman
In the initial days of his career, Ratan Tata worked as an architect in Los Angeles. He came back to India to meet his ailing grandmother. He stayed with her for four-five years and quit his job in the US. He took up a job on the shop floor of TELCO (now Tata Motors).
Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy (JRD) Tata, Indian aviator, entrepreneur, chairman of Tata Group and the shareholder of Tata Sons, told Ratan that he can’t just sit around. “You need to be involved,” said JRD. To be placed on the shop floor in TELCO, Ratan Tata felt it to be a waste of time, as there was nothing really well-planned.
Ratan Tata made his own training program and watched material as it went through the various stages of manufacture. “In the hindsight, it was the most valuable six months that I could have had, as I was on the shop floor with no difference between me and the next person,” Tata recalled.
After many years, Ratan Tata became the chairman of TELCO. There was not a situation where somebody could fool him because he had a very good background, he said.