Sunday, 6 December 2009

A great organisation

The house of the Tatas has been synonymous with values which are unique in the annals of business history. This post is about why they more than deserve their illustrious reputation.

This is from an e mail doing the rounds – these are apparently notes taken by Dilip Ranjekar , CEO of the Azim Premji Foundation. I haven’t requested permission from Dilip, or the persons who forwarded me this mail, to post this, but I am sure none would mind me spreading a story that ought to be told and will bring a lump to your throat. Here it is

Last evening, I had a dinner meeting with HNS in Goa

He narrated the 26th November 2008 terror attack on Taj Mumbai and there were some important points.

Terrorist entry

1. They entered from the Leopold Colaba hotel entrance and also from the northern entrance - spraying indiscriminate bullets on the Taj security personnel and guests in general.

2. Though Taj had a reasonable security - they were surely not equipped to deal with terrorists who were spraying 6 bullets per trigger.

3. The strategy of the terrorists was to throw chunks of RDX in an open area that will explode and burn - creating chaos so that the guests and staff run helter skelter so that the terrorists could kill them. The idea was to create maximum casualties.

4. There were several critical gatherings and functions happening in the hotel on that day - a Bohra wedding, global meet of Unilever CEOs and Board
members and 2 other corporate meetings were being held in the hotel - besides the usual crowd.

5. The firing and chaos began at about 8.30 p.m. and the staff including employees on casual and contract basis displayed exemplary presence of mind, courage and sacrifice to protect the guests who were in various halls and conference rooms.

Stories of Staff Heroics

1. A young lady guest relation executive with the HLL gathering stopped any of the members going out and volunteered 3 times to go out and get things when the situation outside the hall was very explosive and she could have been easily the target of the bullets

2. Thomas George a captain escorted 54 guests from a backdoor staircase and when he was going down last he was shot by the terrorists

3. There were 500 emails from various guests narrating heroics of the staff and thanking them for saving their lives

4. In a subsequent function, Ratan Tata broke down in full public view and sobbed saying - "the company belongs to these people". The wife of Thomas George who laid his life saving others said, she and the kids were proud of the man and that she did not know that for 25 years she lived
with a man who was so courageous and brave

5. The episode happened on 26th November, a significant part of the hotel was burnt down and destroyed - the hotel was re-opened on 21st December and all the employees of the hotel were paraded in front of the guests

6. It was clearly a saga of extra-ordinary heroics by ordinary people for their organisation and in a way for their country. The sense of duty and service was unprecedented

7. The young lady who protected and looked after the HLL guests was a management trainee and we often speak of juniority and seniority in the organisation. She had no instructions from any supervisor to do what she did

* She took just 3 minutes to rescue the entire team through the kitchen
* Cars were organised outside the hotel as per seniority of the members
* In the peak of the crisis, she stepped out and got things for the guests

8. People who exhibited courage included janitors, waiters, directors, artisans and captains - all levels of people

The Tata Gesture

1. All category of employees including those who had completed even 1 day as casuals were treated on duty during the time the hotel was closed

2. Relief and assistance to all those who were injured and killed.

3. The relief and assistance was extended to all those who died at the railway station, surroundings including the "Pav-Bhaji" vendor and the pan shop owners

4. During the time the hotel was closed, the salaries were sent by money order

5. A psychiatric cell was established in collaboration with Tata Institute of Social Sciences to counsel those who needed such help

6. The thoughts and anxieties going on people's mind was constantly tracked and where needed psychological help provided

7. Employee outreach centers were opened where all help, food, water, sanitation, first aid and counseling was provided. 1600 employees were covered by this facility

8. Every employee was assigned to one mentor and it was that person's responsibility to act as a "single window" clearance for any help that the person required

9. Ratan Tata personally visited the families of all the 80 employees who in some manner - either through injury or getting killed - were affected.

10. The dependents of the employees were flown from outside Mumbai to Mumbai and taken care off in terms of ensuring mental assurance and peace. They were all accommodated in Hotel President for 3 weeks

11. Ratan Tata himself asked the families and dependents - as to what they wanted him to do.

12. In a record time of 20 days, a new trust was created by the Tatas for the purpose of relief of employees.

13. What is unique is that even the other people, the railway employees, the police staff, the pedestrians who had nothing to do with Tatas were covered by compensation. Each one of them was provided subsistence allowance of Rs. 10K per month for all these people for 6 months.

14. A 4 year old granddaughter of a vendor got 4 bullets in her and only one was removed in the Government hospital. She was taken to the Bombay hospital and several lakhs were spent by the Tatas on her to fully treat her

15. New hand carts were provided to several vendors who lost their carts

16. Tata will take responsibility of life education of 46 children of the victims of the terror

17. This was the most trying period in the life of the organisation. Senior managers including Ratan Tata were visiting funeral to funeral over the 3 days that were most horrible

18. The settlement for every deceased member ranged from Rs. 36 to 85 lacs in addition to the following benefits:

* Full last salary for life for the family and dependents

* Complete responsibility of education of children and dependents -anywhere in the world

* Full Medical facility for the whole family and dependents for rest of their life

* All loans and advances were waived off - irrespective of the amount
* Counselor for life for each person


1. How was such passion created among the employees? How and why did they behave the way they did?

2. The organisation is clear that it is not something that someone can take credit for. It is not some training and development that created such behaviour. If someone suggests that - everyone laughs

3. It has to do with the DNA of the organisation, with the way Tata culture exists and above all with the situation that prevailed that time. The organisation has always been telling that customers and guests are #1 priority

4. The hotel business was started by Jamshedji Tata when he was insulted in one of the British hotels and not allowed to stay there.

5. He created several institutions which later became icons of progress, culture and modernity. IISc is one such institute. He was told by the rulers that time that he can acquire land for IISc to the extent he could fence the same. He could afford fencing only 400 acres.

6. When the HR function hesitatingly made a very rich proposal to Ratan - he said - do you think we are doing enough?

7. The whole approach was that the organisation would spend several hundred crore in re-building the property - why not spend equally on the employees who gave their life?

THIS is a great organization, full of great people.


A journey called Life said...

from what i have seen, people, by and large align themselves to their work place and are ready to the extra mile- which doesnt (as rightly stated) come with training..what is heartening is that such gestures are noticed, appreciated and rewarded suitably..its very endearing to read about such touching accounts of employers and employees..

savitha said...

I have always wondered why all these hullabaloo around the TATAs? From what I read just now, I understand they are indeed incredible! Leave alone the employees, their(management) humanity shone through their responsibility for those who weren't by any means, connected to them, and that in a time, when they were already going through a tough time?? People like the young lady executive belittle us in a fraction of second, I am all misty-eyed!! A respectful salute(that is all I can do now) to all those who exhibited exemplary attitude and courage!! I bow!!

I seriously don't understand what the terrorists have gained through the entire episode! (Except for the one in captivity, who is enjoying a king-sized life!). They've wasted millions of money on intelligence, planning, procuring arms, training, studying each location carefully- taking so many lives(not even one of whom they'd know), making the lives of a few miserable- all for what reason? Just to give an insecured feeling?? Just to show they are capable?? If so, they must atleast have that courage to claim ownership- atleast then, we might know whom to fear about. Sigh!!

Sandhya Sriram said...

Indeed a very touching post.

the depth of the employee bonding to an organization is inversely proportional to the height from which the top management looks at them.

It is the connect which the organization has built with its employees that sinks deep down in their hearts.

Ramesh - Every one who has ever worked with you remembers you all his/her life for a jesture, a thought, a solution, a vision, a strategy or just a warm (you really mean to me) hello. You are another Ratan Tata in your own way

savitha said...

//Ramesh - Every one who has ever worked with you remembers you all his/her life for a jesture, a thought, a solution, a vision, a strategy or just a warm (you really mean to me) hello. You are another Ratan Tata in your own way//

Now, that's another reason to feel proud to have known you!! :)

Ramesh said...

@AJCL - Yes people will easily align with the organisation if its genuine and matches their own values.

@savitha - Yes there is something in the Tata culture that is unique. They have many warts too - but the old world values of Jamshedji and JRD tata is inside the very fabric of that organisation

@Sandhya - OMG Sandhya - you are far too kind. I'm completely stumped for words. I'm just a small man writing a small blog. But thanks for a very touching, but completely ill deserved compliment.

@Savitha - Sandhya is just being her usual incredibly kind self. Take her words with a huge huge pich of salt !! And its been my privilege to be able to know you too.

VA said...

Tatas are truly India's pride for what they have been doing time and again. The way they set examples just goes on to make us believe here is one organisation which takes care of its employees the best way.

When such are the DNAs of the organisation, each one of janitors, waiters, directors, artisans, captains or any other perosn for that matter imbibes and emulates those values at workplace and at home equally.

There is another school of thought which says when the organisation is in red for a long time and bleeding, it becomes difficult for leadership to focus on people management and priority shifts from people management to result management.

Perhaps this is exactly what makes a difference in such trying circumstances - "It has to do with the DNA of the organisation".

VA said...

Ramesh - Of course, there is a lot to learn from you, your spark in itself is a great inspiration. :-)

Pranav said...

incredibly heartwarming. Loved this post.

Ramesh said...

@VA - Absolutely right - it has to do with the DNA of the organisation. Thanks for your kind words

@Pranav - Thanks young man

Anonymous said...

I always knew the Tatas are like the gentlemen in business - that they believed in social responsibility. But aftermath of last year really shows them up for what they are - a sensitive business enterprise with a heart of gold!! Kudos to the Tatas and may their tribe increase!

Anonymous said...

I always suspected you are a gem of a person .. Looks like I am right (from Sandhya's comment)! And no, you aren't allowed to be modest for this comment!!:-)

LG said...

The timing of the post Dec 6 - no one forget and the subject of the post. In my humble opinion, TATAs are another THE BEST example of visionary companies.Its a blessing to have 'em in India. In collin's words, they're real "clock builders" instead of "time tellers". Well, I'm saying this not only because of this incident but I've participated couple of TATA group audits - I used to amaze the care taking of the employees' families. GOD BLESS INDIA!!

Srivats said...

I almost cried at office reading this, as savi said I wasnt sure why TATA was so well spoken all the time and now I know thanks to you. I wish I could for them sometime! It is firms and employees like this are hope for India.

gils said...

intha post padikarachay apdiye pulalrichi poachu!! being a corporate..tht too frm the times of license raj ..maintaining the same level of integrity and passion for its employees...i think these are something which are genetic. Howmuch ever one might aruge over it..certain traits are inborn and comes with the gene i guess. Tata's have a name to live up to and with this incident i guess, Ratan scores a point over his illustrious predecessors. I've always been fond of the Tata's and this post only strengthens my belief in them.

gils said...

avvvvvv...thalaivaray ipothaan unga profileay paakaren..neenga ivlo peria aalaa!!! avvvvvvvvv....athu teriayama naan paatuka mokka potuturuken!! manichikunga

Deepa said...

I had heard in bits and pieces about the day they re-opened Taj Mahal after the tragedy and what a poignant moment it was. I have wondered so many times when someone says that in business, you can't get carried away too far with social responsibilities and public interest, and here is an organization standing tall and strong and saying, 'this is how'!

My brother worked in Taj ITPL that time and lots of his friends stuck inside and a chef friend killed... have to show this to him!

And yes, about all the comments about you, you are guilty as charged and you have the right to remain silent! (thats enough liberty with you for a lifetime I guess :P )... people in our batch already knew you before even seeing you, because during our 15 days of induction, there was not a single person who did not mention some incident with you which turned their lives around or motivated them. And it never stopped at the induction sessions.

Neelesh said...

This would be one of the Company people would admire himself/herself working for and relate as a People company rather than saying it as a Big Corporate. You can count (a single handful) like this. This is heart felt post. Hats off to Tata! Wish we could have one in every company like this, a Nice dream to have...

Ramesh said...

@thoughtful train - You summed it up beautifully. Tatas are the gentlemen of business. Oh, I am floored by your kindness - thanks thoughtful train

@LG - Yes, there is a certain culture in the Tatas that's hard to find elsewhere

@Sri - Yes, there is a treak of greatness in that organisation. Not everywhere, not always, but its there.

@gils - Very right in your assessment of the group. Saar - na romba chinna manushan - etho nalla nalla varthaigal ellam ezhudittanga. romba sangadam erukku !

@Deepa - Awww - I am completely touched. way way too kind. Thanks a million.

@Neelesh - Yes, a company with a heart.

J said...

Amazing read. Very inspiring story and such a corporate role model and a role model for each one of us as ordinary people. You only mentioned a lump in the throat - it is a 'tears in your eyes' story.

Exkalibur666 said...

Great read. Tatas is a fantastic organization. No indian can remain unmoved reading this..

Ramesh said...

@J - Yes, tears in the eyes too.

@Exkalibur - Every Indian, nay every human being, would be moved.

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