AT THE HELM
Natarajan Chandrasekaran: The Marathon Man’s second stint as chairman of the Tata Group likely to be as exciting as the previous one
- IBJ Bureau
- Feb 27, 2022
In the early 1980s, a young man graduated in applied sciences from Coimbatore Institute of Technology. Soon after, the bright student returned home to Mohanur in Namakkal district of Tamil Nadu, keen on looking after his family farm. For six months, the young man was actively involved in the family’s banana cultivation. He also toyed with the idea of taking up chartered accountancy. Then, one fine day, he happened to meet M Gurusamy, the principal of Coimbatore Institute of Technology. Mr Gurusamy persuaded the young man to abandon his farming plans and instead take up master’s in computer application (MCA).
If not for Mr Gurusamy’s sage advice, the young man would perhaps be toiling on his farm or maybe crunching numbers and poring over balance sheets. And Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Tata Sons would have missed a brilliant chief heading them.
The young man from Mohanur was Natarajan Chandrasekaran, who last month was reappointed executive chairman of Tata Sons – the holding company of the sprawling, over Rs 7,70,000-crore Tata Group – for five more years.
Hopes were always running high on the brilliant young man from Mohanur. The youngest son of S Natarajan – a lawyer at the Madras High Court – and Meenakshi – a homemaker – Mr Chandrasekaran studied at Tamil Government School in his hometown before taking up the technical courses. Mr Chandrasekaran joined TCS in 1987 after completing his MCA from Regional Engineering College, Trichy. He went on to become the chairman of TCS and finally headed Tata Sons.
It was not surprising at all for the Tatas to give another chance to Mr Chandrasekaran. Chandra – as he is known in the corporate circles – was largely successful in restoring the prestige of the over-a-century-old Tata Group soon after taking charge of the iconic conglomerate in 2017. Just months before Mr Chandrasekaran’s first stint as the Tata Sons chief, the group’s image had taken a beating with the ouster of Cyrus Mistry as chairman of the Tata Group.
Mr Chandrasekaran also provided the much-needed momentum for the Tata Group to expand at an amazing pace. A long-distance runner that Chandra is, his qualities of endurance, grit, determination and focus appear to have persuaded the Tata Group to push the limits and surge ahead.
So, it was natural for the 58-year-old Tata Sons chief’s first tenure to be dynamic and eventful. During that period, apart from buying Bhushan Steel and Power, the Tatas won the bid for State-run carrier Air India. The group also developed a super app (TataNeu), revamped Tata Motors’ domestic operations and electrified the world’s cheapest car, the Nano. Mr Chandrasekaran also oversaw the divestment of Tata Steel’s cash-guzzling European operations. Under his watch, the group made a big foray into the e-commerce arena by buying a 64 per cent stake in BigBasket.
An avid photographer and music lover, he has run marathons in Amsterdam, Boston, Chicago, Berlin, Mumbai, New York and Tokyo. It would not be surprising again if the Marathon Man’s second stint gets the Tata Group to endure and achieve many more milestones.