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India@75: JRD Tata, the man who demolished the white man's prejudices

The man to demolish the myth that such abilities are the white man's preserve was the 28 -year-old Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata or the legendary JRD Tata. The man who led India's biggest business empire, the Tata group, for half a century. The only entrepreneur to win India's highest honor, the Bharat Ratna.  

Jul 17, 2022, 11:27 AM IST

1932, October 15. A Puss Moth aircraft flew from Karachi to Madras. It was the first-ever aircraft flown by an Indian. The man to demolish the myth that such abilities are the white man's preserve was the 28 -year-old Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata or the legendary JRD Tata. The man who led India's biggest business empire, the Tata group, for half a century. The only entrepreneur to win India's highest honour -- the Bharat Ratna.  

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Born in Paris to a rich Parsi family of which the ancestors had come as refugees many centuries ago from Iran. His parents were Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata and his French wife Sooni Suzanne. Ratanji was a close relative of Jamshedji Tata, the famed founder of the Tata Sons. 

Following education in London and France, Jehangir was enrolled in the French army for a year. After he arrived in India in the direction of his father, the 25-year-old Jehangir took a major decision; to give up his French citizenship and become an Indian citizen to proclaim himself a full-fledged Indian. 

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In the same year, Jehangir realized his long-cherished dream. He became the first Indian to obtain a commercial pilot license. Three years later, he became the father of the Indian aviation industry when he set up India's first airline company. 

Tata Aviation Services, which later became Tata Air. It was started as an airmail service. In 1946, Tata Air was rechristened Air India, which became the national carrier with the iconic Indian Maharajah as its mascot.  

By then, Jehangir had entered Tata Sons' director board following the death of his father, and in 1938 Jehangir became the Chairman of Tata Son's at the age of (34). He was the youngest to assume the post.  In 1953, Air India was nationalised by the Indian government. Though JRD was shocked, he remained as Air India Chairman at Nehru's request. 

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He remained at Tatas' helm for exactly half a century during the time when the group became the country's largest-ever corporate giant.  India's first major transnational company, there are no sectors in which Tata has no presence.

Once a subject of colonial Britain, the Indian Company now owns iconic British brands like the Jaguar Land Rover, Tetley Tea, Corus Steel, and the St James Court Hotel of London. JRD breathed his last in Geneva in 1993 at the age of 89.

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