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Guest Column: Understanding Brand Ratan Tata

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Guest Column: Understanding Brand Ratan Tata

Ratan Tata stepped down as Chairman of Tata Group on his 75th birthday on December 28, handing over the baton of his business to Cyrus Mistry, the first chief appointed from outside the immediate Tata family in its 144-year history.

While Ratan Tata has been credited with transforming the Tata Group into a streamlined conglomerate of more than 100 companies and earning a global reputation for his consolidation and expansion strategies, let’s look at the brand attributes that made him the most powerful Indian CEO brand globally.

Many a times the brand attributes of the CEO help the brand of the organisation and vice versa and in Tata’s case, it seems, the brand attributes of the organisation and Ratan Tata are very similar.

Let’s have a close look at personal brand and understand how it helps and how it could be challenged at times. After the movie ‘Deewar’, Amitabh Bachchan was known as the angry young man and several movies in the following years portrayed him as angry and young. So the attributes of Brand Amitabh became angry and young. In the post Emergency days in India, the youth was angry and these movies all became a huge hit.

But later, when Amitabh was neither angry nor young, many of his movies failed until he re-branded himself as Big B. In his case, the angry young man was aligned with his behaviour and values at that point of time and the Big B is aligned with his behaviour and values at this time. When we look at personal brands, we must keep in mind that we are discussing human beings and no one is going to be perfect.

The personal brand has three attributes and the first is the core identity of the brand. Core identity defines who you are at a deeper level and what are your core values. Some of the core values of the Ratan Tata brand are credibility, capability, empathy, service and trust. The core values are much deeper than the competencies one demonstrates. A core value is only a true core value if it has an active influence and if the person manages to live by it, at least most of the time. An example of how core values are used in product branding is Mercedes Benz and BMW. Both are in the category of luxury, quality and high-end cars. But the value Mercedes has been projecting is status and prestige, while BMW projects adventure, fun and power.

Values have an order
Many psychologists now argue that values have an order and we could move up and operate from higher order values as we increase our self awareness and authenticity. Robert Kegan, Professor at Harvard Graduate School proposed about there being a range of “orders” of the mind and of the need for leaders to scale their abilities to the higher orders so that they can solve complex problems and create personal transformation.

Richard Barret, author and expert on values, talks about seven levels of consciousness – a model he developed as an extension of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. While survival, selfish wealth creation, power, greed, status, and being liked can be considered as lower order values; self actualisation, service, trust, honesty and integrity can be considered as higher end values.  Keeping these studies in the background we could assume that Ratan Tata most of the time operated from higher order values.

The second element of the personal brand is the brand projections and actions that are aligned to the core values of the brand. Ratan Tata demonstrated though his actions that nation building, giving back to the society and making Tata a successful global brand is close to his heart. This, in spite of the fact that in 2010 alone the Tata trusts disbursed Rs 500 crore ($80 million at current exchange rates) to various causes and institutions. Purpose statement of the Tata Group reads as: “At the Tata Group we are committed to improving the quality of life of the communities we serve”. Anyone who has visited Jamshedpur will know the meaning of this purpose statement and how well this statement is expressed and executed there.

This means Ratan Tata was able to demonstrate his core values through actions that were congruent with his values – integrity and walking the talk. Ratan Tata was also able build a cadre of leaders who demonstrate the Tata values and contribute significantly to the organisation. A common leadership thread runs through and across different Tata enterprises and there is a strong link to the group values and purpose. There is a distinctive leadership profile and leadership development agenda at the top; a leadership engine that takes care of early planning and picking the right people for the future and training them to take on bigger responsibilities. This demonstrates how he empowered and built a leadership pipeline.

The third aspect of the personal brand is the brand perception. While leaders operate from their core values and align their actions accordingly, the public at large could develop a brand perception of the leader. While Jack Welsh did a lot for people development and building leaders in GE, at one time his brand perception was “Neutron Jack” (in reference to the Neutron bomb) for eliminating people.

Ratan Tata’s brand perception is aligned with his brand identity. He is considered, credible, authentic and effective. So, other than managing and leading the business, his predecessor has one more task at hand. Live up to the Brand Ratan Tata.

The author is an organisation development guru and a celebrity coach. He is also Founder and Managing Director of Organisation Development Alternatives

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