Happy Birthday To Me?

January 19th, 2010 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Going off the recommendation of our tour guide from earlier a group of us headed out to a local restaurant for dinner.  Somewhere between the thirty-two orders of naan the table took down and two personalized songs from a wandering Neil Diamond impersonator, someone at the table got the classic idea to tell the staff it was my birthday.

I loved the live acoustic rendition of “Happy Birthday” coupled with the version they blasted over the loudspeaker in the background, but my favorite part had to be my birthday cake. Blowing out what is essentially an industrial strength sparkler on a mud pie personalized with “Happy Birthday Slewis” was hilarious – Loved it!

Meeting with Tata Steel at the Bombay House


The trip is coming to a close.  We met with Tata Steel at the Tata Group’s Bombay House headquarters.  We used their Halo Room to meet in small groups with the Chief Information Officer and Chief Strategy Officer for Tata Steel.

The CIO shared with us the familiar story of the pioneering spirit that fueled Tata’s growth early in the 20th century when other Indian companies experienced stagnant growth due to governmental and economic limitations.  We heard about JD Tata’s dream to bring the steel industry within India’s borders to help take his country to the next level.  Here is a company in an industry that has not only experienced significant industry specific challenges in the last 20-30 years, but has also survived “British Raj” (Britain’s colonial rule), socialism and the nationalization of the industry, and India’s economic liberalization in the 90’s only to emerge as a global leader in steel manufacturing (and now processing thanks to the Tata Ryerson buyout announced after our visit in Pune).

During our meeting something that really caught my attention was the importance placed on corporate social responsibility (CSR) across the Tata Group from the very beginning.   Tata has established itself as the leader in CSR and really set the tone for how other companies operate in India.  From all of our interactions with various leaders at Tata, I get the impression that Tata has always had one eye on profits and growth and another on improving the welfare of its employees and the nation of India.  In the early 20th century it was Tata that helped pass some of India’s first labor welfare laws and introduced maternity benefits for women in the late 40’s. The Tata Group funded the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (1936); the Tata Memorial Centre for Cancer Research and Treatment (1941); the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (1945); and the National Centre for the Performing Arts, (1966) and those are just four examples from Mumbai!

It’s clear that their motto, “Give back what you get,” has been followed for far longer than the recent wave of CSR popularity.

The CSR discussion made the obvious transition to how you get people to buy into a particular corporate philosophy. How do you create a vision from the top down that drives the type of mindset that says profits are the goal, but so is being true to your company and your country?

For Tata it all starts at the top with an inspirational mindset, followed by people focus, communication focus and a culture that encourages the notion of failure to move forward.  In 2007, Tata created a “vision architecture” that gave all employees the tools necessary to improve the financial bottom line of the company.  The goal was to foster an environment and culture that created a sense of passion that would keep Tata viable and engage employees.  In the first year alone they received over 7000 entries from employees with suggestions for improvements.

Finally, we learned about IT challenges at Tata Steel.  The CIO talked about the transition from 700+ unlinked sales offices in 1990 to one of the most technologically savvy IT infrastructures in the world.  Tata has evolved from custom-built mainframes twenty years ago to today’s custom-made SAP and process mapping software solutions.  The CIO brought it all together when he described the use of IT to enable the collection of feedback from employees complementing the “vision architecture” fostered throughout the company.