When Ratan Tata announced his group’s takeover of Corus of the UK on Wednesday, he could not resist waving the flag for Indian business.
“I think it’s a moment of great fulfilment for all of us in India because Tata Steel as an Indian steel company now has global scale,” said the Tata Group chairman.
The deal marks a career peak for an Indian businessman who has staked the future of India’s second largest conglomerate on a strategy heavily dependent on overseas acquisitions.
Mr Tata, 70, who took the top job in 1991, when India started to liberalise its economy, has turned many of Tata’s once stodgy companies into lean operations that boast some of the world’s highest margins.
About three years ago, he urged managers to start thinking globally. This followed the success of the group’s first big overseas transaction – Tata Tea’s acquisition of Tetley Tea, the UK icon, in 2000.
Since then, he has turned Bombay House, the stately headquarters of Tata Sons, the parent, in Mumbai’s old business district, into a “mini internal investment bank”, as one banker. put it.
Tata Sons has a mergers and acquisition team that helps group companies evaluate overseas opportunities and to garner financing.
Some had doubted the media-shy Mr Tata, who still occasionally flies the company jet, had the stomach for the sort of bruising auction mandated by the UK Takeover Panel.
But bankers said he was determined to win, convinced the deal would transform the group.
Whether this conviction stemmed partly from a sense of hubris on the part of Mr Tata, who studied architecture at Cornell University and management at Harvard, will take time for the rest of the world to judge.
But in the eyes of an India increasingly euphoric about its rising place in the world, Mr Tata will be regarded as a corporate hero who had taken over what had been a symbol of the industrial might of the country’s one-time colonial power.