If there is one word to describe the two icons and their respective empires, it could quite easily be `Awe` for Dhirubhai and Reliance and `Respect` for Ratan Tata and the Tata Group. While Ratan Tata in a sense is Vishnu, who had to preserve the legacy of the Tatas and grow it to a new level, Dhirubhai was Shiva – the destroyer, making way for new edifices. Though as different as chalk and cheese, they both are an integral part of the India story. They will forever be the Living Legends of Indian and Global industry. It is no quirk of fate therefore that both were born on the same day – December 28. But clearly, they were not two sides of the same coin, they were simply two different coins. India celebrates both.

In the early 1970s, as Sunil Manohar Gavaskar was redefining batsmanship by taking on the fearsome West Indies pace battery in their own den, a certain Kapil Dev Nikhanj was framing up his dreams in Haryana. By the time Kapil made his test debut in the mid ’70s, Gavaskar was already an established great of Indian cricket. They both were like chalk and cheese, yet engineered India’s ascent in international cricket through their own unique brand of cricketing skills.

While Gavaskar was the solid, defensive opening batsman, Kapil was the odd man out in the bowling lineup. Unlike the famous spin quartet of Bedi, Chandra, Prasanna and Venkat, who sauntered to the crease, Kapil ran in from his long run-up. Unbelievably, India had its first genuine speedster and he lay the foundation for India’s aggressive posturings in international cricket. While Gavaskar took strike upfront, Kapil ran in to bowl to strike upfront. Their common vision for a great Indian team will bind them through celebrations and distress.

While Gavaskar stood up to aggression, Kapil brought in the aggression. While Gavaskar was an urban middle class gentleman and played with a moderation based on typical middle class values, Kapil mirrored the hunger of the masses who did not have the opportunities of the cities, especially Mumbai. By the time Gavaskar retired, he had charted his own path of financial abundance, but by the time Kapil Dev hung his boots, he had somewhere redefined the economics of Indian cricket. He led India to an incredible and improbable World Cup win in 1983 in England and Indian cricket has never been the same after that.

Around the same time that Gavaskar and Kapil were scripting history on the cricket field, two industrialists were preparing ground to reshape the destiny of India through a much larger canvas – business. Dhirubhai Ambani was akin to a Kapil Dev who stepped into business at a time when the Tatas were an established iconic industrial empire. The Tatas and the Birlas held sway not just over variety of businesses in a licence permit quota raj, but also over the common man’s consciousness. As a common man, you either worked for the Tatas or the Birlas, and your personal stock went up significantly.

In the ’70s, while Ratan Tata was honing his skills under the legendary JRD, Dhirubhai was framing plans to take the world of business by storm through his dare-to-dream approach and aggression. Ratan Tata, like Gavaskar, was learning to defend and take singles on a docile business pitch, but Dhirubhai was already aiming for the stands. While Tata was suave and intelligent, Dhirubhai was daring and rustic. They both over the years would redefine the business landscape in their own unique ways.

Cut to the ’80s and Dhirubhai unleashed the power of aggression in the Indian marketplace. His company Reliance was the title sponsor for the 1987 World Cup in India. This was the first World Cup which was held outside of England, a testimony to India’s rising economic and cricketing status. By 1987, Gavaskar was on the last leg of his prowess, but Kapil Dev was still very much in the thick of things. The Gavaskaresque Ratan Tata was all set to pilot the Tatas into a post-liberalisation India.

Two legends – Dhirubhai and Ratan Tata – operated parallely in contrasting styles as India ushered in liberalisation. Both were game changers, but while Dhirubhai’s Reliance was constantly in the 100 metres dash race, the Tatas continued to build on their decades old strong foundations. But in a changing economic landscape, they could ill afford to do business strictly the traditional way. India had changed and they had to change too.

It is a matter of perspective whether Dhirubhai flouted rules or created his own rules. He provided a platform for aspiring Indians to become rich by investing in his stock. His own personal stock became a stuff of legend. He pioneered stories of people who had become rich without a strong formal education. He was the Amitabh Bachchan of Industry – a system breaker. He was unapologetic about being `an angry young man` out to get his competitors. He was unconventional and smashed aside anything that blocked his progress. He taught his countrymen to dream. He built an empire on his own.

Naturally, parallels were being drawn in the common man’s home between Dhirubhai and Ratan Tata. The working population was clearly divided along two lines – The Dreamers and The Nurturers. The aspirants naturally preferred the Dhirubhai model of business, but the security-seeking middle class obviously were on the side of the Tatas, known for their employee-friendly policies. While Dhirubhai practiced fierce ruthlessness, the Tatas were known for their fierce compassion.

Dhirubhai reinvented the idea of money in the common man’s mind. Brought up on ideas like too much money is bad, greed is for the greedy and for the cultured, the new India embraced Dhirubhai in a way which would have shocked the generation’s Grandfathers. I belong to a generation which too took its first professional strides in the Ambani era. While the Tatas were all about `we will take care of you`, Ambani was about `only you can take care of yourself`. While Ratan Tata inherited the legacy of `extra money must be used for charity`, Ambani role modelled lifestyle, opulence and indulgence.

No wonder that when Mukesh Ambani built his mansion Antilla in the heart of Mumbai, Ratan Tata expressed his displeasure. “It’s sad Mukesh Ambani lives in such opulence,” he had said (source: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Its-sad-Mukesh-Ambani-lives-in-such-opulence-Ratan-Tata/articleshow/8497118.cms).

Despite the stark differences in their personalities, both Dhirubhai and Ratan Tata were visionaries. They both had a common vision – the alleviation of the common man’s problems and a dream to provide India with an economy and lifestyle that will make it a developed nation. If Ambani engineered the petrochemical revolution, Ratan Tata made the dream of a car a reality for the common man at an unbelievably affordable price. People who rode a bike because they could not afford a car could now dream to sit behind the wheels. Ratan Tata revolutionised the automobile industry by launching the Nano, despite all the political challenges it encountered.He also took over stellar brands Jaguar and Land Rover, thereby putting India on the international business map.

The approaches and challenges of Dhirubhai and Ratan Tata were varied. While Dhirubhai demolished every myth that ruled Indian business, Ratan Tata had to reinvent a group steeped in business orthodoxy and traditions. While Dhirubhai created a new relevance, Ratan Tata worked painstakingly to ensure the Tatas stayed relevant in a fast-changing India.

If there is one word to describe the two icons and their respective empires, it could quite easily be `Awe` for Dhirubhai and Reliance and `Respect` for Ratan Tata and the Tata Group. While Ratan Tata in a sense is Vishnu, who had to preserve the legacy of the Tatas and grow it to a new level, Dhirubhai was Shiva – the destroyer, making way for new edifices. Though as different as chalk and cheese, they both are an integral part of the India story. They will forever be the Living Legends of Indian and Global industry.

It is no quirk of fate therefore that both were born on the same day – December 28. But clearly, they were not two sides of the same coin, they were simply two different coins. India celebrates both.


Article Contributed By: Hariharan Iyer, who lives in Mumbai, is an Inspirational Speaker, Corporate Trainer, Author and Reiki Grandmaster. He is practicing meditation for over 25 years and Reiki for over 21 years. You can get more details of his work from his website www.lifetransformation.in. You can write to him on [email protected]

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