How to inculcate a sense of higher purpose in organisations? Mukund Rajan on Tata’s 150-yr-old journey


“If it (the hotel) goes down, I will be the last man out.” These words by Karambir Singh Kang, Taj Mumbai’s general manager, when the hotel was under 26/11 terror attack, have become an enduring example of selfless service and sacrifice.

Harvard business professor Rohit Deshpande uses the Taj Hotel terror as a case study to find what drives employees to put others and their organisation before themselves. All the employees, including Kang, knew every exit in the hotel and could have fled leaving the guests to face the terrorists’ bullets. But not a single employee, from the hotel boy to the general manager, left their post. They were the last men and women standing.

How does an organisation achieve this model of ethical and selfless behaviour? Mukund Rajan, Brand Custodian & Member – Group Executive Council, Tata Sons, answered this very question through the 150-year-old journey of the Tata Group at TechSparks2016.

Call beyond duty

“At Tata, a sense of who we are and why we exist is what defines our organisation culture and this, in turn, has contributed to the equity of the Tata brand,” he said. The Tata brand is among the top 60 most valued brands in the world. The pioneering spirit is seen not only in innovations but also setting up processes in human resources and looking at the good of the community as a whole by inculcating a sense of higher purpose.

Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, ‘Find purpose and the means will follow,’ Mukund Rajan said the higher purpose of the organisation is to improve the quality of life of the community it serves.

According to him, “A company’s long-term vision is not just about the next quarter but as much about the next quarter century. In organisations, success is measured in quarters -- from Q1 to Q4. But there’s a need to see the bigger picture. By 2025, Tata will touch the lives of one-quarter of the globe, that’s over two billion people. That’s what the next quarter should be to us,” he said.

Recognise failure for innovation

From flying the first commercial airline (Tata Airlines from Karachi to Mumbai by JRD) to the common man’s car, Tata Nano, the company’s pioneering spirit is an inspiration for others to emulate. Talking about the company’s leadership to drive innovation, Mukund Rajan said their signature programme Tata Innovista is a rewards and recognition programme for Tata companies to celebrate success and struggles of innovation. He said,

“One of the most important award categories is the one which showcases risk-taking and perseverance, called Dare to Try. In a manner of speaking, the award is given for failure. We believe failure and disappointment need to be encouraged to create a culture of innovation.”

Top three ways to build an enduring brand, according to Mukund Rajan are:

Have a clear sense of purpose: Certainly passion is important, but the entrepreneur must answer what is the impact that they want to create. Founders need to be clear of the change they want to see in society. If you do not have that, you end up doing a bunch of things without having any sense of having arrived.

Personal values: The way you conduct your business, and the support that you provide your colleagues is very important. If you are seen taking shortcuts, people below you will pick up the cues and do the same thing, which will not sustain in the long term.

Continuous learning: Invest yourself in new learnings and ensure there is a continuous investment for research. There is so much innovation going around in the world. If you do not invest in keeping yourself up to date, you may not be relevant in the long run. Very often, ideas do not come from your field but from different fields. A close mind will not take you far. Think long term and be constantly open to new influences.


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