Last week, when Ratan Tata flagged off a joint initiative with Google and Intel and Tata Trusts to increase Internet usage for rural women, the 77-year old Tata Sons chairman emeritus had added yet another achievement to his list of accomplishments, since he retired from the Tata Group in 2012.
Hailed as a game-changer to digitally connect women from villages and small towns, the initiative, which came a day after the government’s much publicised “Digital India” campaign, again turned the focus on Tata’s forays into the cyber-world and his association with the younger generation and start-ups.
Tata, one of India’s most venerated corporate leaders, has been on an investment spree of sorts, putting in small amounts of his personal wealth into about 10 promising start-ups. His investments are channelled by a new company, RNT Associates, named after his initials – Ratan Naval Tata. The company is staffed by close associates — former Tata Sons director R K Krishna Kumar, former Tata Sons vice-Starchairman NA Soonawala and executive trustee of Tata Trusts R Venkataramana.
Tata’s latest is an undisclosed investment in taxi aggregator Ola. “Tata will be the guiding force in Ola’s mission to build mobility for a billion Indians. This is a huge endorsement for us,” Ola co-founder Bhavish Aggarwal told HT.“He has spearheaded the Tata Group from a domestic conglomerate to one of the largest Asian-born multinationals. His approach to things is very different,” says Anurag Srivastava, founder and managing partner at Jungle Ventures, which has roped in Tata as a special advisor.
“He is able to offer perspectives that are tough to envision for an entrepreneur who has not ventured into other markets. The impact will go far beyond his personal investment.”
He has backed online companies despite talk of unrealistic valuations. Tata’s investments include Snapdeal, Ola and Chinese smartphone company Xiaomi.
“It is a loud message he (Mr Tata) is sending out that there is a glaring gap where large established industrialists can fill, a place where old economy majors can support,” said V Srinivasan, founder of CFO Bridge, a start-up started to help other start-ups find expert backing.
Manu Jain, the India head of Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, said: “We wanted someone on board who has a deep understanding of the Indian market and consumers. We will seek his advice from time to time on key decisions that we take.”