Natarajan Chandrasekaran on Establishing Lasting Purpose
During the annual BCIU Eisenhower Awards Gala, we gather to recognize members of the business community who have displayed exceptional leadership, innovation, and citizenship in the international arena. This year, BCIU was pleased to present Tata Sons Chairman Natarajan Chandrasekaran with the Eisenhower Global Leadership Award, which honors business visionaries for their outstanding contributions to global commerce while advancing international understanding.
In addition to the award presentations, the 2022 BCIU Gala featured an honoree conversation with moderator Arianna Huffington, where Chandrasekaran shared his views on purpose-driven leadership, the opportunity of a growing economy, and more. Below are lightly edited and condensed remarks from Chandra.
Start with Purpose
According to Chandra, building an organization based on purpose starts with leadership developing an understanding of what kind of company it wants the business to be, and determining its overall purpose. He believes that by establishing a value set, Tata Group has been able to adapt to change through the years. Established in 1868, the Group has remained aligned with its values, despite experiencing a lot of change.
“You will go through, business transitions and challenges. Every possible transition: the energy transition, AI, supply chain, and whatever’s next, but it still about, ‘What does it mean to your community? Your customer?’,” Chandra says. “If that purpose is well understood by everyone in your company, things can happen.”
Adapting for Growth
One significant transition in the business landscape is the demographic changes in the company’s home country. Tata Sons is based in India, which is experiencing tremendous population growth. “If you look at the India of 2050, two-thirds of development are going to happen between now and 2025, so there’s a lot of work to be done,” Chandra says. “There are a lot of opportunities and a lot of problems.”
Among the opportunities is the country’s enormous economic growth: According to Chandra, one million people enter the workforce in India every month. At the same time, the country is experiencing employment challenges and a general lack of access. Two-thirds of people in India live in rural areas, and those people need access to education, healthcare, and the market.
“Bringing 300 million people into the market is a huge economic opportunity, but how do we provide access? How do we provide jobs?,” says Chandra. “Technology is a way to solve this problem. AI has to be for everyone. If we can get AI or machine learning into the hands of workers, it will give them the opportunity to perform.”
Making an Impact
At Tata Sons, 66% of the equity capital is held by philanthropic trusts, supporting education, health, livelihood generation, and art and culture. “Dividends are used on community work, educational institutions, cancer hospitals – you name it, we’ve been involved in it for 100 years,” Chandra says. “I think the most critical thing is to have an ecosystem of customers, society, employees, that is fundamentally making an impact.”
Chandra believes that this framework helps the group build trust – and success for Tata Sons. “It is about consistently, all the time, doing right by people,” he says. “A happy, committed employee who trusts the company will take care of the customer. And a happy customer takes care of your competition.”