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Say Tata, Bye Bye to Rajeev

Do I think its a good idea for Ratan Tata to have responded to Rajeev Chandresekhar in the manner he did? No. Why? Because the latter jumped at the opportunity to respond back by saying Ratan Tata's trying to make it personal. Which of course isn't true, but the larger public won't ever know because they won't ever read Ratan Tata's 14 page response that includes Rajeev's 2002 fax, and Ratan's response to that. Currently in the eyes of the public, it seems like a personal spat's on between two corporate guys. The media too is playing it that way.

Now what should Tata then have done, or do?

Before I give my recommendation let me state what I feel about the Tata Group. I don't think India has seen or will see a more ethical and principled business group as the Tatas. They have done more for India than any other business group. They have done it sans an eye on publicity which is what most other businesses seek. As Aakar puts it, 'This is not CSR (corporate social responsibility) or other corporate varnish: It’s pure philanthropy'. But having said that, I also think the Tatas have had their image dented. So, back to the earlier question. What should Tata have done, or can do?

My advice, engage with the stakeholder who's currently going through a rethink on the Group. That is the public at large. Let the likes of Rajeev be. Engaging with him is a mistake because you come across as someone in a slanging match. Of course, you need to respond to his allegations. But don't do it one to one. Instead open channels of communication with the public and respond to allegations with data material, the way you've done in the letter to Rajeev. Open a link on your website to take questions from the public. Respond and make it public. Keep a blog channel going, reinforcing what you've always been saying, that the Group's done no wrong. And for God's sake, do your PR internally. Get the best people in and form an internal division.

I believe the 2G episode is but a hiccup to the Tata Group. It'll take time for them to recover, but they will. And then we the public will get back to what we've always thought about them. A group that puts principles first. Profits later. Because that's the way they are, and the way they'll be.

Also, read Aakar Patel's take on India's most principled Business Group here.

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